Power of Data: the High Impact Initiative launch

Better data will be critical to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Unlocking new data sources and technologies requires fresh thinking, new partnerships, and a substantial boost in investment from governments and organizations around the world.

At the SDG Action Weekend on Sunday 17 September 2023, we convened a fantastic array of speakers at the United Nations Headquarters, ahead of the General Assembly, to launch the High Impact Initiative on the Power of Data. We are now calling on world leaders to come together to invest in better data for development and deliver the SDGs. 

Speakers included Ashley Judd, Actor and Goodwill Ambassador for UNFPA; Amina Mohammed, Deputy Secretary General of the UN; Dr. Mo Ibrahim, founder and chair of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation; H.E. Andrew Mitchell, UK Minister of International Development; officials from all over the world; senior figures from NVIDIA and Microsoft; NGOsyouth advocates; and Dr. Claire Melamed, Global Partnership CEO. Watch the event recording here.

Data on the surface is reports and numbers that get blurry late at night…but really it is about individual lives. Each digit represents a heartbeat, the need for relief from suffering and inequality and hope.

- Ashley Judd, Actor and UNFPA Goodwill Ambassador

What is the High Impact Initiative on the Power of Data?

The goal of the High Impact Initiative is to unlock the data dividend to drive progress on the SDGs. Recent research shows an average return of $32 for every $1 invested in strengthening data systems in low and middle income countries.

The plan is to have 30 national data partnerships by September 2024, and 50 by 2030. This will happen in partnership with national governments and with significant financial and other support from donor countries, the UN system, foundations, tech companies, civil society and others. We will capitalize on global summits including the Summit for the Future and the World Data Forum to build momentum.

Everyone has a role to play.

Better data is the indispensable scaffolding that supports progress across all the SDGs.

- Amina Mohammed, UN Deputy Secretary-General

Key announcements  

Cutting-edge national data partnerships

At the heart of the High Impact Initiative is the launch and support of cutting edge national data partnerships, announced by an initial group of 15 countries across Africa, Latin America, and Europe. These partnerships – driven by strong political leadership at a national level – will bring together governments, tech companies, civil society, donors and others to use data ethically to revolutionize decision making, accelerate digital transformation, and drive new economic opportunities for a more equal and sustainable world.

Donor funding

Andrew Mitchell, the UK Minister of International Development, announced funding of over $7.5 million to help the international community scale up its support for national data partnerships.

Global NGOs rally support

Leading global NGOs have united in support of the Power of Data initiative, underscoring its importance on the global stage and calling upon all nations to endorse and participate in this transformative effort. 30 organizations have signed our letter of support for the High Impact Initiative so far, including the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, Christian Aid, Open Data Watch, Paris21, Save the Children, CIVICUS, Cepei, World Wide Web Foundation, Open Data Institute, and many others.

When you talk about SDGs I think about Sound Data for Governance – it saves a lot of money and effort and will tell us what works and what doesn’t.

- Dr. Mo Ibrahim, founder and chair, Mo Ibrahim Foundation

Get in touch and stay involved 

If you are a minister, official, or represent a country looking to launch or support national data partnerships and would like to find out more, please contact Jenna Slotin at: jslotin@data4sdgs.org

If you are from a donor country, the UN system, a foundation, a tech or other company, or civil society and would like to find out more about how you can support the national data partnerships please contact Florencia Edgina at: fedgina@data4sdgs.org

Watch our launch video


A message of support from the European Commission


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September 19, 2023
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The Global Partnership
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A first look at plans for the Festival de Datos

We’re just three months away from the Festival de Datos in beautiful Punta del Este, Uruguay. We couldn’t be more excited about this three-day Festival chock-full of engaging speakers, events, and meet-ups. And, even though we’re still firming up plans for sessions, this post gives you a hint about what you can expect from this year’s event. Keep reading to learn more. 

A session sneak-peek

The three-day Festival de Datos is a convening of the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data’s broad network of partners from around the world. The Festival will include formal and informal networking events and a broad range of session types, from inspiring lightning talks to fishbowl sessions and hands-on training.

