This event showcased Ireland’s new approach for monitoring the sustainable development goals (SDGs) by using geographic information systems, developed as part of an initiative with the UN Statistics Division and Esri. The discussion was moderated by Ms Orlaith Fitzmaurice (First Secretary and Lead on Sustainable Development and Migration and the Permanent Mission of Ireland) and opened by Mr Denis Naughten (Minister for Communications, Climate Action and the Environment, Ireland), who recognised the importance of verifiable and usable data for the development and implementation of policies and for communication with the public. He praised Ireland’s Central Statistics Office (CSO) for combining data with geospatial maps, which allows decision-makers and citizens to understand the meaning of the data at the community level and to observe progress towards the goals. Furthermore, he urged for more action to equalise the different capacities of statistical offices around the world and highlighted the potential of storytelling.
Mr Kevin McCormack (Senior Statistician at the CSO, Ireland) presented how the CSO engages in inter-agency collaboration and a public-private partnership to monitor the SDGs using geographic information systems. The project has identified geospatial information for 60 SDG indicators, and publishes data and visualisations on an openly accessible SDG platform. The portal also contains storymaps, which consist of interactive maps with supporting information, including one created for Ireland’s Voluntary National Review. Storymaps can help engage policymakers and other stakeholders and inform the public.
Mr Greg Scott (Inter-Regional Advisor on Global Geospatial Information Management at the UN Statistics Division) explained that geospatial information allows statistical data to ‘come to life’. Although there is already an extensive amount of data available, there is a need to ‘liberate the data’, make it more accessible, and better illustrate where change is happening. The combination of data and technology can enable storytelling and portray local data at the global level. However, this does require political will and an understanding of the value of geospatial information among decision-makers.
During the discussion, participants raised questions related to the comparability and standardisation of geospatial data, the potential of crowdsourcing data for the SDGs, and the benefits of earth observation data for the private sector and other stakeholders. In addition, the discussion addressed the possibility of better understanding the interconnections between the goals through geodata. While there are possibilities to show trends and correlations through geospatial information, this does not always signify a causal relationship between indicators. Fitzmaurice closed the discussion by reiterating the call to ‘measure what we treasure’ amidst the ‘chaotic mosaic of the SDGs’.