The Data Revolution for Sustainable Development

Jeffrey D. Sachs at Project Syndicate: “There is growing recognition that the success of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which will be adopted on September 25 at a special United Nations summit, will depend on the ability of governments, businesses, and civil society to harness data for decision-making…

One way to improve data collection and use for sustainable development is to create an active link between the provision of services and the collection and processing of data for decision-making. Take health-care services. Every day, in remote villages of developing countries, community health workers help patients fight diseases (such as malaria), get to clinics for checkups, receive vital immunizations, obtain diagnoses (through telemedicine), and access emergency aid for their infants and young children (such as for chronic under-nutrition). But the information from such visits is usually not collected, and even if it is put on paper, it is never used again.
We now have a much smarter way to proceed. Community health workers are increasingly supported by smart-phone applications, which they can use to log patient information at each visit. That information can go directly onto public-health dashboards, which health managers can use to spot disease outbreaks, failures in supply chains, or the need to bolster technical staff. Such systems can provide a real-time log of vital events, including births and deaths, and even use so-called verbal autopsies to help identify causes of death. And, as part of electronic medical records, the information can be used at future visits to the doctor or to remind patients of the need for follow-up visits or medical interventions….
Fortunately, the information and communications technology revolution and the spread of broadband coverage nearly everywhere can quickly make such time lags a thing of the past. As indicated in the report A World that Counts: Mobilizing the Data Revolution for Sustainable Development, we must modernize the practices used by statistical offices and other public agencies, while tapping into new sources of data in a thoughtful and creative way that complements traditional approaches.
Through more effective use of smart data – collected during service delivery, economic transactions, and remote sensing – the fight against extreme poverty will be bolstered; the global energy system will be made much more efficient and less polluting; and vital services such as health and education will be made far more effective and accessible.
With this breakthrough in sight, several governments, including that of the United States, as well as businesses and other partners, have announced plans to launch a new “Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data” at the UN this month. The new partnership aims to strengthen data collection and monitoring efforts by raising more funds, encouraging knowledge-sharing, addressing key barriers to access and use of data, and identifying new big-data strategies to upgrade the world’s statistical systems.
The UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network will support the new Global Partnership by creating a new Thematic Network on Data for Sustainable Development, which will bring together leading data scientists, thinkers, and academics from across multiple sectors and disciplines to form a center of data excellence….(More)”