We received more than 300 applications to host sessions at the Festival. Final plans now include presenters from more than 40 countries representing six continents! And, we’re excited to announce that nearly all sessions will have simultaneous translation in English and Spanish! 

Here’s just a sample of what’s on the agenda so far: 

  • Peer exchanges on mapping, administrative data, gender rights, cities, climate and agriculture, and more.
  • A series of lightning talks organized by theme highlighting work being done to mobilize the Data Values agenda, innovations in accountable data governance, and the impact of timely data in Africa. 
  • Artistic data interpretations, performances, and data visualizations.
  • And much, much more!

Session hosts include international organizations like the United Nations Development Programme, which will offer training for policymakers on the ethical use of Artificial Intelligence, and the World Health Organization, which will lead a session on health data in a post-pandemic world. 

Foundations and international financial institutions are also among the hosts who’ve confirmed so far. For example, the Inter-American Development Bank will host a session explaining how to quantify the value of data for developing countries. 

Private sector companies like Amazon Web Services, youth-focused organizations like Restless Development, advocacy organizations like CIVICUS, and regional non-profits and development agencies like Code for Pakistan and Humanitarian OpenStreetMap are among the dozens of organizations slated to host sessions. Presenters from around the world covering a wide breadth of topics will ensure that the Festival includes opportunities to engage that are relevant to a global audience.

What to expect at the Festival de Datos

The team behind the Festival de Datos includes the Global Partnership and members of our network, our co-host the Government of Uruguay, a National Task Team of Uruguayan partners, and globally-representative Steering and Program Advisory groups. Members of the planning team aim to create a Festival experience that is thought-provoking, vibrant, empowering, practical, inclusive, and sustainable. All of this amounts to a huge planning effort behind the Festival with results guaranteed to exceed expectations. 

More than 500 people are already registered for the Festival and spots are filling up fast! Attendees represent the breadth of the Global Partnership’s network with representatives from international organizations, businesses, donor organizations, non-profits, media, academia, and more. 

Have you got your ticket yet? Don’t wait another minute! We can't wait to see you at the Festival de Datos in November!

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August 8, 2023
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Paraguay launches first digital platform to manage national water resources

Versión en español aquí 

Launching today is Paraguay’s first Water Information System (WIS), an online portal designed to make data and information about water quality, water access, and sanitation levels a public good. The project’s aim is to lead to meaningful improvements in people’s lives, in terms of disease prevention, access to potable water, and environmental protection. 

Climate Action Lab announced at U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit in support of Kenya’s data-driven climate ambition

Around 4.3 million Kenyans have been impacted by ongoing drought in the Horn of Africa—the worst climate event in the region in four decades, Kenya’s First Lady told a group of business leaders and government officials convened by the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data (Global Partnership) and the United AI Alliance recently.

You're the one with the power to make change.

This post was originally published September 26, 2022 on the Data Values Digest.

Defining moments in society are sometimes clear and easy to pinpoint, from election nights to the signing of global agreements. But more often, we’re only able to spot moments of transformative change—moments when we say “enough is enough” and awareness turns to action—with hindsight. 

That’s because creating change depends on each of us deciding to act. “Don't think you're powerless. It's people who change policy,” says Gwen Phillips, a Ktunaxa data sovereignty advocate, in her Data Values Voices story.

Across the world, more people than ever are questioning the ways that data shapes their lives. Many governments and organizations are reckoning with the ethical implications of their everyday data decisions. From communities generating their own data to governments and marginalized groups working together to reshape how official statistics reflect the groups’ needs, there are ever more examples that a different approach to data is possible.

Our experience in the Data Values Project has made it obvious that momentum is building to redefine data systems to be equitable and inclusive. Over the last year, the Data Values movement has grown to involve over 350 people across 60 countries. In just a few days, over 150 community activists from 30 countries applied to become a Data Values Advocate. Data Values Digest posts are now read by more than 2,000 people each month since this publication launched just over a year ago.

