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UN needs Big Data in planning for Future Sustainable Development Goals

UN needs Big Data in planning for Future Sustainable Development Goals

Even the United Nations will be using Big Data! Various bodies and agencies are quickly realizing its benefits and capabilities to the development sector. In 2014, the UN Statistical Commission established a working group mandated to provide direction of a global program on Big Data. This group works on finding solutions, promoting capacity building, and sharing experiences of Big Data applications.

At the end of this year, the UN will launch a new set of Sustainable Development Goals to last until the year 2030. These will take over where the Millennium Development Goals left off. These goals are drivers of development efforts around the world.

Before these goals are devised, many questions need to be answered. These questions relate to the financial flows between all agents in the development sector.

The importance of data and analytics was emphasized in a blog by Gail Hurley, Policy Specialist on Development Finance, UNDP and Jos Verbeek, Advisor, Office of the President’s Special Envoy (SEM), World Bank. They claim that efficient data collection and reporting will be required.  This will help in the creation of a framework for funding the new sustainable development agenda.

The interoperability between data systems of different UN bodies and agencies have not been working together. For example, in understanding how much aid was being provided to low-income countries in a given year. The UN, the IMF, and the World Bank will each report a different answer to that question.

The reason for this challenge being several factors. First, none of these bodies use the same definition or standards of a ‘low-income country’. Second, when they report on international financial flows, the accuracy varies.

Third, each agency will count the flows of aid in different methods. Lastly, since financing has taken on many forms it has become much more difficult to decipher how much money is being given to development. The current climate between the UN agencies allows for much confusion.

What Big Data offers is a more accurate picture of how the money is flowing through these countries. Hurley and Verbeek suggest that the UN take advantage of this data for the benefits in financial planning. It can be harmonized in such a way that data, methods, resources will be accessible in common formats.

In coming up with the new Sustainable Development Goals agenda, big data can play a big role in providing intelligence to governments involved in the planning.


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