Without more and better funding for development data, we face a decade of inaction. How can we make each aid dollar go farther?

During 2020-2021, three-quarters of the world’s countries will be conducting a census. This astonishing and unprecedented data collection effort comes amidst a time of extraordinary uncertainty. The COVID-19 pandemic has seriously disrupted the ability of many countries to collect, analyze and use data and, despite the challenges that they face, external financial inflows to developing countries could drop by a whopping 700 billion dollars, more than a third down from 2018 levels.

All this is taking place amidst a growing realization that to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, we have to rapidly accelerate action on a global scale. To achieve this, everyone, including women and girls, ethnic minorities, socioeconomically disadvantaged and other vulnerable populations, must be counted. Yet today, many nations – especially low-income countries and fragile states – lack the timely, granular and disaggregated data necessary. We can and must do more to support statistical progress in developing countries. Aid flows to data and statistics need to double, from around US$700m to US$1.4bn. As a percent of overall aid, this is a paltry sum, yet one with the potential to transform development - making it more inclusive, effective and inclusive to 2030 and beyond. Yet given historic levels of uncertainty and an ongoing global health crisis, needed increases in aid for data and statistics might not be forthcoming in the near-term. Solutions are therefore needed to maximize the effectiveness and efficiency of existing aid flows. The Bern Network on Financing Data for Development, a global alliance of organisations working to promote more and better financing for development data, has responded to this challenge and is developing the world’s first online information platform that provides data and forecasting on the global supply and demand of financing for data and statistics in near real-time.

The platform, called the ‘Clearing-house on Financing Development Data’ can help donors identify key data funding gaps in recipient countries, benchmark their country’s data funding, and highlight opportunities for joint projects with other donors. Recipient countries can use it to understand how much aid they are receiving for statistics across the board and plan investments accordingly, assess their funding gaps to lobby for more resources from government and donors, and access best practices to improve efficiency and effectiveness of investments in data and statistics.

For the Bern Network, creating a win-win scenario for both donors and recipients is key, and both communities (as well as academia, journalists, and other potential user groups) are being brought in as active participants in the development process to ensure that their needs are articulated in the final product. Ask somebody in the development community about which interventions can have the biggest impact and you might hear, “build a hospital”, or “give children access to a good education”. Rarely will somebody mention a census. Yet unless we have the right data, how will we know where to build a school, or how different population groups are affected by a health crisis such as COVID-19? Data are a fundamental prerequisite to any development intervention.

We invite all partners to contribute to the development of the clearing-house and help us to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of data development cooperation. At the same time, support to data and statistics must be prioritised among aid budgets. For less money than Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos earned in one week last year, we can fundamentally alter the trajectory of sustainable development in the Global South.

More and better development data will make the achievement of Agenda 2030 less costly. It will enable smarter investments, reduce mistakes, and drive greater impact. For developing countries, access to the robust, granular data that we in advanced Western economies take for granted is not only game changing, but life changing. Learn about how you can get involved in the clearing-house and the Bern Network during our session at the 2020 Virtual UN World Data Forum.