This session explored the necessary resources and funding opportunities for the data needed to monitor and implement the sustainable development goals (SDGs). The session was opened by Mr John Pullinger (UK National Statistician), who highlighted that without data, ‘we’re flying blind on the 2030 Agenda’, and that better financing for data could provide ‘extraordinary returns’.
Noting the increased emphasis on data and statistics at this year’s HLPF, Mr Zachary Mwangi (Director-General of Kenya National Bureau of Statistics and Chair of the UN Statistical Commission) expressed his hope that ‘statistics is going to reclaim its position’. This is urgently needed, since National Statistical Institutes (NSIs) will have to modernise and strengthen their capacity in order to produce sufficient, disaggregated data to monitor the progress of the SDGs.
In his keynote remarks, Mr George Gyan-Baffour (Minister of Planning for Ghana) explained that data constitutes an integral part of the development agenda, not only in measuring progress, but also in quantifying the impact of interventions. This places great demands on NSIs, many of which have not yet started to collect data for many of the indicators, leading to a ‘data divide’ with a scarcity of basic data among developing countries, and a lack of capacity to fill these data gaps. At the same time, there is a surge of new data from digital advancements, that holds great potential for NSIs, but that cannot yet be tapped into. Therefore, according to Gyan-Baffour, it is imperative to break down the barriers to financing for better data.
Ms El-Iza Mohamedou (Deputy Manager of Paris 21) presented the trends related to official development assistance (ODA) to data and statistics. She stressed that the financial support given to statistics is relatively small compared to what is needed, comprising only 0.33% of ODA. In addition, funding for data and statistics has more or less plateaued, with no significant increase over the last few years. While current funding efforts are generally well-targeted, they are largely insufficient.
Mr Robin Ogilvy (OECD’s Special Representative to the United Nations) introduced and moderated the first panel of the session. He observed that the development community often addresses data in a fragmented way, confining discussions to specific areas, such as health or education, while a holistic aapproach is needed to deal with this systemic challenge.
Mwangi provided a perspective from the Kenyan NSI, explaining that it faces substantive challenges in the development of statistics. He highlighted the necessity of getting the legal framework right and provided examples of how Kenya has developed measures, strategies, and a code of practice to ensure that its statistics meet international standards. He emphasised that such efforts need to be participatory, demand-driven, and country-owned to ensure sustainability, while noting the benefits of sharing experiences with NSIs from other countries.
Mr Haishan Fu (Director of Development Data Group, World Bank) stressed that data is not only needed for monitoring and reporting, but also for ‘looking forward’ and guiding the development of programmes and targeted interventions. Fu provided an overview of the World Bank’s efforts in supporting development data, which focus on investments in:
Digital infrastructure as the backbone of data systems
The national statistical architecture, including capacity building and strengthening institutions
Collaborative data innovation to capture the potential of new technologies
At the same time, she argued that there has been too little investment in this area compared to what is needed, and called for collaborations to invest in data.
Mr Stefan Schweinfest (Director of the UN Statistics Division) explained that after the establishment of the SDGs, and more recently, the adoption of the indicator framework, the current challenge is to build capacities to be able to monitor the indicators. This requires integrating various sectors, systems, and data sources, for which it will be important to bring people together at conferences such as the World Data Forum. He concluded by highlighting the importance of the Cape Town Global Action Plan, which was formulated at the first edition of the World Data Forum in 2017.
Introducing the second panel, which provided the perspectives of the UK, Denmark, and Switzerland, the moderator, Ms Claire Melamed (CEO of Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data), reminded the participants that although the amount of funding needed for development data might seem significant, it is very small compared to the amount needed to solve other development challenges, and it should be relatively feasible to obtain.
Pullinger explained that investment in data is not about ‘one part of the world giving and another receiving’. Global challenges, such as trade and migration, require global data, and every country has an interest in understanding and supporting the global statistical system. Pullinger suggested focusing on three areas:
Disaggregation ‘to make visible the people we do not see’
Advocacy for the importance of development data
Building a data infrastructure that allows a new ecosystem to thrive by making sure that resources are mobilised and directed to where they can most make a difference
Mr Niels Ploug (Director of Social Statistics of Statistics Denmark) similarly identified a number of focus areas, suggesting to:
Change perceptions of statistics and convince society that data and statistics are part of the solution
Collaborate and create partnerships
Implement and advocate for the Cape Town Global Action Plan to ensure that efforts are not fragmented
He further highlighted the utility of administrative data as a solution to the challenges related to disaggregation.
Mr Georges-Simon Ulrich (Director-General of the Swiss Federal Statistical Office) emphasised the need for sustainable funding for statistics due to the value of having coordinated, trusted, objective reports from official sources, especially in the midst of a plethora of different frameworks and research efforts by non-state actors. He added that there is a need for stronger coordination and efficiency and a stronger voice for official statistics within the UN system. A greater awareness of what is needed for monitoring the 2030 Agenda is key to a more sustainable funding system.
Connecting remotely, Mr Jeffrey Sachs (Director UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network and Director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University) highlighted the potential of new forms of data to provide real-time monitoring of the SDGs and expressed his wish to have one or two indicators for every SDG monitored in real-time. He furthermore stressed the benefits of good quality, timely data to hold governments accountable, to design appropriate policies, to increase public awareness, and to support private businesses.
Throughout the discussion, a number of participants highlighted dimensions that need to be differentiated for a more informed discussion, noting the difference between more and better data, between national and international efforts, between official and non-official statistics, and between data and statistics. In addition, the gap between data producers and consumers needs to be narrowed by turning data into useful information for journalists, policy-makers, parliamentarians, and the general public: ‘unless data is made valuable, we won’t get the wallets to open up’.