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Has data reached a fever pitch?

The United Nations World Data Forum was held between 22 to 24 October 2018 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Industry leaders and experts gathered to intensify cooperation with various professional groups and users on crosscutting issues plaguing the world. Its organisation follows one of the main recommendations in the November 2014 report presented by the United Nations Secretary-General’s Independent Expert and Advisory Group on Data Revolution for Sustainable Development. The report is titled, “A World That Counts”.

Data Insights for Women’s Rights

In her opening statement, UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina J. Mohammed reflected that still much more can be done to achieve the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. The key to this is more and better data.

She said, “With accurate, representative, inclusive and disaggregated data, we can understand the challenges we face – and identify the most appropriate solutions for sustainable development.”

Referring to natural disasters and good governance measures, the UN Deputy Secretary-General pointed out how data can improve the lives of ordinary citizens. Insights driven by data can slash economic losses and raise a government’s accountability.

Beyond the typical uses of data, the UN Deputy Secretary-General singled out women and children as key beneficiaries from the data revolution. Currently, more than two thirds of countries lack gender disaggregated data on violence against women.

By thinking about the vulnerable groups in society, data has the potential to benefit everyone equally. For example, robust and accessible data and information can advise women about laws which protect them against discrimination. The insights gathered from the data can also help the legislative shape the way in which policies are drawn up.

UN’s Data Plans

Determined to implement the 2030 Agenda at all levels, in all regions and countries, the United Nations will lead global efforts to integrate data and information systems.

Under its auspices, the Open Data Hub for the Sustainable Development Goals allows countries to bring together different data sources, integrated with geospatial information, for evidence-based decision-making and advocacy.

Users have access to all available global data and can view interactive stories about progress on implementing the 2030 Agenda.

Another initiative, UN Global Pulse works to harness big data to accelerate sustainable development and humanitarian action globally.

Furthermore, the UN itself is working to improve each member country’s statistical capacity. In doing so, it is hoped that the timeliness and quality of data and statistics on the SDGs will be improved. A new global network of statistical training institutions will be unveiled to support the endeavour.

The United Nations Centre for Humanitarian Data in The Hague is increasing the impact and use of data throughout the humanitarian sector. Aid workers globally can access needed data real-time in an efficient manner to make life-saving and informed decisions.

In partnership with the World Bank on ID4D (Identification for Development), a biometrics project is being embarked on to register people at birth. By registering an individual, no one is left behind in terms of opportunities and lost to government planning and policies.

UN Data Regulatory Framework

More than just creating data driven solutions, the UN is also working to establish ethical norms, data privacy and data protection frameworks.

In July this year, the Secretary-General launched a High-Level Panel on Digital Cooperation. The UN Deputy Secretary-General said, “Its task is to help harness the benefits of emerging technologies, including issues of data literacy, data privacy and the digital divide, while avoiding the unintended negative consequences of technological innovation, such as job losses and the erosion of workers’ rights.”

However, hurdles for implementation remain. Funding for data and statistical systems are limited. Moreover, political, technical and advocacy support is severely lacking.

Tools to support a data revolution such as visualisation platforms must be developed and deployed. Furthermore, UN country teams must be equipped with the right skills and capacities to maximise opportunities using data. These include big data, artificial intelligence, blockchain, robotics and drones.

One major room for improvement is the availability of disaggregated and local-level data. Localised data improves decision-making at every level of the community.

Ending her address, the UN Deputy Secretary-General said, “Together, we can safely and responsibly harness the power of data to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and bring about a world where no one, absolutely no one, is left behind.”


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