Data revolution for Sustainable Development

Written by Sabrina Juran, Technical Specialist, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)

This is the latest post in our blog series on ‘What kind of ‘data revolution’ do we need for post-2015?

The call of the UN’s High Level Panel on Post-2015 for a ‘data revolution’ is gaining momentum. But what does this call for a data revolution mean?

It means many things:

  • building on the wealth of official statistics that already exist in national statistical systems;
  • collecting more and better data on old and new emerging aspects of well-being;
  • compiling data faster for real-time analysis and dissemination of data;
  • combining traditional data sources with new ones, such as big data, remote sensing, mobile phone data, etc.;
  • producing and using data in new ways to promote transparency and accountability;
  • using and integrating data in informed decision-making and policies that affects people’s lives; and
  • using data to monitor policy implementation.

The central focus of the new Post-2015 paradigm will be on eradicating extreme poverty by 2030, with a stronger emphasis on inequality and inclusiveness. Goals and targets must take into account current and future populations, changing age structures, mobility patterns, city growth and changes in the spatial distribution of people. Indicators, in turn, must be disaggregated by sex, age, social, economic, and ethnic characteristics.

More data do not necessarily translate into better polices. Good quality and timely data need to be analyzed to ensure evidence based decision making. However, the international and national monitoring systems should be tempered by a realistic assessment of the capacity of statistical office to deliver information. The data revolution provides the opportunity to address statistical capacity building from the start.

In accordance with the principles agreed at the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) and the Millennium Declaration, international cooperation should recognize national ownership and leadership as prerequisites for development. National strategies for statistical capacity cannot follow a one size fits all but must reflect national realities. Technical or financial assistance for statistical capacity needs to be demand not donor driven. A national statistical office can only work sustainably if it can respond to local needs and realities.

Within the new development framework, UNFPA advocates for 1) universal birth and death registration; 2) access to timely and complete data for population trends and projections; and 3) systematic use of population trends and projections in the formulation, monitoring and evaluation of development strategies. These efforts might be addressed under a goal on governance or be mainstreamed throughout the framework.

The international community should further commit to building an integrated global-level georeferenced database, bringing together demographic, social, economic and environmental information on a common spatial frame, to ensure that globally available data are accessible and can be integrated spatially with nationally and locally owned data. This would achieve far greater leverage for policy makers and planners without violating rules of ownership, retention and access. Census data, the only geo-referenced universally sampled dataset, should be at the core of this project.

Indicators that measure the use of data for development could include, as a minimum:

a. Improvements in institutional capacities to generate quality data, disaggregated

by age, sex, location, wealth quintiles, among other categories, including birth and death registration, censuses, surveys and service-related management and information systems;

b. Changes in breadth of access to these data and in their use for research and policy analysis, planning and programme design, monitoring and evaluation;

c. Improvements in capacity to prepare population projections and to use them to formulate national, subnational and sector development strategies, goals, targets and policies.

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