[Completed] #LinksSDGs - Natural language processing and data visualization challenge


Sustainable development as an approach tries to understand the world in an integrated, systemic way and focuses on the links among areas. The recently adopted United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have defined 17 goal areas, from poverty to oceans to inequality, ecosystems, economic growth, education, etc. Multiple relationships exist among all these goals. A challenge going forward is to better understand them, and map them in a way that is easy to understand while preserving the complexity of the whole. Institutions working on specific areas of sustainable development (e.g. education, energy, slums, etc.) tend to explore and focus on limited aspects of the map. Their policy messages emphasize the importance of specific links. However, for policy discussions, the whole map is needed.


We Challenge You to:

Use your skills to build an automated tool that extracts from a set of UN publications all the messages that relate to the relationships between urban development (SDG 11), and all the other SDG areas, and then visualize the results.

The winner solution will be announced on 15 February 2016. The best solution or solutions will be showcased on the UNDSD website and on the Unite Ideas website, and may be referenced in the 2016 Global Sustainable Development Report.


What is the task?

Part 1) Through automated text analysis, identify and extract all the messages in the given collection of UN publications that refer to SDG 11 (Sustainable cities & communities) in relation to another SDG area.

Part 2) Classify each message corresponding to the (directional) link between the relevant SDGs (e.g. from SDFG 11 to SDG X or from SDG X to SDG 11).

Part 3) Classify each message into one or more of these categories:

● Causal link (A causes B)

● Constraint, barriers, or challenges

● Policy recommendations See examples below of texts which should be extracted and the direction and classification of links:

    Example 1: “poverty hampers urban development”

    Example 2: “Cities are drivers of economic growth”

    Example 3: “Access to electricity is lacking in many developing countries, hampering urban development”

    Example 4: “It is recommended that Governments consider subsidizing health facilities for densely populated areas”

Note: Some messages and links may fit into several categories.

At this stage, all the links should be retained.

Part 4) Synthesize this data, focusing on the following questions:

● What are the causal links between urban development and other SDGs identified by the reports?

● What are challenges and obstacles highlighted by these reports in relation to the various linkages?

● Which policy areas receive the most emphasis in the set of reports analysed, in relation to the various linkages?

● What linkages do different reports focus on?

Synthesis and visualization of the data can encompass text extracts, figures and maps showing the links among SDG areas, policies that focus on specific links, and other products allowing for synthesis of a large amount of information. At this stage, additional criteria may be used to differentiate the links (e.g. positive/negative feedback, reinforcement, neutral link, etc.); these can be shown in different colors, or distinguished in other ways depending on the visualization solution.

Ideally, data visualizations should allow data points to refer back to the original text or contextual information. Synthesis and visualization is likely to involve selection among messages. Indicate what criteria are used to select the “most relevant” data.


References or similar projects:

For inspiration view this working paper addressing similar questions in the context of the linkages between education and other SDGs:




Your submission to this challenge must include the following materials:

● A web link (url) to a working (live) demo

● Open source original code, data files and other electronic files hosted in a public repository (include GNU license). (It is acceptable and encouraged to leverage existing open source tools).

● A brief PDF document describing your project, which should include:

    ◦ Abstract: A brief summary of the project.

    ◦ Approaches: Describe the approaches used for examining and analyzing the data.

    ◦ Solutions: Describe how your product answers the question posed, and how it synthesizes the information contained in the reports.

    ◦ Tools Utilized: Describe which technologies you leveraged during your project.



The project should make use of the reports selected by the challenge team, which can be accessed from Google Drive or Dropbox. You can also refer to the list of documents at the right side of this page.



Submission Guidelines: 


Who can participate?

● This challenge is open to the general public. We welcome the participation of students, data scientists, data journalists, and graphic designers.

● Teams can submit by acknowledging all contributors under the “description” field on the submissions form.

● Participants can submit as many solutions to this challenge as they would like.


Review Process: 


Both static and interactive visualizations may be submitted. All solutions will be reviewed by a committee composed of IT specialists and sustainable development experts of the United Nations. Only original, open source work will be accepted (which can use or build upon existing open source tools). Entries will be judged on a combination of the following criteria:

● Alignment with challenge objectives

● Sound data analysis and accuracy of results

● Originality

● Clarity of information

● Use friendliness

Deadline: 31 January 2016, 11:59 PM EST

For any questions regarding the challenge, please contact the #LinksSDGs team at gsdr2015@gmail.com

Solution Terms & Conditions: 
When you submit a solution to this challenge you agree to license it as follows:

Infographics and databases are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license. Read the full text of the license here: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/legalcode

Software (e.g. dynamic visualizations) is licensed under a GNU General Public License Version 3 as published by the Free Software Foundation here: https://www.gnu.org/licenses/gpl.html

You represent and warrant that you have all necessary rights, licenses, and permissions to grant the above license and that the content submitted by you and the submission of such content, do not and will not violate any intellectual property rights (including but not limited to copyrights and trademark rights) of any third party.

Submission Deadline: 
Sun. Jan. 31/16
Challenge Status: 
Challenger Organization: 
United Nations Division for Sustainable Development, DESA

The Division for Sustainable Development (DSD) provides leadership in promoting and coordinating implementation of the sustainable development agenda of the United Nations. The work of the Division translates into five core functions: (1) Support to UN intergovernmental processes on sustainable development; (2) Analysis and policy development; (3) Capacity development at the country level; (4) Inter-agency coordination; and (5) Knowledge management, communication and outreach.

Global Sustainable Development Report, UNDSD, 2016