Better data for sustainable development

Author :
Barbara Rosen Jacobson

This session, moderated by Ms Emily Pryor (Executive Director of Data2X), explored the financing, resources, capacity, and partnerships needs which have to be filled in order to generate better data for monitoring the sustainable development goals (SDGs). Mr Zachary Mwangi Chege (Chair of the UN Statistical Commission, Director General of the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics) explained that the SDG follow-up and review process requires the coordinated improvement of National Statistical Institutes (NSIs), especially considering the unequal distribution of capacities among them. Countries with a lack of well-equipped NSIs face measurement gaps, which often lead to uninformed decision-making. In addition, a lack of awareness about the importance of data in these countries has led to a consistent underfunding for statistics, which is only exacerbated by the lack of effective coordination of donors. Chege highlighted the importance of political support for statistics and the engagement of political leaders, as well as of developing a framework to meet capacity building needs.

Ms Nancy Potok (Chief Statistician of the United States of America) explained that while there is a lot of data ‘out there’, NSIs play a critical role in curating this data and ensuring that the data is objective, independent, and unbiased, regardless of its original source. In addition, NSIs have a key role to play in turning massive amounts of data into insights. At the same time, many NSIs lack statistical capacity, and strengthening statistical systems requires partnerships, as ‘NSIs are not miraculously improving capacity by themselves’. She added that small investments, assistance, and sharing of technology can already make a big difference.

Asking why the excitement over the data revolution has not translated into an equivalent commitment for data financing, Ms Shaida Badiee (Managing Director and Co-Founder of Open Data Watch) identified the financing gaps for SDG data. She explained that an additional 200 million dollars is needed for the SDG data agenda, which is a relatively small number compared to the billions needed for the implementation of the SDGs. She explained that the Cape Town Action Plan provides an important element for the coordination of financing, but that political support will have to be built to increase funding.

Ms Leesha Delatie-Budair (Deputy-Director-General of Statistics Institute of Jamaica) explained that the indicator framework and the generation of data needs to be mainstreamed into SDG programmes as an iterative process, and that it is not sufficient to provide one-time funding. She highlighted the particular importance of strengthening the technical and institutional statistical capacities in vulnerable economies, such as small island developing states and least developed countries. She furthermore noted the potential of digitising administrative data to maximise its use for statistical purposes.

Opening up the discussion to the floor, Kenya asked whether there is a time-frame for the development of mechanisms to collect data, and Denmark called for a strategic plan to help prioritise investments. The Major Group of NGOs reminded the room that all data contains power dynamics and urged NSIs to include civil society and use the data gathered in ‘empowering and participatory ways’. Italy emphasised the role of coordination, and Bahrain noted the potential of non-official sources of data. El Salvador identified the challenge for those countries who lag behind in making progress towards the SDGs, to develop statistical capacities, which could impede their advancement even further.

Chege stressed the role of domestic funding and technical co-operation with other countries to modernise NSIs. Potok added the possibility for NSIs to leapfrog towards modernised systems and the potential of sharing equipment, knowledge, training, and specialists. In this context, the panellists explored the utility of regional centres of excellence. While Chege argued that they would assist in sharing resources, Potok reasoned that there might be ways to share resources more efficiently rather than creating additional organisational, and potentially bureaucratic, structures. Finally, Badiee reflected on the considerable ‘costs of inaction’, as a lack of reliable data could lead to ill-informed decisions.

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The need for people to gain access to ICT resources and narrow the digital divide is crucial, and is especially relevant now in the light of the Sustainable Development Goals. It is also important to understand how access to the Internet affects the level of economic and social development in a country.

 

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