CFD-WB series: Harnessing data for development

27 Aug 2018

Event report

This event was organised by the Graduate Institute’s Centre for Finance and Development  (CFD) and the World Bank Group Geneva (WB,) as part of a series of events on Financing for Development in Action. It focused on the possible ways to collect and accurately analyse data to achieve the sustainable development goals (SDGs).

The session was moderated by Prof. Ugo Panizza (Director, Centre for Finance and Development, Graduate Institute Geneva) and opened with a presentation of the World Bank Atlas of SDGs 2018 by Dr Mahmoud Mohieldin (Senior Vice President for the 2030 Development Agenda, UN Relations, and Partnerships, World Bank Group). The publication is based on the World Bank Group’s World Development Indicators, a database of more than 1400 indicators for more than 220 economies, many going back over 50 years. The data comes from national sources and international organisations including, but not limited to, the UN system.

After the presentation, the session focused on ‘Harnessing Data for Development’. The first panellist, Dr Jemilah Mahmood (Under Secretary-General for Partnerships, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC)), talked about the importance of having good statistics and data about displaced people in order to act effectively and achieve the SDGs. She argued that data is usually from and for the people affected by a specific event, and from and for the organisations that work in the field. Moreover, it is essential that people who are to benefit from the data are effectively literate and able to understand it. Nowadays however, the challenge is to keep up with the speed of change: indeed, despite change having always been a constant in the evolution of events, data changes extremely quickly, making it more and more important to have robust and instant data. This is the reason behind the creation of a global operation data platform, where people can update some of this data. Furthermore, she underlined that some of the indicators of the SDGs are used as IFRC’s ones, but she also stressed that a recurrent issue is characterised by missing data. National society and volunteers can fill the gap and provide some specific insights. Finally, she recalled that data is changing in a very quick way and that it is necessary to collaborate to map the data available and use it to achieve a specific goal.

The second panellist was Prof. Lubna A Al-Ansary (Assistant Director-General for Health Metrics and Measurement, World Health Organization (WHO)). She argued that better data is essential to ensure that no one is left behind and to appropriate allocated resources, according to the effective needs of countries. Stating that the SDGs are essentially interlinked, she focused primarily on health, saying that it is necessary to use all of the data and indicators available to achieve better health. Moreover, not all countries have adequate health education systems: thus, there is a difficulty in the process of collecting health data because of the dis-aggregation of data when it is not properly collected. It is necessary to establish standards in data collection, to ensure access to this data, and to make it comparable for global monitoring purposes.

The third panellist, Dr David Nabarro (Director of Skills, Systems & Synergies for Sustainable Development (4SD)), talked about the vital dual purpose of data, both for policymakers and people. However, he underlined that the collection of numbers or data is useful but meaningless if the data is not interpreted in a credible way. For the future of our world and for the implementation of the data, effective and accurate interpretations are essential.

The final panellist, Dr Luca Pupulin (Executive Director, IMPACT Initiatives) addressed the issue of moving from national data to local data in order to establish more localised policies. He started his speech with some general comments about data and the SDGs. First, it is important to measure the direct link between the under-performance of the SDGs and the likelihood of a crisis. Indeed, if you have low performance of an SDG, it is most likely that a crisis situation will come up. Second, there is an essential need for robust data in order to effectively measure the stage the SDGs are at. At the moment, we can see that there is a lack of data among the most vulnerable populations. Third, the main analysis framework is at the national level; however, in a more and more globalised world, characteristic vulnerabilities are becoming more and more similar across countries and population groups.

Pupulin said that it is important to have information from different parts of a country. Furthermore, he stressed that it is possible to collect granular information, even in a crisis situation, which is the basis for situation monitoring and warning systems activities. In conclusion, he argued that humanitarian actors can help in finding reliable and legitimate data in crisis situations.