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A World That Counts: Mobilizing the Data Revolution for Sustainable Development

Sunday, 30 November 2014
On 6 November 2014, the Secretary-General’s Independent Expert Advisory Group on a Data Revolution for Sustainable Development (IEAG)* met the UN Secretary-General to hand over their culminating report “A World That Counts: Mobilizing the Data Revolution for Sustainable Development”**.

The IEAG consists of over 20 international experts convened by the Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to propose ways to improve data for achieving and monitoring sustainable development. The report highlights two big global challenges for the current state of data: the challenge of invisibility (gaps in what we know from data, and when we find out) and the challenge of inequality (gaps between those who with and without information, and what they need to know make their own decisions).

Data are the lifeblood of decision-making and the raw material for accountability. Without high-quality data providing the right information on the right things at the right time, designing, monitoring and evaluating effective policies becomes almost impossible.

The IEAG report makes specific recommendations on how to address these challenges, calling for a UN-led effort to mobilize the data revolution for sustainable development: 1. Develop a global consensus on principles and standards: The public, private and civil society data and statistics providers need to be urgently brought together to build trust and confidence among data users. The IEAG proposes that the UN should establish a process whereby key stakeholders create a “Global Consensus on Data”, to adopt principles concerning legal, technical, privacy, geospatial and statistical standards which, among other things, will facilitate openness and information exchange and promote and protect human rights. 2. Fostering and promoting innovation to fill data gaps: New technologies offer new opportunities to improve data, if they are used for the common good. The IEAG proposes a programme for experimenting with how traditional and new data sources (including big data) can be brought together for better and faster data on sustainable development, developing new infrastructures for data development and sharing (such as a “world statistics cloud”), and supporting innovations that improve the quality and reduce the costs of producing public data. 3. Mobilizing resources to overcome inequalities between developed and developing countries and between data-poor and data-rich people: The IEAG stresses the need for increased funding and resources, used both to develop national capacity and global data literacy, and for public-private partnerships to leverage private sector resources and knowledge in the global interest. The international conference in July 2015 to discuss financing for new Sustainable Development Goals provides an opportunity for this. 4. Leadership and coordination to enable the data revolution to play its full role in the realization of sustainable development: The IEAG proposes a global effort to improve cooperation between old and new data producers, ensure the engagement of data users, and develop global ethical, legal and statistical standards to improve data quality and protect people from abuses in a rapidly changing data ecosystem.

As the world embarks on an ambitious project to meet new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), there is an urgent need to mobilize the data revolution for all people and the whole planet in order to monitor progress, hold governments accountable and foster sustainable development. More diverse, integrated, timely and trustworthy information can lead to better decision-making and real-time citizen feedback. This in turn enables individuals, public and private institutions, and companies to make choices that are good for them and for the world they live in. This report sets out the main opportunities and risks presented by the data revolution for sustainable development. Seizing these opportunities and mitigating these risks requires active choices, especially by governments and international institutions. Without immediate action, gaps between developed and developing countries, between information-rich and information-poor people, and between the private and public sectors will widen, and risks of harm and abuses of human rights will grow.

*IEAG was established on 29th August 2014 by the UN Secretary General to provide him with inputs to shape “an ambitious and achievable vision” for a future development agenda beyond 2015 to succeed the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).  The Group was appointed to advise the Secretary-General on measures required to close the data gaps and strengthen national statistical capacities. The Group is also expected to assess new opportunities linked to innovation, technical progress and the surge of new public and private data providers to support and complement conventional statistical systems and strengthen accountability at the global, regional and national level.
**For the Report, see:

Source: UN Data Revolution Group
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