1. What are the key themes of this report?

With only eleven years left to meet the goals, it is imperative that governments focus on building robust, inclusive, and relevant national data systems to support the curation and promotion of better data for sustainable development, focusing on:

“Poverty and basic health data, such as that relating to child stunting, is often five or more years out of date, while birth registration is often even older. Administrative data like what children are learning, whether hospitals have enough medicine and whether people have access to transport are grossly underfunded in many parts of the world – if funded at all.” Counting on the World (2017)

2. How does it differ from the 2017 edition?

Counting on the World 2017 identified the key challenges affecting the collection, curation and dissemination of high-quality data on sustainable development, such as acute capacity gaps, lack of political leadership, and inadequate financing. It then went on to discuss how collaboration among a broad set of actors must occur across all stages of the data process – from collection and cleaning through dissemination and analysis – and how catalyzing this collaboration requires an array of innovative institutional arrangements, roles and responsibilities, and incentives.

But with limited progress two years on – for example, with 50-plus of the SDG indicators still undefined – this report revisits these recommendations, focusing on the central agents of change: governments (IAEG 2019). In this report, TReNDS details an action plan for governments and their development partners that will enable them to help deliver the SDGs globally by 2030.

Our recommendations specifically aim to empower government actors – whether they be national statisticians, chief data scientists, chief data officers (CDOs), ministers of planning, or others concerned with evidence in support of sustainable development – to advocate for, build, and lead a new data ecosystem. These recommendations draw inspiration from best practices and notable examples from the Philippines, Bangladesh, Colombia, and other regions. These country examples, in particular, illustrate the power of governments to make big changes under significant resource constraints.

3. What progress has been made in the last two years?

In the last few years the coverage of census data has increased dramatically (catalyzed by computer-assisted methods and other technological innovations). This means we now have a much better handle on exactly how many people live in each country and their precise location, thereby helping to better target government services and interventions. Furthermore, the expanding use of satellite imagery is helping to augment traditional survey methods, giving us robust interim estimates on population movement and change. And statisticians and policy makers have joined together in response to the call to Leave No One Behind – for example, establishing new standards for the measurement of aging through a new expert “City Group” (UN 2018b).

There is also growing consensus among national statisticians, data scientists, academics, and private sector representatives on the required direction of travel: the need to innovate, to work in partnership, and to look to non-official sources of data to supplement official statistics. This was particularly evident at the two World Data Forums convened in January 2017 in Cape Town, South Africa, and October 2018, in Dubai, UAE. At these events, and in their subsequent outcome documents, representatives from the UN system, from national governments, from private companies, academia, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and citizen groups committed to “take decisive actions to transform how data and statistics are produced and disseminated to inform development policy decision, with the vital support of governments and in closer partnership with stakeholders from academia, civil society, the private sector, and the public at large” (UN Statistics Division 2017).

4. This report is about governments but what can individuals do to boost national statistical capacity?

The key thing that private citizens can do to spur improvements in national data on sustainable development is to demand it; ask for the facts, in real-time, from your local and national government. And if the government is non-responsive go to the media; tell them what you want to know, that the government isn’t providing it and ask them to investigate the real state of affairs by talking to leading experts in universities, in private companies and amongst civil society. To encourage improvements in the quality of the data and information we all use to monitor the sustainability of our societies and environment we need to create a culture of accountability; amongst local and national governments, private companies, and civil society groups alike.

5. How much money is spent on statistics every year?

It is very hard to accurately estimate how much is spent on statistics every year in every country around the world, as much funding for data is provided through project funds for monitoring and evaluation, is provided by bilateral and multilateral donors, or by private philanthropy.

In 2018 PARIS21 estimated that international support to statistics amounted to USA 623 million as of 2016. Based on an analysis of National Strategies for the Development of Statistics, it is assumed that low-income country governments are investing an equivalent amount (Espey et al., 2015).

