Securing better data for better lives

Data helps the international community measure the progress of development. How many children attend school, who has access to healthcare and how many people are employed? On 3-6 March, over 300 senior statisticians from about 140 UN Member States will gather for the 46th session of the Statistical Commission to ensure that we have reliable data for development. The ultimate goal – to enable people to live better lives.

Spanning close to 70 years, the Statistical Commission has a rich history as the leading entity of the global statistical system. During this crucial year, the statistical community has a big task before them with the post-2015 development agenda, among other important topics, which are also reflected in the busy agenda of the Commission.

In keeping with tradition from past years, a Friday seminar on 27 February informally kicked off this major event. The focus for this one-day seminar was “The development of an indicator framework for the post-2015 development agenda: Towards a nationally owned monitoring system for the SDGs”.

“The Statistical Community and the community of official statisticians stand ready and are strongly committed to taking on the task of measuring the SDGs over the coming years and thereby contributing to their realization”

Ms. Gabriella Vukovich
Acting Chair of the Commission

Data in support of the post-2015 development agenda is at the forefront of discussions this year, as the international community prepares to transition from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to the new post-2015 agenda with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at its core.

The 46th session will therefore also need to focus on broader measures of progress, examining the post-2015 indicator framework including what the expected data requirements will be, as well as what the current data gaps are in different countries across the globe.

Getting ready to monitor the post-2015 development agenda

Statistics will be vital for the new era of development and the statistical community stands ready to take on the challenge.

“The Statistical Commission, as the mandated intergovernmental body for the review of development indicators, will, indeed, be able to assist in ensuring that the future information base for the SDGs is based on rigorous science, is sustainable and will be acceptable to Member States,” Ms. Gabriella Vukovich, Acting Chair of the Commission, said ahead of the session.

“The Statistical Community and the community of official statisticians stand ready and are strongly committed to taking on the task of measuring the SDGs over the coming years and thereby contributing to their realization,” Ms. Vukovich added.

Big Data and the data revolution

A number of other important topics will be discussed and decided upon during the session, such as the data revolution and Big Data. With the widespread use of mobile devices and other forms of telecommunication driven by innovations in technology, a high volume of digital information is continuously generated.

“The data revolution is giving the world powerful tools that can help usher in a more sustainable future”

Ban Ki-moon
UN Secretary-General

This type of information is often referred to as Big Data and its potential resides in the timely and frequent availability of large amounts of data, which are usually generated at minimal cost. However, many statistical offices around the world still need to harness this potential and explore concretely how to implement Big Data in their production work in a reliable and efficient way.

The Commission will also discuss the data revolution and the recommendations presented in the newly released report, “A World that Counts – Mobilising the Data Revolution for Sustainable Development’, issued by the Secretary-General’s Independent Expert Advisory Group on a Data Revolution for Sustainable Development. This report includes a number of suggestions on measures to close data gaps and strengthen national statistical capacities.

“The data revolution is giving the world powerful tools that can help usher in a more sustainable future,” said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon when the report was launched in November 2014. “The recommendations of the Group will be important inputs to the post-2015 debate and our efforts to shape an ambitious yet achievable vision.”

Sustainable statistics for a sustainable future

Statistics to measure crime rates; the number of refugees in the world; international trade and globalization; environmental-economic accounting as well as data to assess governance, peace and security are just a few of many other vital items on the busy Commission schedule.

“Only National Statistical Systems can ensure a sustained flow of high quality and nationally acceptable data for policy decision making”

Stefan Schweinfest
Director, UN DESA’s Statistics Division

In addition, and as in previous years, some 70 side events will also take place making the Statistical Commission one of the largest and busiest events held at UN Headquarters. Some of these side events take aim at food security, disability statistics, Small Island Developing States (SIDS), data for gender equality and strengthening environment statistics for monitoring the SDGs.

When the Commission opens its session, there will only be 303 days left until the Millennium Development Goals expire. In order for the statistical community to be ready to monitor the new set of goals, Stefan Schweinfest, the Director of UN DESA’s Statistics Division, has underlined the need for capacity building efforts at the national level.

“Only National Statistical Systems can ensure a sustained flow of high quality and nationally acceptable data for policy decision making. National statistical systems, therefore, need to be empowered to produce these information sets over the next 15 years. We need sustainable statistics in support of sustainable development,” Mr. Schweinfest stressed.

Once the Commission completes its session on 6 March, the global community will have taken yet another important step to prepare for the new post-2015 sustainable development agenda. A step that also aims to ensure that “better data for better lives,” becomes a living reality for every person on the planet.

For more information:

46th Session of the UN Statistical Commission

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Get updates on the event via the Twitter account of UN DESA’s Statistics Division @UNStats