Put simply, we now know what needs to change. As a community united by a common desire to challenge power structures in data systems, we’ve developed a shared vision for a fairer data future and a pathway to achieving it in the #DataValues Manifesto—which we launched last week. Along with it, we also launched a global Data Values campaign to push for the urgent action required to create a fairer data future. Anyone, anywhere, can join us. 

History shows that people—when they can speak up, organize, and engage—can hold their leaders and institutions accountable, pushing them to fulfill their promise to serve the common good. It’s easy to feel powerless in the face of rapid technological change, but we can achieve the #DataValues agenda together. 

Each of us must act to create this change. We must advocate for leaders to take up the Data Values Manifesto and shift power to people. And we can each rethink and change our data practices so that they help rather than harm, include rather than exclude. We can urge our organizations and communities to do the same. 

I encourage you to make #DataValues your own. Each of us has the power to make this a defining moment for data and development. Together, we can ensure it is. 

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November 3, 2022
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Do you have time to answer the same questions again?

This blog post is re-posted with permission from the Data Values Digest

“Aap log kal hi to aye the na sawal jawab ke liye?” Laxmi* said when I asked whether she would participate in a survey. “Didn’t you just come yesterday for the interview?” 

“No, that wasn’t us,” I replied. Laxmi was one of our sampled respondents for a quantitative baseline survey in 2016 in the Madhya Pradesh state of India for an academic research project on women’s political and social empowerment. 

The day before I arrived, Laxmi had been interviewed by a different organization asking similar questions. This is a common occurrence in rural villages in India where household members—and especially women—are interview subjects of academic and private research groups, government, and non-governmental organizations.

According to governmental policy think tank NITI Aayog, there are 81 All India Surveys (nation-wide surveys on all topics), 70 percent percent of which were or continue to be conducted by government agencies. Ten surveys are collected annually. Of these, four cover topics related to demography and health. This list, which was published in mid-2021, does not account for surveys conducted by academic or private research organizations.

An employee of PRADAN, a non-governmental organization based in India, told me in a phone conversation last month that he estimated at least ten surveys are conducted in any rural village in India every year.

Most of these surveys share the same questionnaire or similar parts of a questionnaire such as the frequently-used Demographic and Health Survey’s section on women’s empowerment. PRADAN conducts a women’s empowerment survey in the villages where they work at least once a year. As a research associate with J-PAL South Asia between 2016 and 2018, I conducted surveys with empowerment questions twice in 2016 and once in 2017. These surveys are on average 45-60 mins long. 

The burden of answering survey questions doesn’t fall equally on members of a household. In about 80 percent of household surveys, the respondents are women. For example, in the National Family and Health Survey conducted between 2020 and 2021, 724,115 (88 percent) women were surveyed compared to 101,839 men (12 percent).

Surveys are extremely important. They provide representative facts, views, and opinions and help shape policy based on the needs of individuals and communities. However, there are certain problems with conducting repeated large-scale surveys in the same communities with the same individuals, especially for women. 

The problems with repeatedly surveying the same people

Firstly, this practice shows that surveying organizations place extraordinarily little value on the time of women who are already burdened with household chores, agricultural and farm work, and childcare responsibilities. Of course, consent is obtained before each survey. However, research shows that women—especially those in patriarchal and rural areas—have a tough time saying “no,” especially to an outsider who represents a figure of authority. Time spent responding to surveys is not spent on fulfilling her duties as a mother, daughter-in-law, and wife and can lead to backlash in the form of verbal and physical abuse. 

Secondly, direct benefits of these surveys to the respondents are often either non-existent or hard to quantify. Sometimes individuals are offered payment for their time, but this doesn’t necessarily address the problems that the survey has identified. Even when there is a long-term benefit to a community, research takes years to publish and policies require time to take effect. Meanwhile, a woman who is asked the same “time-use” questions again and again still spends the same amount of time doing the same chores that are considered to be a woman’s responsibility.

