The community that gathered in Cape Town last year for the first World Data Forum represented the best and the brightest minds that are powering the data revolution for sustainable development. The Cape Town Global Action Plan for Sustainable Development Data (CTGAP), launched last year, outlines a plan that will help us transform statistical systems and leverage new data sources and technology to realize the Sustainable Development Goals.

Within our community, we all agree that data must become a strategic, cross-cutting priority for developing countries and donors alike. But we won’t be able to drive and scale innovation, nor achieve our ultimate goals, without adequate financing and investment.

Objective 6.1 in the CTGAP focuses on ensuring resources are available to implement the necessary programmes and actions as outlined in the plan. It notes that without sufficient financial resources, we won’t be able to implement the other objectives in the action plan. And right now, investment in data for development is falling short.

Best estimates put the funding gap at $200 million, and as last year’s OECD Development Co-operation Report said, donor priorities -rather than governments’ priorities - still drive assistance, often leading to sub-optimal outcomes. Global Partnership country partners experience these challenges at the national level, with some citing difficulty in improving methodologies or expanding capacity for collecting more disaggregated data and others reiterating the need to align funding with results. On the sidelines of the last World Data Forum, a discussion around financing data with representatives from over 20 bilateral, multilateral, and philanthropic funding organizations pointed to the lack of a strong evidence base for the value of investing in data as a major barrier to increased financing.

For this reason, in parallel with implementing the other objectives of the CTGAP, we must simultaneously be strengthening the evidence base on the value of investing in data. Without this, we can’t advocate for more funding, and without more funding, we won’t meet our goals.

It’s not all bad news. Our recent value of data case study series examines the impact of improvements in data and their return on investment, digging into examples of investment in different types of data from different funding sources, including public, private, external and domestic sources – all with encouraging results.

For example, Earth observation data made available via the Landsat program has had an estimated worldwide economic benefit as high as $2.19 billion as of 2011. And BudgIT, a data openness, access, and literacy program that makes budgetary information from Nigeria’s Federal Government more understandable and usable, exposed a 41 million naira (US$113,575) investment that was funding a non-existent youth center. Manoshi, a data-driven health program piloted in Bangladesh by BRAC, dramatically reduced maternal and infant mortality rates in project areas through social mapping and data collection – including mobile data collection – that guided policy and resourcing for localized healthcare services. mTrac, a package of interventions that leverage mobile phones to track health service quality, drug access, and disease patterns, with a particular focus on malaria, has contributed to better emergency response times for endemics, improved distribution of resources, and has proven to be cost-effective, saving local health officials transportation costs and time. Read more examples here, and stay tuned, as more case studies are coming out soon.

We’re seeing positive steps at the international level as well. The new 50 X 2030 initiative from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, USAID, BMZ Germany, Australia, and the World Bank, launched at a side event during UN General Assembly, commits to leverage what is likely to be the largest ever investment in agricultural statistics in 50 countries by 2030.

These small steps are reminders that it is possible – but it will take intensive research and analysis to further develop the case for financing data and a savvy advocacy strategy to influence policymakers. We look forward to exploring this complex, urgent issue together in Dubai, where we expect hyper-focused, productive collaboration will, as last year, lend itself to solutions and progress.