Data for Development: The Case for Information, Not Just Data

Daniela Ligiero at the Council on Foreign Relations: “When it comes to development, more data is often better—but in the quest for more data, we can often forget about ensuring we have information, which is even more valuable. Information is data that have been recorded, classified, organized, analyzed, interpreted, and translated within a framework so that meaning emerges. At the end of the day, information is what guides action and change.

The need for more data

In 2015, world leaders came together to adopt a new global agenda to guide efforts over the next fifteen years, the Sustainable Development Goals. The High-level Political Forum (HLPF), to be held this year at the United Nations on July 10-19, is an opportunity for review of the 2030 Agenda, and will include an in-depth analysis of seven of the seventeen goals—including those focused on poverty, health, and gender equality. As part of the HLPF, member states are encouraged to undergo voluntary national reviews of progress across goals to facilitate the sharing of experiences, including successes, challenges, and lessons learned; to strengthen policies and institutions; and to mobilize multi-stakeholder support and partnerships for the implementation of the agenda.

A significant challenge that countries continue to face in this process, and one that becomes painfully evident during the HLPF, is the lack of data to establish baselines and track progress. Fortunately, new initiatives aligned with the 2030 Agenda are working to focus on data, such as the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data. There are also initiatives focus on collecting more and better data in particular areas, like gender data (e.g., Data2X; UN Women’s Making Every Girl and Woman Count). This work is important and urgently needed.

Data to monitor global progress on the goals is critical to keeping countries accountable to their commitments and allows countries to examine how they are doing across multiple, ambitious goals. However, equally important is the rich, granular national and sub-national level data that can guide the development and implementation of evidence-based, effective programs and policies. These kinds of data are also often lacking or of poor quality, in which case more data and better data is essential. But a frequently-ignored piece of the puzzle at the national level is improved use of the data we already have.

Making the most of the data we have

To illustrate this point, consider the Together for Girls partnership, which was built on obtaining new data where it was lacking and effectively translating it into information to change policies and programs. We are a partnership between national governments, UN agencies and private sector organizations working to break cycles of violence, with special attention to sexual violence against girls. …The first pillar of our work is focused on understanding violence against children within a country, always at the request of the national government. We do this through a national household survey – the Violence Against Children Survey (VACS), led by national governments, CDC, and UNICEF as part of the Together for Girls Partnership….

The truth is there is a plethora of data at the country level, generated by surveys, special studies, administrative systems, private sector, and citizens that can provide meaningful insights across all the development goals.

Connecting the dots

But data—like our programs’—often remain in silos. For example, data focused on violence against children is typically not top of mind for those working on women’s empowerment or adolescent health. Yet, as an example, the VACS can offer valuable information about how sexual violence against girls, as young as 13,is connected to adolescent pregnancy—or how one of the most common perpetrators of sexual violence against girls is a partner, a pattern that starts early and is a predictor for victimization and perpetration later in life.  However, these data are not consistently used across actors working on programs related to adolescent pregnancy and violence against women….(More)”.