Data for Peace and Justice

Leiden University | 2017-2018 Academic Year, 1st Quarter | Thomas Baar
Leiden University catalog number: 5000MRI10

Jean-Martin [Data4Food]

How could the ever-growing amounts of digital data help us to confront today’s complex societal challenges? Will more data allow us to improve policy responses in the domains of development and humanitarian action? Could Big Data help us to end violent conflicts and build peace?

Course Description

Big Data has often been described as a fuel for both innovation and our economy. It is being applied in many areas, for example financial markets, health and the intelligence sector. It is however foreseen that the increased availability of new data sources offers new opportunities in other domains as well. In this course, you will explore current trends and prospects for Big Data to become a drive for peace and justice.

Lectures will reflect on various showcases, including the use of open web data and social media for monitoring conflict dynamics in Syria; the analysis of mobile phone data in analysing epidemic outbreaks such as Ebola; and the availability of various data sources in confronting the current refugee crisis. You will focus on the challenges both from a policy and responsible innovation perspective.

Learning objectives

At the end of this course the participants will:

  • assess complex societal challenges within the domains of development, humanitarian action as well as peace and justice;
  • analyze the interests and relevance of different stakeholders within a case of development, humanitarian action as well as peace and justice;
  • explain the concepts of big data and data-driven innovation;
  • conduct a benchmarking and review of relevant case studies on data-driven innovations in the domains of development, humanitarian actions as well as peace and justice;
  • determine whether and how data might inform policies in confronting complex societal challenges;
  • reflect both on the opportunities as well as challenges to operationalizing data to tackle a complex societal challenge;
  • evaluate the risks and harms in using data from a responsible use and innovation perspective;
  • build an argument and present it based on a case, in writing.


70% of the grade (essay): write and publish an essay on the potential of Data for Humanity. You will reflect on the importance of data-driven innovations for confronting a complex societal challenge within the domains of development, humanitarian action or peace and justice. This will be done from the perspective of a challenge owner within one of these domains;

30% of the grade (video assignment): students will make a 3-minute video in which they will present the most important conclusions and recommendations of their essay assignment; 

(participation): be present and engage in all sessions; publish your research on collaborative research platform in an accessible manner for other students and external stakeholders; and give a presentation of your work for a larger audience.