On July 16th, 2019, CEO Claire Melamed spoke at the High-level Political Forum at the United Nations Headquarters on data and the potential for it to make progress on the Sustainable Development Goals. She gave a report on the National Statistical Office of the UK Government, describing the work the government has done as a champion of the Inclusive Data Charter. 

Data is the lifeblood of the Sustainable Development Goals. It is the collective commitment to gather and report data on progress that makes the goals so powerful. The data collected by governments to report progress on the goals is the raw material for accountability and the backbone of decision making.  

We see so clearly in this Voluntary National Review (VNR), how data can shine a light on how progress is happening, reveal who is being left behind and show where governments and others need to focus their energy and attention.

But there is a big injustice at the heart of our global data. Those who most need this light – who most need the attention of the world focused on them and their lives – are the least visible in the data. For too many of them, the light is turned off. 

We do not know the most basic things – when people are born, or when they die. One fourth of children under five born in our world are not registered – invisible to the governments whose responsibility it is to help them. How can a government build a school, or a road, or a clinic, for children it does not know exist?

Data delayed is data denied. For too many people, the data lags far behind their lives, so we only see them in the rear-view mirror. For two thirds of the population of Africa, poverty data is based on surveys conducted before the SDGs were even agreed. How can we achieve the SDGs if we are fighting the battles of yesterday, and do not even know about the realities people are facing today?

The UK government has led the way on data innovation, for example in championing the Inclusive Data Charter, providing resources and technical support to end the injustice of invisibility around the world, and developing its own action plan to shine a light on issues like domestic violence, pointing the way towards solutions. Data, used well, can help save lives.

The VNRs we are all considering this week are built with data. But the foundations are shaky. I urge you all, as you make your plans and investments to achieve the SDGs by 2030, to invest in the thing that makes everything else possible – the data that shines a light on progress and can illuminate the darkest corners of our world.