The third issue with repeated surveys is the risk of response bias. Response bias refers to the ways respondents may be unduly influenced when providing answers on a survey. This can lead to survey errors causing serious threats to the internal validity of the data and any research published using these data. “Oh, I know the answer to that question,” Rani* grinned when I asked how often she went to the panchayat (village council) meeting. “People like you asked me the same questions a few months ago.”

The dilemma at the heart of this problem

There are two important reasons why the same questions are asked repeatedly by different organizations. First, even though most journals and funders require manuscript authors to share their data, most do not do so for various reasons. The lack of open data sharing is a major cause of repeated information gathering. 

Secondly, organizations that share data are held to extremely high standards of maintaining confidentiality by Institutional Review Boards (commonly known as IRBs). To maintain privacy of individuals, these organizations publish data removing any sort of information that would reveal the personal identity of the interviewee. If another organization needs data with some personal identifiers for any reason such as merging two datasets or identifying areas where policies were enacted, the only option is conduct their own survey research and own the new dataset. Hence, they must embark on another data gathering expedition. 

This creates a huge dilemma between valuing time or valuing privacy! Is there a solution that can find a balance between valuing both?

What can be done?

Better collaboration is key to addressing this problem. Surveying organizations are usually hired to conduct surveys and may not have capacity or authority to coordinate with other organizations. While there are opportunities to collaborate among agencies which hire these organizations (and indeed a UN agency exists to address this), one of the most efficient and feasible solutions (and one which is already in place albeit more in paper than in action) is data sharing or open data.

Where personally identifiable information is not required, manuscript authors, researchers, government, and non-governmental organizations are frequently required to publicly share their data. In most cases, they are required to make the data available on request or share it on repositories. If the dataset is not publicly available or authors do not share the data on request, as happens in many instances, serious actions should be taken against them. The process of data compiling, sharing, and accessibility should be streamlined. This will go a long way in reducing repeated information gathering. 

Another possible solution could be to create independent entities at the local level to keep an inventory of any survey done in any village in the area. Let us, for example, assume that villages A, B, C, D are under the purview of local entity X. If an organization wants to conduct a survey in villages A and B, it would have to register the survey with all the details about the type of survey with X. With this system in place, if another survey organization wanted to conduct a similar survey in A, then X can ask them to contact the first organization to see if they could come to a data sharing agreement. If data sharing is not possible due to any reason, X can ask them to conduct surveys in areas C or D to avoid repeatedly surveying the same areas.

While maintaining privacy has been an important goal in the field of data collection up to this point, valuing respondent’s time has not. If we want to empower individual respondents and make policies to benefit them through collecting data from them, it is our responsibility as data collectors to respect respondents’ time. Otherwise, can we really claim we are doing the right, fair, and equitable thing?



*Names have been changed to maintain the privacy of respondents.

Jasleen Kaur is a PhD Candidate at the LBJ School of Public Affairs and a Population Research trainee at the University of Texas at Austin. Her research aims to improve the social, economic, and political status of women. She focuses on the "implementation science" of policies and programs meant to empower women. Kaur has previously worked with J-PAL South Asia and Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University, where she was involved with hands-on monitoring and evaluation of gender livelihood and maternal health projects respectively. Follow her on Twitter and Linkedin or send her an email.

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October 25, 2022
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The future we want: Young African leaders on a fairer data future

Lack of access to data is a key concern among young data scientists in Africa. That’s what we learned at a recent community of scientists event organized by the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data (the Global Partnership) and the African Institute for Mathematical Science (AIMS)

In the past decade, data has risen to the top of national and global policy agendas, yet “progress towards effective data governance, and to realizing the public value of data, remains highly uneven across countries, regions and sectors,” according to the Global Data Barometer. Within the African continent, the 22 countries analyzed by the Barometer score below global averages in data availability, capabilities, governance, use, and impact. However, significant opportunities to develop a stronger data economy exist, and a generation of young data leaders and data scientists stand ready to create a data- and AI-driven future.

