Energy, data, and decision-making: a scoping review—the 3D commission

Nason Maani, Grace Robbins, Shaffi Fazaludeen Koya, Opeyemi Babajide, Salma M. Abdalla*, Sandro Galea

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Access to energy is an important social determinant of health, and expanding the availability of affordable, clean energy is one of the Sustainable Development Goals. It has been argued that climate mitigation policies can, if well-designed in response to contextual factors, also achieve environmental, economic, and social progress, but otherwise pose risks to economic inequity generally and health inequity specifically. Decisions around such policies are hampered by data gaps, particularly in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) and among vulnerable populations in high-income countries (HICs). The rise of “big data” offers the potential to address some of these gaps. This scoping review sought to explore the literature linking energy, big data, health, and decision-making. Literature searches in PubMed, Embase, and Web of Science were conducted. English language articles up to April 1, 2020, were included. Pre-agreed study characteristics including geographic location, data collected, and study design were extracted and presented descriptively, and a qualitative thematic analysis was performed on the articles using NVivo. Thirty-nine articles fulfilled eligibility criteria. These included a combination of review articles and research articles using primary or secondary data sources. The articles described health and economic effects of a wide range of energy types and uses, and attempted to model effects of a range of technological and policy innovations, in a variety of geographic contexts. Key themes identified in our analysis included the link between energy consumption and economic development, the role of inequality in understanding and predicting harms and benefits associated with energy production and use, the lack of available data on LMICs in general, and on the local contexts within them in particular. Examples of using “big data,” and areas in which the articles themselves described challenges with data limitations, were identified. The findings of this scoping review demonstrate the challenges decision-makers face in achieving energy efficiency gains and reducing emissions, while avoiding the exacerbation of existing inequities. Understanding how to maximize gains in energy efficiency and uptake of new technologies requires a deeper understanding of how work and life is shaped by socioeconomic inequalities between and within countries. This is particularly the case for LMICs and in local contexts where few data are currently available, and for whom existing evidence may not be directly applicable. Big data approaches may offer some value in tracking the uptake of new approaches, provide greater data granularity, and help compensate for evidence gaps in low resource settings.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)79-88
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Urban Health
Publication statusPublished - 9 Aug 2021

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • data
  • energy
  • global health
  • inequity
  • policy
  • public health


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