Harnessing the Data Revolution to Achieve the Sustainable Development Goals

Erol Yayboke et al at CSIS: “Functioning societies collect accurate data and utilize the evidence to inform policy. The use of evidence derived from data in policymaking requires the capability to collect and analyze accurate data, clear administrative channels through which timely evidence is made available to decisionmakers, and the political will to rely on—and ideally share—the evidence. The collection of accurate and timely data, especially in the developing world, is often logistically difficult, not politically expedient, and/or expensive.

Before launching its second round of global goals—the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)—the United Nations convened a High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda. As part of its final report, the Panel called for a “data revolution” and recommended the formation of an independent body to lead the charge.1The report resulted in the creation of the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data (GPSDD)—an independent group of countries, companies, data communities, and NGOs—and the SDG Data Labs, a private initiative partnered with the GPSDD. In doing so the United Nations and its partners signaled broad interest in data and evidence-based policymaking at a high level. In fact, the GPSDD calls for the “revolution in data” by addressing the “crisis of non-existent, inaccessible or unreliable data.”As this report shows, this is easier said than done.

This report defines the data revolution as an unprecedented increase in the volume and types of data—and the subsequent demand for them—thanks to the ongoing yet uneven proliferation of new technologies. This revolution is allowing governments, companies, researchers, and citizens to monitor progress and drive action, often with real-time, dynamic, disaggregated data. Much work will be needed to make sure the data revolution reaches developing countries facing difficult challenges (i.e., before the data revolution fully becomes the data revolution for sustainable development). It is important to think of the revolution as a multistep process, beginning with building basic knowledge and awareness of the value of data. This is followed by a more specific focus on public private partnerships, opportunities, and constraints regarding collection and utilization of data for evidence-based policy decisions….

This report provides the following recommendations to the international community to play a constructive role in the data revolution:

  • Don’t fixate on big data alone. Focus on the foundation necessary to facilitate leapfrogs around all types of data: small, big, and everywhere in between.
  • Increase funding for capacity building as part of an expansion of broader educational development priorities.
  • Highlight, share, and support enlightened government-driven approaches to data.
  • Increase funding for the data revolution and coordinate donor efforts.
  • Coordinate UN data revolution-related activities closely with an expanded GPSDD.
  • Secure consensus on data sharing, ownership, and privacy-related international standards….(More)”.