6. How much money is needed for accurate, timely sustainable development data and statistics?

In 2015 SDSN, ODW and partners estimated the cost of producing a representative set of SDG indicators in 77 IDA and Blend countries to be between $13.5 and $14.2 billion dollars over the period 2016 to 2030 (Espey et al. 2015). That included $11.4 to $12.1 billion for surveys, censuses, and improvements to CRVS and education management information systems (EMIS). The recommended set of surveys and the unit costs of surveys and censuses were provided by institutions and experts familiar with the instruments and data collection process. The remaining $2.1 billion was for real sector statistics and the development of geospatial and environmental monitoring capabilities. The cost estimation methodology is described in Data for Development (Espey et al. 2015).

In 2016, partners through the GPSDD updated the above estimates to include additional surveys for monitoring gender violence and literacy levels, time use modules in labor force surveys, annual agricultural surveys, and improvements to health management information systems (HMIS), bringing the total to $17.0 billion, of which $14.9 billion was for surveys, censuses, CRVS, EMIS, and HMIS. The 2016 update is documented in The State of Development Data Funding (GPSDD 2016).

Based on the above estimates, SDSN and partners identified a data financing gap of at least US$ 500-600 million per annum, of which at least US$ 200 million was required of the international community (Espey et al. 2015). In 2019, PARIS21 and Overseas Development Institute (ODI) recalculated these figures to include additional investments in statistical capacity based on the recommended actions in the UN Cape Town Global Action Plan, and estimated the international community needs to provide an additional US$ 700 million per annum (ODI 2019).

7. What are the priority data gaps?

As of 2019 the Inter-Agency and Expert Group on SDG Indicators reported that approximately half of SDG indicators do not have available data, while 88 indicators had no defined methodology and a further 34 had a methodology, but data was not yet being collected and reported for them in most countries (IAEG 2019). “That means that even relatively sophisticated national statistical offices may have hands-on familiarity with only some 40% of the eventual full range of SDG indicators” (Rogerson 2019). Data gaps are therefore profound; for some 40% of the SDG issues we can not measure our progress and even where we do have data it is often wildly out of date. This includes vital, life-saving information like how many women are dying every day in childbirth and how many children have access to clean drinking water.

Furthermore, there are huge numbers of people who still go totally uncounted; such as the 25.4 million refugees in the world who are missing from national statistics (UN 2018).

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) place high importance on using data to monitor and ultimately achieve sustainable development, and include such commitments as disaggregating data by income, gender, age, race, ethnicity, migratory status, disability, and geographic location to ensure we leave no one behind (see Target 17.18). But as of 2019 our ability to disaggregate all of the relevant SDG measures by these classifications is limited, at best.

Huge investments in data and innovations are therefore required to ensure we have a robust baseline upon which to monitor and achieve the SDGs.

8. What is SDSN TReNDS?

TReNDS is an initiative of and is governed by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN). It a global expert group on the data revolution whose members are leaders with expertise spanning the spectrum of global and national data policies, standards, and processes that guide data production, access, and use.

Our experts from across the global scientific, development, public, and private sector data communities analyze and advise on past, current, and emerging approaches to ensure that the benefits of the data revolution are extended to those most in need and that we put in place strong, well-resourced national data systems to support data innovation. Specifically, our mission is to conduct research and undertake projects that;

As a multi-stakeholder group, made up of private, public and academic representatives, TReNDS’ mission is to curate research and to undertake projects that help us move towards inclusive, modern national data ecosystems, capable of producing high quality data on sustainable development. This report summarizes what TReNDS’ members consider the priority areas of action. They are therefore also the pillars around which our work is structured; governance (such as researching evolving national governance systems for data), policy frameworks (see our project Contracts for Data Collaboration), innovation (see our projects POPGRID and Data4Now) and financing and investment (see our briefing series on the value of data and returns on investment).

All references are provided in Counting on the World To Act (2019)