Chapter 6 Time to Act: A Roadmap

Time to Act: A Roadmap icon

Data production and governance in the 21st century is different from ever before; it involves more actors, more rules, more regulations, more expertise, and more capacity. The only legitimate actors to set the rules of this new game and shepherd all of the actors into an effective ecosystem are national governments. And within governments, it is national statistical offices who are best placed to coordinate the transformations required. However, worldwide NSOs are underfunded and under-capacitated, and many are subject to restrictive government laws and policies that prevent them from coordinating government data production and use or forging external partnerships.

This needs to change urgently. The sustainable development challenge requires evidence-based solutions, interventions based upon good-quality and timely data that tell us what is going on now and can help us look ahead to predict and prepare for the future. To devise such solutions, governments need strong national data ecosystems that capitalize on rapid innovation across both the public and private sectors, harnessing new technologies, new infrastructure, and experimental approaches. The NSO must situate itself at the epicenter of this ecosystem, coordinating actors and processes and ensuring quality and rigor. This will require capacity-building across NSOs, including partnership management and technological upskilling, to help turn raw data into useful insights. It will also require significant, supportive policy development to drive open data efforts, govern new partnerships, and ensure citizens’ rights to privacy.

This transformation will be tricky; in many countries, donors have dictated national data agendas and this relationship needs to be redefined. Some new partnerships will inevitably fail. Some legal frameworks will be found lacking. But the scale of 21st-century sustainable development challenges necessitates that we try new ways of doing business.

This report highlights a few of the potential solutions at hand and some of the steps that governments can take to institutionalize them, bringing about the sea change we need. It has also considered the roles of Member State-led bodies like the UN Statistical Commission, UN Science-Policy-Business Forum on the Environment, and others, all of which will have pivotal roles in coordinating activity globally, ensuring standards, providing comparability of methods, and similar. These entities are coordinated at an operational level by global secretariats in New York and Paris, but it is country-level stakeholders that determine their agendas. Member States should use their seats in these bodies to ensure that the innovation they are cultivating at national levels is reflected in and supported by the international data system.

Table 3 summarizes the recommendations laid out in this report, identifying a lead agency for each and providing a recommended timeline for its fulfillment. As with the inaugural Counting on the World report, SDSN TReNDS commits to monitor progress on these recommendations over the long term and provide independent analysis on the state of the global data ecosystem. Only with decisive action now will we achieve the data revolution for sustainable development, and put in place the data building blocks essential for achieving the SDGs.

Table 3: An Updated Roadmap for Action

Pathways for Action Recommendations Lead and/or Group to Facilitate Timeframe
Governance 1 Local governments should look to bolster their statistical capacity to monitor local sustainable development challenges and share data upwards with national government. They should work with local expert groups like universities and, where resources permit, appoint dedicated data officers with the support and backing of the mayor or another relevant executive. National and local governments Ongoing
2 National governments should empower their national statistical offices with capacity, resources, and the right policy and legal frameworks to take on coordination of data curation and use across the whole of government and to partner with third parties as appropriate to use high-quality vetted data to supplement official statistics. All countries by 2020
3 National statisticians should be mandated to coordinate this change, working with a supportive Chief Data Officer who can focus on data use across government and partnerships (where necessary and practical). All countries by 2020
4 Internationally: a. Governments should call for reform of the UN Statistical Commission to ensure more focus on and resources allocated to addressing data gaps and capacity issues, as well as a more inclusive governance structure that invites in expertise from non-governmental groups. b. Member States should push the UN Statistical Commission to assume greater responsibility for the UN data ecosystem, encouraging coordination with newly-appointed agency and regional economic commission CDOs while also improving its inclusivity and inviting in external parties as active participants in formal proceedings. c. The UNSC should commit to frequent self-evaluations. National governments as members of the UN Statistical Commission, with support from the UN Statistics Division At the 51st UN Statistical Commission, 2020
Legal & Policy Frameworks 5 Where ambiguities exist on terminology in the SDG indicator list, UN custodian agencies and the IAEG-SDGs should convene broad epistemic communities and aim to forge consensus as a matter of urgent priority, with clear lines of communication and collaboration with beneficiary NSOs. UN agencies with active participation from national governments By the end of 2020
6 Countries should put in place clear open data policies that commit governments to make data open by default with clear exemptions relating to confidentiality of microdata, thereby supporting public sector data sharing and collaboration. National governments All countries by 2020
7 The UN Global Working Group on Big Data for Official Statistics should amplify work initiated by TReNDS, the GovLab, the University of Washington, the World Economic Forum, and others on legal standards for public-private data sharing – for example, deepening the analysis, sharing replicable best practices, and eventually developing guidelines on effective legal agreements for collaboration. The UN Global Working Group on Big Data for Official Statistics By end of 2020
Open Innovation 8 Encourage Member States, working with UN custodian agencies and the UN Statistical Commission, to stand up thematic collaboratives for methodological exchange where new approaches to measurement of specific indicators and issues can be evaluated, debated, and categorized to make them more accessible to NSOs and other relevant government departments. National governments and UN custodian agencies By end of 2020
9 Members of ECOSOC, working with the UN Science-Policy-Business Forum on the Environment and the Global Platform, should advance the concept of a digital ecosystem for sharing data, algorithms, and infrastructure. This should build upon and complement the Global Platform for Data, Services and Applications being advanced by the UN Statistics Division and the UN Global Working Group on Big Data for Official Statistics. UN Science-Policy-Business Forum on the Environment, ECOSOC, and the Global Platform under the GWG For launch by March 2021
Capacity & Resources 10 The High-level Group for Partnership, Coordination and Capacity-Building for Statistics for the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, working with the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data, should coordinate the international data for development community to shortlist a set of 8 to 10 clear, compelling goals that focus attention and investment on clear priorities. In support of this, they should develop and showcase compelling evidence of the return on investment from data systems. High-Level Group for Partnership, Coordination and Capacity-Building for Statistics for the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development By March 2020
11 Countries should take charge to improve donor coordination at the country level. A common set of principles for aid alignment, and using tools such as country project inventories to minimize duplication and proliferation of funding approaches, should be pursued as soon as possible among partner groups such the Bern Network on Financing Data for Development. National governments with support from the UN Statistical Commission, Bern Network on Financing Data for Development, with the Global Partnership for Effective Development Co-operation By March 2021
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