Interoperability is the ability to access and process data from multiple sources without losing meaning and then integrate that data for mapping, visualization, and other forms of analysis. In essence, it is the ability to ‘join-up’ data from different sources to help create more holistic and contextual information for simpler, and sometimes automated, analysis, better decision-making, and accountability purposes.

Meeting the ambition and scope of the 2030 Agenda’s vast data needs will require a revolutionary approach – a ‘data revolution’. Key to this data revolution will be the integration of traditional sources of information, primarily official statistics, with new sources of data including geospatial and citizen-generated data, among others. The information systems and data architectures that underpin the generation, transportation, integration, and dissemination of these disparate data flows need to be made interoperable with one another to ensure that information produced can be used in globally comparable terms to measure progress and help inform decision-making, research, and the allocation of resources at more regular intervals. Interoperability therefore is both a key enabler and driver of the data revolution.

Recognizing this need and the important progress on joining-up SDG data that is already underway in different spheres, the United Nations Statistics Division (UNSD) and the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data (the Global Partnership) convened multi-stakeholder meetings on data interoperability in January at the first UN World Data Forum (UNWDF) in Cape Town and again at the 48th UN Statistical Commission on 5 March, 2017. The meetings brought together an array of stakeholders from across the data ecosystem; from National Statistical Offices, international organizations, the private sector, civil society, and academia.

There was recognition that a coordinated approach at the international level would be crucial to creating an enabling policy and technical environment in which solutions to interoperability challenges could be experimented with, piloted, shared with others, and replicated. The participants agreed that UNSD and the Global Partnership should jointly establish a multi-stakeholder Collaborative on SDG Data Interoperability to create the space that will bring together many different actors and initiatives to advance the policy and technical dimensions of data interoperability. The Collaborative is founded on the principles of openness and participation that underpinned the UNWDF and will commit to the non-duplication of institutional processes. Its unique contribution will be to bring together stakeholders that do not commonly work together on these issues, and to work at both the policy and technical levels to ensure these inform and support each other.