TPMAP: AI with a Human Touch
How Thailand is using big data as a game-changing solution to address social inequality
To achieve its goal of ending extreme poverty for all and meeting the 17 Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, Thailand’s government is taking a decisive action by harnessing the TPMAP—a data-gathering and analysing digital platform– to effectively measure and address poverty and inequality.
In November 2020, the Thai National Strategy Committee approved a plan to establish an administrative centre to eradicate poverty and ensure sustainable development. Towards this end, a big data platform called, “TPMAP” or “Thai People Map” was introduced as a tool to define and measure poverty and inequality across the country. With such a powerful tool, social inequality was quantified and categorised into specific areas, so that targeted solutions could be applied accordingly.
Samut Sakhon Province became the pioneer in applying the platform, followed by five other pilot provinces, namely, Khon Kaen, Chiang Rai, Nakhon Si Thammarat, Nakhon Phanom and Uthai Thani.
The insights collected from TPMAP allowed Samut Sakhon Province to pinpoint the problems the population falling below the income and education thresholds were facing, enabling authorities to design targeted solutions to meet those specific demands. As a result, within a year, Samut Sakhon successfully reduced the number of households under the poverty line from 601 (903 people) in 2019 to 465 (750 people) in 2020.
In addition, Khon Kaen demonstrated a remarkable achievement in reducing poverty and inequality through the use of TPMAP.
Khon Kaen Governor, Somsak Changtrakul said that, in 2020, the province initiated a collaboration with the private sector and civil society to fight poverty. The project, called “Siew: Partnerships Against Poverty” (“Siew” means friend or partner) also became a crucial component to drive Khon Kaen’s ambitions into a true smart city.
The project requires one government official from each sub-district to work with two targeted households. The official will work closely with the families to seek jobs, support skills training as needed and find markets for the families’ products.
Meanwhile, the province will be working with the private sector to support more jobs and create a marketplace for the local people participating in the project. Khon Kaen University and Rajamangala University, meanwhile, will function as knowledge resources for skill training.
Using the census-based Basic Minimum Needs (BMN) data gathered by the Community Development Department of the Ministry of Interior, Khon Kaen province was able to target assistance to 1,174 households below the poverty line, which is benchmarked at THB38,000 (USD1,267) per person a year. By implementing the project in 2020, the province provided assistance to 661 households or more than half of this group.
Somsak added that Khon Kaen will further expand its partnerships for the project to enhance efforts to reduce poverty and inequality. In 2021, the province is targeting 1,834 households, 1,001 of which are living with an income level below the required benchmark to maintain basic needs.
The Basic Minimum Needs data is gathered by calculating the degree of public access to five basic needs– health care, living standards, education, income, and public services.
These insights help policy makers and government agencies formulate and implement practical solutions suitable for each different region and settings. In the future, TPMAP will continue to integrate expansive data from other government agencies, as the system analytics will become more sophisticated over time with larger data and experience. This in turn, will help optimise the government’s welfare programmes.
Tossaporn Sirisamphan, Secretary General of the NESDC (Office of the National Economic and Social Development Council), the main agency overlooking TPMAP, said that the AI-based data analytics platform has been rolled out to prepare for the second phase of the project, TPMAP 2.0. NESDC is gathering more data on beneficiaries, including the number of disabled people eligible to receive a monthly welfare allowance and medical care. In addition, a TPMAP Logbook has been developed and will be used to collate all measures and solutions to remedy chronic inequality across the country.
Developed in 2019 through a collaboration between the NESDC, NECTEC, and NSTDA, the TPMAP is the first and most precise platform to help alleviate poverty and inequality. Towards this end, the platform provides answers to these crucial questions: Where are the people needing this assistance, what are their basic needs, and how can their problems be addressed?
The NESDC recently reported that the population living on or below the poverty line decreased from 6.7 million to 4.3 million in 2020, while poverty rates reduced from 9.85 per cent in 2018 to 6.24 per cent in 2019.
Despite the notable success in this initial phase, the combination of disruptions caused by the pandemic of 2019, the global economic downturn and a rapidly ageing population, as well as prolonged droughts have underlined the complexities of vulnerabilities in the country.
A World Bank report in 2020 disclosed an analysis of recent poverty and inequality trends, and called on Thailand to introduce active interventions and investments to help transform the country’s social development.
In the short-term, Thailand will need to reinforce its safety nets. Populations that are vulnerable would need to be better identified and swift action is needed in creating suitable employment or income sources for households in a rapidly changing economy.
In the longer term, investing equitably in the next generation will be key to solving social disparity. Due to a shrinking birth rate, demographic trends in Thailand will be affected significantly, as the size of Thailand’s next generations will be smaller. Therefore, how society nurtures each individual child to become valuable members of society will matter even more. Every child should be given equal access to quality health and education services. They should also be accorded fair opportunities and groomed at every chance to reach their full potential with self-esteem. Each child should feel confident that their social environment empowers them to mature into well-balanced, healthy members of society. This will help households break out of the generational poverty trap, support an ageing population, and boost Thailand’s growth prospects.
The TPMAP was developed with the intention to precisely achieve these recommendations. As data is gathered and accumulated overtime, NESDC believes that AI will help TPMAP become an even more intelligent and meaningful tool, able to offer more accurate, targeted solutions. Bridging the gap between the haves and have-nots should be done in a purposeful and sustainable manner. Cash handouts can only bring temporary relief. True solutions must make sure that the total population have an equal chance to pursue their dreams, making a living as they see fit, so that they too, can contribute to society with dignity.