Understanding migration through mobile phone data

Ideas for a better world

Understanding migration, has long been a topic of contention for policymakers, researchers, and economists. Imagine if there was a model that could predict and tell various governments exactly how to prepare for the next wave of labour migrations!


Recently a team lead by Joshua Blumenstock, a professor at the University of Washington combined multiple sources of data – CDR data from telecommunication companies, publicly available census data, satellite weather data, domestic and international commodity prices, government market data and wage information data to analyse migration patterns in response to labor market shocks in Rwanda, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.


By looking at weather and commodity price changes, the team first identified when local shocks occurred in these economies. Now, the next step was to measure how these local shocks impacted labour movement. This was done using the CDR data. Mobile records showed from where and when calls originated from. If a person had migrated from a rural area to an urban area – this could now be measured easily. One could also find out which regions were more receptive to migration, after how long people stopped migrating, how did migration affect urbanization and many more such important details!


Such models can be developed and used effectively to frame economic policies that are in a much better position to accommodate migration. Hopefully, that also helps us become more open to the concept!


Read the research findings of the study here.