Professor Enrico Giovannini, co-chair of the new UN Independent Expert Advisory Group on the Data Revolution for Sustainable Development
By Kathy Zhang, sml Founder and Advisor
In the midst of the 69th Session of the UN General Assembly, data nerds and development geeks alike gathered at Microsoft’s NY office to explore how data can drive solutions for complex development challenges at “Data Playground: Showcasing Data for the Public Good at the United Nations,” an event organized by UN Millennium Campaign (UNMC) and Microsoft.
There’s been quite a bit of excitement surrounding the “data revolution,” a tool that UN Secretary General’s High Level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda called for, noting that “Better data and statistics will help governments track progress and make sure their decisions are evidence-based; they can also strengthen accountability.”
Measuring progress is - and continuous to be - a difficult and contentious issue. Here are just some of the challenges of getting a full status report of global development: conflicting statistics groups, out-of-date and out-of-sync data, different data types and sources. Child mortality was brought up several times as an indicator that’s particularly hard to measure, as there are different measurements of child mortality, which results in conflicting data among different government surveys.
One point stressed by several discussants was the need to make data usable and actionable, linking it to policy. Timely, quality data would allow policy makers to assess what’s working, and what should be changed — such iteration was made extremely difficult with the multi-year lag in MDGs data.
Beyond timely and factually sound, data must be accessible and actionable by decision makers. Make data open and freely available not only supports transparency, but also encourage innovative ways to display the data. There was agreement on the need to investment in common data infrastructure (collection, reporting, etc), although the costing/funding has not been finalized.
Groups like UN’s Independent Expert Advisory Group for a data revolution on sustainable development and the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) are grappling with issues like annual reporting, measuring what’s currently not being measured under the MDGs, and overall cost and feasibility.
In the face of these enormous challenges, the event participants recognized the tremendous opportunity in harnessing the power of big data in the implementation of the SDGs.
Check out the UN’s Big Data Climate Challenge and the MY World survey as example of engaging, innovative data-driven projects.
To learn more about the UN’s work on the Data Revolution, visit undatarevolution.org.