The first virtual meeting of the United Nations World Data Forum concluded with the launch of the data community’s response to COVID-19, stressing the increased demand for relevant, timely and trusted data and statistics as a critical part of building back a more equitable, sustainable and resilient future. The appeal to the entire data community to come together to support the response to the pandemic and accelerate action on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) emphasizes the need to ensure trust and privacy in data and increase investments in data to respond more effectively to COVID-19 and future disasters.

“Now is the time to make the case for more effective investment in statistical and data systems,” said UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina J. Mohammed at the opening of the Forum. “We can see trillions being spent in developed countries and we need a fraction of that in developing countries to come through to make the investments that we need in data."

Over 10,000 data users and producers from more than 180 countries connected on the virtual platform of the Forum from 19 to 21 October sharing experiences on citizen generated data, open data platforms, use of earth observations, mobile data and more. They also discussed advancing the conversation on data to leave no one behind, bringing together data from a variety of data sources, and showcasing innovative approaches of using data for addressing the impact of COVID-19 on the lives of people with disabilities.

“How do we account for ‘Leaving No One Behind’ if we don’t ensure that we invest in the disaggregation of data so that we can identify and pinpoint communities furthest behind in the line of opportunities,” asked Eddie Ndopu, one of the UN Secretary-General’s SDG Advocates, at the Forum, “There has never been a more opportune moment in the world than the present to unpack the role of data in advancing the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development.”

The Forum also featured the launch of a new online portal presenting the latest statistics on gender equality (The World's Women 2020), and it reviewed the way forward for data governance, for addressing data protection and privacy issues; and for better mechanisms for financing of data for development.

“We are confronting a global crisis that requires a collective response,” said Mr. Liu Zhenmin, UN Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, at the closing of the event. “That is why all of you are gathered here at this Forum,” he said, outlining a number of actions needed: “to increase support for data use during COVID-19 and the recovery; to harness the power of data for the public good and get back on track to implement the 2030 Agenda;“ and “to grow consensus on strategies to address trust in data, and data privacy and governance.”

Highlights from the Forum

Showcased in 70 live-streamed, 30 pre-recorded sessions and 20 virtual exhibit spaces, many innovative solutions to the data challenges of the 2030 Agenda were proposed and partnerships were formed.

What emerged from the sessions:

  • lessons learnt in using data to track and mitigate the impact of COVID-19, at the global, national and local level;
  • a better understanding of how to address the data needs to design interventions for groups of the population that are most impacted by the pandemic;
  • examples of successful collaborations across national statistical systems and with the private sector;
  • use of citizen science for producing environment data and indicators;
  • better ways to communicate data and statistics for their full and effective use, and how to engage with data users;
  • new ideas on how to deal with data privacy, data protection and security;
  • use of maps and spatial data to improve the lives of communities and mapping of those locations that are still invisible;
  • use of administrative data sources;
  • better ways for capacity development;
  • lessons from the use of AI algorithms;
  • new understanding of how to use data in journalism;
  • challenges in balancing data use and data protection;
  • the way ahead to increase funding for data and establish mechanisms for effective use of funding.;
  • and much more.

About the UN World Data Forum

The UN World Data Forum is organized by the High-level Group for Partnership, Coordination and Capacity-Building for Statistics for the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, with substantial support from the World Data Forum Programme Committee, under the guidance of the UN Statistical Commission and in close consultation with Member States, international partners and other stakeholders.

The Statistics Division of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs supports the organization of the Forum in its role as Secretariat of the High-level Group, the Programme Committee and the Statistical Commission.

The virtual Forum was supported by the Swiss Confederation, with substantive help from the Federal Statistical Office, who will host the next physical meeting of the World Data Forum scheduled to take place in Bern on 3-6 October 2021.

The first UN World Data Forum was hosted from 15 to 18 January 2017 by Statistics South Africa in Cape Town, South Africa. The second Forum was hosted by the Federal Competitiveness and Statistics Authority of the United Arab Emirates from 22 to 24 October 2018 in Dubai.