A crucial opportunity

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals, adopted one year ago by world leaders as part of the 2030 Agenda, are unprecedented in their scope and vision of a better future for people and the planet.

The 169 targets and 230 indicators agreed through the SDG process are also unprecedented in their scope setting out what needs to be measured to monitor progress, inform decision-making and hold governments accountable on the 2030 Agenda.

Now we in the statistics and data community have to rise to this huge challenge to put in place the systems to gather and analyze the data needed, and to fill the many data gaps, using all the tools at our disposal from both traditional and innovative sources, strengthening national statistical systems and also tapping into the vast reach of the data revolution.

At the same time, the UN Member States, through the Statistical Commission, have given us a crucial new opportunity to succeed in addressing the SDG challenge the United Nations World Data Forum. The Commission agreed in March 2016 that such a Forum, to be held every two years, would be the suitable platform to intensify cooperation across the professional data community. This agreement was based on a recommendation by the UN Secretary-General’s Independent Expert and Advisory Group on a Data Revolution for Sustainable Development, in its 2014 report, A World That Counts.

Our long-time friends at Statistics South Africa, led by Pali Lehohla, have stepped up to the plate and offered to host the first-ever UN World Data Forum in Cape Town from 15 to 18 January 2017. And we, at the Statistics Division of UN DESA, are taking very seriously our responsibility to serve as secretariat for the Forum, as requested by the Commission. We are bringing together major partners and players to help plan the Forum so that it will be a fruitful vehicle for collaboration, where new initiatives will be launched and solutions presented that will help deliver better data for sustainable development. Data labs and interactive platforms, along with more traditional panel discussions, will give all participants the opportunity to contribute their ideas and talents.

As I often say, sustainable development will need to be supported by sustainable statistics and data. The data revolution calls for new methodologies and new data, increasingly disaggregated and yet integrated, data from traditional as well as new sources, incorporating geospatial dimensions, data that arereal-time and open. The rapid ICT developments underway will of course help, but to truly satisfy these demands, the professional statistical community will have to continuously strive to transform and modernize national statistical systems under the leadership of the national statistical offices.

I was once asked what I saw as the three main elements of the data revolution, and I said capacity, capacity and capacity — financial, human and institutional capacity. In building such capacity, we can only be successful if the statistical community has strong support and full political backing from the highest national authorities, and works in collaboration with a wide range of players. The attention and collaboration that have been growing in recent years and that will be boosted by the UN World Data Forum will be of immense help in generating the resources and partnerships needed to deliver the results everyone wants.

To make this work, we need everyone's capacities and viewpoints from across the data ecosystem from national statistical offices, the private sector, the UN system and international organizations, from civil society and the scientific and academic communities. We enthusiastically hope that many of you will be able to come to Cape Town in January to join in the inaugural Forum, and contribute to its outcomes and success.