The illuminating – and perhaps alarming – results of a huge survey answered by 1.4 million people around the world

Thursday, the United Nations is releasing some of the results of what is thought to be its largest global survey ever, part of a worldwide initiative called MyWorld2015.

The idea behind the survey, conducted by United Nations Millennium Campaign, the United Nations Development Programme and the Overseas Development Institute plus other partners, is relatively simple: People from all around the world were asked which six factors, out of 16 possibilities, would improve their lives and those of their families. The plan is to then share the results with the Secretary General and other global leaders as they prepare a development agenda in the run-up to 2015, which is when the United Nations's Millennium Development Goals will run out, and new development goals will be set.

What's more fascinating than the simple idea is the survey's scope. The United Nations has already spoken to 1.4 million people, and plans to keep talking to people until 2015. Plus, while most surveys focus on a small number of countries, this one is trying to capture a broad range of opinions from a large variety of countries -- the aim is to have 2,000 people per country, a sample size large enough to be representative.

The funnest part, however, is that the United Nations has released some of the data from the survey in a real-time graphical dataset, and it's really a good idea to spend 15 minutes playing around with it. You should check it out here.

So far, there's one clear result from the survey: People want better education.


Pretty much every way you play around with the data, education takes the top spot -- a total of two-thirds of respondents have listed it as one of their top priorities, according to the United Nations. Demographically, only those over 61 years old found another top preference (understandably, health care came first here), and some specific countries had priorities specific to their own circumstances (For instance, Belorussians were, also understandably, more interested in an "honest and responsive government").

You can't really argue with education -- it's important, of course -- but the other end of the poll is a little more controversial: "Action on climate change" is a clear loser in the current results.

That's gotta smart for anyone urging serious, definite action on global warming. Corinne Woods, Director of the United Nations Millennium Campaign, conceded that the poor showing for climate change was a little surprising, but reasoned that could be due to the way the question was framed and that the United Nations still needed to analyze the data. Woods also stressed that polling was not done in a manner that allowed it to be representative (around half of the respondents were polled online or via SMS).

Still, it's got to sting for anyone hoping that climate change could be fought with individual actions. The results of this huge survey seem to show that most individuals are not interested.

Adam Taylor writes about foreign affairs for The Washington Post. Originally from London, he studied at the University of Manchester and Columbia University.



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Adam Taylor · February 20, 2014