Concerns and challenges for the data economy in Africa

During the event, young data scientists and data leaders from 18 countries raised three concerns: limited availability and access to data, lack of skills, and inadequate privacy frameworks. 

Despite some progress and the many investments made by the data for development community in the past decade, availability and access to data remain uneven. Access to data is particularly challenging in domains such as economic, transportation, and population statistics and energy data. The experience of AIMS’ community of scientists suggests that key datasets from public and private sectors are simply not available or not accessible, confirming  findings from the Global Data Barometer that availability and access to data are the biggest obstacles for the use of data for public good in Africa.

Lack of skills and weak privacy frameworks and practices are also concerns among emerging young African data scientists. This includes both the absence of adequate technical knowledge among workers and the lack of understanding from decision makers concerning many aspects of the data economy. 

As legislation is also fragmented and, when present, difficult to implement, data privacy is also perceived as a considerable obstacle for data use. The Global Data Barometer “identified gaps with respect to data protection or privacy standards in a number of [African] countries,” noting that the “absence of strong legal frameworks alongside new technological advancements seems to be a developing concern.” 

The best thing we can do for the next generation is to put in place a better architecture for data processing and teach them how to use it.

- Event participant

Describing a fairer data future

Looking forward, the AIMS community of scientists describes a fairer and value-driven data future on the continent as one in which data is accessible and user data is protected.

Young data scientists put accessibility at the center of a fair data future. A fairer data economy is a space where access to data is more equally distributed as a basic right. More equitable access to data should be coupled with protections for individuals’ (or users’) data and sound data management systems. Transparency, regulation and policy, and data privacy and security complete the picture. 

These values are guiding principles for the AIMS community of scientists. Eight-five percent of participants declared that they always think about these values in their work with data. Young data scientists and leaders are already putting their values into practice and operating to change the status quo. 

What will it take to make this change?

To move towards a value-driven data economy, everyone needs to act.

Governments should create enabling environments for a fairer data economy by increasing skills and capabilities within and outside of the public sector through further investments in data education, defining regulatory and non regulatory frameworks and policies, and collaborating with private partners, universities, and others to improve access to data. They should also collaborate internally to centralize data from the public sector instead of working in data silos, with each administration keeping their datasets locked up. 

Governments should work towards democratizing data access and share the data that is currently locked for political or other reasons.

- Event participant

The private sector should also invest in training and educating workers, hiring and retaining data scientists in Africa, increasing access to data and accountability toward the public concerning data use, and partnering with the public sector to foster innovation.

The private sector should focus on solving real life problems of Africans.

- Event participant

Finally, young data scientists and leaders also have an important role to play. They should pay the utmost attention to privacy when developing new systems, look out for potential harms, especially in the context of AI, focus on African problems that need to be solved and use African data to address them, develop more inclusive data solutions and share knowledge and experience broadly to increase data literacy of the population. 

As there is a role for everyone and everyone needs to act, the participants of the event called for a multi-stakeholder partnership approach to moving the needle and improving the outlook of the data economy in Africa. 

A #DataValues agenda

Young African data scientists and data leaders from the AIMS community of scientists have a clear vision of what a fair, value-driven data economy should look like in Africa and what needs to be done to get there.

The Data Values Project is an opportunity to build a movement for change and mobilize African youth towards these objectives. While the objectives put forward by the Data Values Project are universal, they also need to be rooted in the local contexts and local stakeholders need to appropriate them. In Africa, fairness in availability and access to data remains a core concern for the youngest generation. Addressing these unequal access opportunities goes hand-in -hand with implementing the #DataValues agenda on agency, accountability and data in action.  

This article is based on an event on the 16th of June in the context of the Data Values Project in which the Global Partnership and the African Institute for Mathematical Science (AIMS) organized an event for the AIMS community of scientists, gathering young data scientists, students and future data leaders from 18 African countries. Our objective with this event was to ask them what are the data values that are closer to their heart and how we can build a future where data is used to do good and not to harm. The AIMS community of scientists took this opportunity to tell us about their concerns, aspirations and the actions that need to be taken to build a fairer data economy in Africa.

