Photo: Handover of next UN World Data Forum to UAE. Credit: Stats SA - Photo: 2017

Harnessing the Data Revolution for Achieving SDGs

By J Nastranis

NEW YORK | CAPE TOWN (IDN) – The unprecedented scope of the UN’s 2030 Agenda, with its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), calls for reliable data without which progress in implementing those goals cannot be tracked. “We cannot achieve what we cannot measure,” said Dr Pali Lehohla, South Africa’s Statistician-General and head of Statistics South Africa (STATS SA).

STATS SA hosted the first ever United Nations World Data Forum in Cape Town from January 15 to 18, with support from the Statistics Division of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), under the guidance of the United Nations Statistical Commission and the High-level Group for Partnership, Coordination and Capacity-Building for Statistics for the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

In an interview ahead of the Forum, Dr Lehohla said: “Statistics is a conduit of trust. It is a currency that holds a global promise for Transparency, Results, Accountability, Sustainability and Transformation (TRAST). It therefore creates the possibility and can facilitate global peace, progress and prosperity. It is for this reason that post-World War II, when the paragon of world peace, the United Nations, was established, statistics was central to it.”

Nevertheless, presently there are large data gaps that hinder policy makers from taking informed decisions. Over 100 countries do not have accurate birth and death records, and only 41 per cent of countries maintain reliable data on violence against women.

The Forum therefore concluded with the launch of a global plan for better data to improve people’s lives, and new ideas and solutions to boost the collaboration, resources and policies needed to put it into action.

The Cape Town Global Action Plan for Sustainable Development Data, which will be adopted by countries at the UN Statistical Commission when it meets in March 2017, was prepared with inputs from the global statistical community and data experts from a wider range of stakeholders.

“The UN World Data Forum is the perfect place to launch the Action Plan and get all the major players behind it,” said UN Under-Secretary-General Wu Hongbo at a press conference.  “To implement the transformative 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and build a better future for people everywhere, it is essential to have accurate, reliable, timely and disaggregated data.”

The Plan, which sets out a global vision and  “to do” list for better data, calls for a commitment by governments, policy leaders and the international community to undertake key actions in six strategic areas, including: innovation and modernization of national statistical systems; dissemination of data on sustainable development; building partnerships; and mobilizing resources.

Over 1,400 data experts from more than 100 countries held discussions, data labs and interactive presentations at the Forum, with participants from governments, national statistical offices, the private sector and academia, international organizations and civil society groups. 

The Cape Town Global Action Plan calls for policy leaders to achieve a global pact that recognizes that data are essential to the full implementation of Agenda 2030, that statistical systems need to be strengthened and better funded and that data producers – from civil society to private sector and academia – need to work together to fully address the needs of the sustainable development agenda. How to strengthen statistical systems was the subject of extensive discussion at the Forum, and a number of commitments were advanced or reaffirmed.

The African Development Bank committed to present a proposal to its Board to sustain and even scale up, over the next three years, its support for statistical development work across Africa.

The World Bank added its voice of commitment to support 78 IDA countries to implement a multi-topic household survey every three years, as well as support capacity for gender statistics, among other areas.

IDA – the International Development Association – is the part of the World Bank that helps the world’s poorest countries. Overseen by 173 shareholder nations, IDA aims to reduce poverty by providing loans (called “credits”) and grants for programs that boost economic growth, reduce inequalities, and improve people’s living conditions.

Norway reaffirmed its commitment to supporting statistics and data by providing partners with high-quality technical skills and expertise.

In addition to urging the strengthening of existing statistical mechanisms, the Global Action Plan calls for the application of new technologies and new data sources into mainstream statistical activities, and integration of geospatial data. It also calls for data on all groups of the population to be expanded so that no one is left behind, a key principle of the 2030 Agenda.

UN World Data Forum announced a number of innovative data initiatives and tools. The United Kingdom Department for International Development (DFID) launched a Data Disaggregation Action Plan, to better measure vulnerable groups and ensure that everyone is counted and everyone counts.

UN Global Pulse launched a new tool,, that can improve crisis management. Telefonica and CEPEI  (Centro de Pensamiento independiente) launched, a digital platform to connect citizens and development actors in Latin America with data for the SDGs. In addition, the International Roadmap on Open Data, which summarizes the proceedings of the International Open Data Conference 2016 and includes an action plan, was launched. 

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) will host the next UN World Data Forum in Dubai, in late 2018 or early 2019. The announcement to this respect was made at a press conference on January 18 by Dr. Gabriella Vukovich, co-chair of the High-level Group for Partnership, Coordination and Capacity-Building for Statistics for the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

“We are looking forward to working with the colleagues from the United Arab Emirates to organize together an open and inclusive 2nd World Data Forum,” said Stefan Schweinfest, Director of the UN Statistics Division. “This will be a unique opportunity to strengthen data and statistical systems for development not only at the national, but also at the regional and global level.”

The Forum was agreed by the UN Statistical Commission based on a recommendation by the UN Secretary-General’s Independent Expert and Advisory Group on a Data Revolution for Sustainable Development. [IDN-InDepthNews – 19 January 2017]

Photo: Handover of next UN World Data Forum to UAE. Credit: Stats SA

IDN is flagship of the International Press Syndicate.

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