To achieve the SDGs, we need to trust our data

By adopting the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the international community committed itself to eliminate extreme poverty and hunger, combat climate change and create a more prosperous world for everyone.

But for this ambitious agenda to be successful, we need reliable, timely and granular data to show where we are making progress and where we are falling behind. Without good indicators, there is no way to monitor the positive or negative trends towards achieving the SDGs.

This is where the official statistics community comes in. During 2016 and the early part of 2017, the Global Indicator Framework for SDGs was developed and agreed by statisticians. It was subsequently adopted at the political level by the General Assembly in July 2017. Meanwhile, the Cape Town Global Action Plan to implement the framework was launched at the first ever UN World Data Forum in January 2017. Three years before, in 2014, the UN Global Working Group on big data for official statistics had already started its work to modernize official statistics.

The 4th International Conference on Big Data, organized by the Working Group and attended by over 300 statisticians, data scientists and IT engineers, recently concluded in Bogota, Colombia. Its participants discussed trusted data collaboratives to share, exchange and develop data, services and application for the innovation of national statistical systems.

Speaking at the conference, Alexandre Barbosa, Director of the Regional Center for Studies on the Development of the Information Society in Brazil laid out three strategic areas for such innovation:

  1. 1. Institutional reform with respect to multi-stakeholder partnerships and the leading role of the national statistical offices;
  2. 2. New standard setting to open data, data security and interoperability;
  3. 3. The use of new Big Data sources and corresponding technologies, including data storage, data integration as well as machine learning and artificial intelligence.

The role of the statistical community is to set standards for trusted data, methods, partners and learning in the use of these data sources. These include standards on encryption, data security and data protection for secure information sharing. This also leads to increased accessibility to data through openness and transparency. That way, the community looked for ways to ensure that the data we compile is trusted. The conference promoted the broadening of partnerships in the existing global collaboratives using earth observation, scanner and mobile phone data.

Trusted data needs to meet criteria of quality, professionalism, impartiality, privacy protection, security, transparency, sharing and openness. The Big Data Conference in Colombia showed just how important trusted data and trusted collaboration are. Only if data is trusted and shared among all actors, can the implementation of the SDGs be corrected where necessary and advance faster in the right direction.

The SDGs are far too important for the world to get them wrong. Trusted, accurate data is key to make sure that we move forward on the right track.

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