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July 29, 2022
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Data Values Project white paper consultation: feedback and responses

The Data Values white paper, Reimagining Data and Power: A roadmap for putting values at the heart of data, is based on contributions from more than 350 individuals from 63 countries who contributed during a year-long consultation. More than 100 people weighed in on an early draft of the white paper published in May 2022 for public consultation. 

The table below summarizes the feedback and the steps taken to incorporate it into the final version of the Data Values white paper. We extend our gratitude to every individual who shared insights, expertise, and valuable time to improve this white paper.

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July 16, 2022
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Developing a “stronger common vision” for data equity

This blog post was originally published in the Data Values Digest on June 21 here

The data for development community needs a stronger common vision for data ethics, rights, and governance, according to a recent survey in which nearly 90 percent of respondents agreed or strongly agreed with this statement.*

From the #RestoreDataRights movement in Africa to calls from national statisticians in Latin America, there’s growing awareness that data and tech are powerful tools that can either address or entrench inequalities. Change is needed to ensure we’re on course to use them in ways that improve lives—rather than making people who are already marginalized even worse off.

This is what led to the creation of the Data Values Project (and this publication) more than a year ago. A year in, there’s clear consensus on the need to shift power structures in data. How has the Data Values Project contributed to this shift? Results from the Global Partnership’s annual survey show how sharing knowledge is helping to build a movement for change. This week, we’re dropping in to discuss these results and how they fit into the past year of open consultation. 

In the survey of partner organizations (including governments, NGOs, international civil society organizations, academia, and more), 85 percent of people said that exposure to new ideas has been the most valuable part of the Data Values Project so far. 

These aren’t exactly “new” ideas. Contributions have emerged from the lived experiences of our contributors and rigorous analysis and research from our partners, many of whom have been working on these issues for decades. These are people like Data4Change’s Bronwen Robertson, who spoke passionately about building data confidence, and Gwen Phillips of the Ktunaxa Nation, who explained how data has been used in ways that disempower Indigenous communities. 

More than 300 people from 63 countries have contributed to the search to better understand what should characterize just data systems. We’ve heard from people around the world about what’s working and what’s not. Data Values Project contributors have explained how giving local communities power to design data and share insights with decision makers can create positive change, what it really takes to put values of inclusion and equity into action, and how to foster participatory data governance. Contributors have also addressed some of the tensions in this movement, as when Martina Barbero wrote about trade-offs between privacy and security and Josh Powell warned of the threats to Afghans of development agencies’ collection and use of data. 

Unlocking the power of data to create positive social change while protecting people from harm is obviously a key concern of the data for development community. Consultations in the Data Values Project indicate that including people in designing data systems and in decisions about how data is managed are important, as are cultures of transparency and data sharing among governments and organizations. You can read more about these ideas in the Data Values Projectnwhite paper, a final version of which is set for publication in July. 

As the survey demonstrated, sharing knowledge is a pivotal component of shifting power in data and practices. The power and potential for change of the Data Values Project comes front the breadth of perspectives it brings together. That’s why we’re asking you to join us by sharing your ideas and joining the movement. Email us at DataValues@data4sdgs.org with ideas for contributions and sign up for our mailing list to learn more about ways to get involved in the Data Values Project. 


*About the annual survey: Each year, the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data asks its more than 600 partners for feedback through its annual partner survey. Data reported here are based on the 2021 annual partner survey’s 132 responses. The majority of respondents (41 percent) in this year’s survey were from government partners. Non-governmental and multilateral organizations made up the second and third largest groups of respondents at 24 percent and 14 percent, respectively. Explore the full, anonymized dataset here.

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July 8, 2022
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Making pizza without dough: the state of funding for data

It's that time of year again when leaders get together at the United Nations to assess progress on the Sustainable Development Goals. Data to monitor and to achieve the Goals is quite rightly in the spotlight. So it’s worth asking: How are development partners doing in supporting countries to get the data they need? 

