25.10.2018 Data: Is it the new oil, water or light for sustainable development?

Don’t worry, this short blog is not going to explore the meaning of the various images used in the title, but they were referenced during the 2nd UN World Data forum again and again, so I thought they might serve as a nice way to introduce this blog. All of them suggest that without data, progress in implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development cannot be made or measured. I leave it to you to reflect further upon the different images used and which one you prefer…

The UN World Data Forum 2018 was hosted by the Federal Competitiveness and Statistics Authority, of United Arab Emirates from 22 to 24 October 2018, with support from the Statistics Division of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, under the guidance of the United Nations Statistical Commission and the High-level Group for Partnership, Coordination and Capacity-Building for Statistics for the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The long list of hosts and supporting partners listed here above, will already give you an idea of howdiverse and broad the participants were. All came together, for the second Data Forum of this kind, to present and debate the need to collect, interpret and use the right data, in order to support and inform the right decisions to advance the implementation of the 2030 Agenda. The Forum, which was attended by over 2000 people, was held in plenary and many concurrent sessions focussing on specific topics. The programme was extremely diverse, ranging from sessions about the role of national statistical offices to the debate on whether there is a lack of public trust in data in times of social media.

In the midst of this vast programme, there was the motto of the 2030 Agenda to leave no one behind that was quoted as one of the key principles of the Agenda in almost all sessions! And there was broad consensus that we still have too little data about people who are left behind and about the causes for people being left behind. In that regard, data was often seen as a tool to empower people, rather than just being numbers! A clear sense of urgency came from the Data Forum to speed-up collection of data about those who are, or who are supposedly, amongst the most marginalised groups of the population. While there was agreement amongst participants that method’s to collect ata are changing and will include in the future more innovative ways (such as data collected via mobile phones), the role and recognition of citizens gathered data to inform the “official” data picture remains a matter for further discussion.

It was very positive to see that persons with disabilities were mentioned during the Data Forum in the context of leaving no one behind. This is certainly not a given in such “expert fora” and would not have been the case few years ago! At the same time, that visibility of disability data was largely made possible by the interventions of DPO representatives from within the International Disability Alliance (IDA) and its members as well as disability-focussed NGOs such as CBM. This shows that we still have a long way to go, in order to convince statisticians and the “Data Community” to really include ALL in their thinking and in their work! But the Data Forum in Dubai undoubtedly provided a positive further step in that direction!