Data For All -- Building Trust in Data Platforms

The world is going through an unparalleled transition affecting the way communities live and work together. Urbanization, Poverty, Inequality, Scarce Natural Resources, Gender, Health, Education, Climate. The issues are not new, but a challenge faced by many communities remains: How to put quality data in the hands of policymakers at the right time and in the right format to improve planning and decision making?

The UN World Data Forum 2018 will bring together communities of data producers and data users from around the globe, all searching for pragmatic solutions to the many data challenges facing the global community. It will be an important opportunity to learn about how sustainable development can thrive on data-driven strategies. Building trust in data can help communities rethink their own development strategies.

In 2013, a High Level Panel appointed by the UN Secretary-General reported: "Better data and statistics will help governments track progress and make sure their decisions are evidence-based; they can also strengthen accountability. This is not just about governments. International agencies, CSOs and the private sector should be involved. A true data revolution would draw on existing and new sources of data to fully integrate statistics into decision making, promote open access to, and use of, data and ensure increased support for statistical systems." Thematic Area 5 of the Forum will explore options for NSOs and CSOs to pragmatically embrace open data principles and adopt data standards, in tandem with technology, that promote multi-stakeholder partnerships for data producers and users.

Expectations are high for the data revolution to respond to the demands for complex development issues to be addressed with better data production and use. There is hope that rapidly emerging information technologies will promote transparency and accountability.

Wide-ranging debates about the use of new information technologies for sustainable development are ongoing. At one extreme, techno-enthusiasts hold a giddy, utopian perspective that technology will ‘fix ' everything. And, at the other extreme, statisticians have a more conservative view of how existing systems may adapt to technological change, more slowly, one step at a time. The challenge is to find a sustainable middle ground between these two extremes and to move ahead with data-driven strategies that are appropriate and effective.

NSOs are further mandated by the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development to translate the commitment of "ensuring that no one is left behind" into concrete and practical tools for SDG monitoring that fit into the broader context of national development priorities. This implies breaking from the business-as-usual approaches by harnessing emerging information technology with innovations that transform the capabilities of government entities to address the demands of the 2030 Agenda.

There is a need to mobilize stakeholders to participate in the UN World Data Forum 2018 to address shared concerns on capacity gaps in data and analytics. In this way, we will better understand the world around us through data, disaggregated by characteristics such as age, sex, residence, income, and disability at the national and sub-national levels.

Based on the achievements and lessons learned from monitoring the Millennium Development Goals, NSOs have stressed the need for national SDG indicator reporting and dissemination platforms to improve access to data on key national development priorities and the transparency of official statistics, in compliance with the Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics. In response to this need, the United Nations Statistics Division consulted with stakeholders to recommend principles and guidelines for National platforms for SDG reporting.

The next step is to establish a UN technical function to help review and assess national reporting platforms. This function should provide coordination, coherence, and perhaps incubation, in order to compare solutions in an unbiased manner and to help NSOs make informed choices about the most suitable solutions in their own contexts. The Forum will provide an opportunity to take this forward, specifically during the sessions under Thematic Area 5 on:

  • Community Data Collaborations to Achieve the SDGs
  • Building together for benefits to all;
  • Multi-stakeholder data collaborations for sustainable development in Africa

And under Thematic Area 6. How far have we come? the forum will help identify emerging opportunities for NSOs to exchange ideas in sessions on:

  • The role of National Statistical Offices in enhancing Capacity Development of National Statistical Systems;
  • Modernisation of national statistics;
  • Developing Capacities for the 2030 Agenda;
  • Achieving an efficient UN statistical system.

In this context of these discussions at the forum, CSF will showcase the Data For All toolkit (DFA). The DFA toolkit is a platform of open source software tools designed to help NSOs produce reliable and timely data for ​programme planning, service delivery, transparency, and accountability. DFA is contributing to the SDGs and the 2030 Agenda by assisting Member States in strengthening data and statistical systems for evidence-based policy formulation.

DFA promotes greater interoperability within the ecosystem of socioeconomic statistics. The DFA approach complies with the Common Statistical Production Architecture (CSPA). CSPA is a set of common principles, standards and guidelines designed to promote greater interoperability among the different stakeholders that make up the ecosystem of official statistics.

DFA provides a leading-edge information technology platform to leverage the role of the national statistical system to support the overall normative and analytical work required for successful monitoring of the SDGs by Member States. DFA promotes compliance with international statistical standards endorsed by the UN Statistical Commission.

​DFA broadens the scope of data sources for effective SDG monitoring. The toolkit uses traditional data sources, strengthened by administrative management information systems. DFA also helps advance the use of new ,innovative data sources, such as geospatial data and, where relevant, crowdsourcing, mobile phone data collection, smart devices, big data, and SMS polling.

The DFA method for development embraces a collaborative strategy using the DFA open source software toolkit. Under this software development methodology, the source code is made available under open source license to analyze, change and improve its design over time. This strategy provides an efficient model for Member States and a community of users to share the costs and the benefits of the system.

Kris Oswalt is the President of Community Systems Foundation, a non-profit organization applying innovations in information technology for sustainable development.