By Tom Orrell, senior advocacy advisor, Publish What You Fund
The Guardian newspaper is currently running an online series of articles entitled The Tech Continent: Africa’s Digital Renaissance. Much of the content that has been published to date explores how new technologies can help to overcome specific problems. For example: How can drones be used to deliver medical supplies?
Whilst investing in innovations such as drone technology in Africa is certainly welcome, it mustn’t detract from the urgent need to build up essential national-level institutional capacity, knowledge and infrastructure across the continent — including national statistical capacity. Only by doing this will it be possible to establish a timely, accurate and reliable supply of sustainable development data that can be used for decision-making.
In order for this to happen, countries need to be able to make the best use of data and information that is already available.
Over the course of the past year, the Joined-Up Data Standards project has been exploring how development data from different sources and published to different standards can be joined-up — made interoperable or more easily comparable with each other. We believe that this is one key way of helping to maximize the value of existing data both for decision-making and accountability.
Our technical research to date has focussed on a number of areas. We’ve explored how global institutions subdivide the world into geopolitical and socioeconomic groupings and why sectoral classifications used for resource flows are difficult to match with indicator classifications used to describe development impacts, and have investigated data overlaps that occur between competing household surveys and programs.
We’ve now compiled all our research into a consultation paper that sets out our provisional findings and recommendations on what solutions to interoperability challenges could look like. It has always been an underlying presumption of the project that the challenge of a lack of interoperability between data standards is not really a technical one — as we’ve shown, the technologies needed to enable interoperability already exist — but primarily a political one. This is an important point, especially for the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data and those engaging with it.
Recent years have seen a surge in recognition of the challenge at the international level. The “World That Counts” report, the Transformative Agenda for Official Statistics, Addis Ababa Action Agenda and Open Data Charter, amongst others, all contain references to the need to work towards interoperability between data standards. While this is all welcome, what we’re really interested in now — as reflected in our consultation paper — is what these principles mean in practice and how commitments that exist can be converted into action.
Perhaps the most important recommendation that we’ve reached in our consultation paper is that joining-up data standards will require joined-up leadership. As it stands, at the international level, a number of exciting initiatives are taking place that offer excellent opportunities for joined-up leadership on interoperability issues. The work of the Global Partnership itself is really taking off, especially within the working groups. Similarly, within the UN system, the work of the High-Level Group for Partnership, Coordination and Capacity-building for statistics and the Transformative Agenda for Official Statistics is also emerging.
While these separate developments are very encouraging, we believe that there is a need for an integrated leadership body that covers both official and multi-stakeholder processes to drive the #DataRevolution and Transformative Agenda for Official Statistics forward.
Ultimately, we are all pursuing a common objective: ensuring that the right data can be accessed and used by the right people at the right time so that they can make better-informed decisions. The commitments on interoperability exist, the technology exists too; all that is now required is political will. For that to be fostered, joined-up leadership will be critical.