The picture is mixed. 

In data for development, we’re good at funding projects and products. Inspired by the promise of new technologies, lots of money is going to build new things. We were all grateful for the impressive platforms that showed us COVID-19 trends. The climate challenge, too, has spurred the creation of thousands of digital tools (like this one to track deforestation) and data platforms based on ever more sophisticated sources and methods. There are lots of solutions out there. But solutions only solve a problem when they are put to work.  

It’s like we’re making pizza, and the money is all going toward the cheese before we’ve started kneading the dough. Despite investment in data tools and platforms to solve just about every global challenge, four in ten deaths around the world aren’t registered, and only one in six countries has enough data to report on agreed climate targets. People trying to build their national systems and link data to day-to-day decision making in governments are struggling to get the resources they need. We are building shiny tools on very shaky foundations. 

One of the reasons for this mismatch is, of course, the money. First off, there’s not enough of it: Official development assistance for data and statistics has flatlined, as tracked by the invaluable PRESS report issued every year by Paris21. And, on top of that, existing funds are not always spent well. Since 2020, in response to COVID-19, donor support to health data grew to more than a third of all funding for data and statistics. This came at the expense of other sectors where support fell from a fifth to less than a tenth of total official development assistance for data and statistics.

This shows all too clearly the pick-and-mix approach often taken to funding data. Donors frequently support a specific sector, collect specific information they need, or invest in the latest new technology—not in ways that build systems as a whole. This could mean funding a survey on COVID-19 prevalence, for example, but not investing in a robust system for registering deaths. It’s creating a new platform to visualize climate data without investing to ensure the data within it is reliable. And this isn’t just about donors—governments often fail to prioritize data in national spending, finding it more politically attractive to fund things that are more tangible to their electorates. 

The net result is uncertainty and fragmentation, where country data priorities are hostage to what donors think is important and where huge opportunities are missed to create efficiencies and develop systems that can be the foundation of modern data architecture. 

None of this is new. We’ve been talking about it for a long time even as a few far-sighted donors and governments have been quietly showing us how to do it. Finally, others may be catching up. The urgency of tracking COVID-19 and the reality of climate change have shown all too starkly what happens when good data isn’t available to guide policy and change minds. As Ghana’s Vice-President Mahamudu Bawumia* explained at the World Bank Spring meetings this year: 

“Many governments do not really prioritize data collection because, traditionally, voters don't care about it. That is now changing. With pandemics, economic and food security issues, you have to use data to know where you are, act fast, and prove you are delivering for the people. Our view is that strengthening data systems can enable considerable economic returns by making programs more efficient by better targeting resources, by strengthening transparency, and by reducing waste.”

One of the key elements in the #DataValues agenda is action: We all need to be thinking about how data can drive action to respond to critical global challenges.  We’re witnessing an opportunity to finally get political momentum on this critical issue. The next stop will be the UN General Assembly in September, where it’s time for leaders to step up and show they mean business when it comes to data by making new commitments to invest in systems.

Rather than relying on a single platform or tool, a broad base of data skills need to be built across governments. We need meaningful investments in better connectivity, data storage, and hardware that make using new tools and platforms feasible. Above all, we need leaders who are confident with new technologies and motivated to ensure they are governed for the benefit of all, leaders who know how to ask the right questions, understand what data they do and don’t need, and how to use it. 

More funding for systems means all these amazing new platforms and tools will be used where they are needed most: by governments and civil society organizations saving money and making better and faster decisions at the sharp end of global crises. Data is worthless if it is not used to drive action, and all our tools and platforms will founder without the basic investments that enable them to be used. 

*Vice-President Bawumia serves as a board member at the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development.

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July 7, 2022
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Claire Melamed
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The 17 Sustainable Development Goals projected onto the United Nations headquarters in New York in 2015. This week, the High Level Political Forum meets to assess progress toward the Goals. (Credit: United Nations Photo, Flickr)
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