Washington, D.C.

19 April 2018

Deputy Secretary-General's remarks to High-level Seminar: "Big Data and the Sustainable Development Goals” [as prepared for delivery]

Excellencies,
Distinguished delegates,
Ladies and gentlemen
 
It is a pleasure to be here at the World Bank/IMF Spring meeting, and to speak on the very timely topic of how Big Data is a lynchpin for the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals.
 
For many decades, governments have painstakingly worked to put together a country’s data infrastructure with census data, survey data and administrative data.
 
The accuracy and robustness of national and sub-national data infrastructure form the bedrock for the targeting of development policies and programmes, and for tracking and measuring progress.
 
However, census taking and surveys are expensive and relatively slow processes, and administrative data are not equally well-developed in all parts of the world.
 
Moreover, technical capacities and systems for data collection and analysis in national statistical offices continue to be under-funded.
 
Ladies and gentlemen,
 
We know advances in technology and new, non-traditional data sources in our data-rich information society have strong potential to bridge the data gap.
 
Data from satellites, radio broadcasts, social media, financial transactions or mobile phones, together with existing data sources, can show where and how people live, and improve understanding of their perceptions and aspirations. 
 
Information from mobile networks may be used to predict the location of diseases and outbreaks, allowing health departments to stay ahead of the curve.
 
Analysis from financial transactions could reveal the impact of natural disasters on vulnerable communities and identify those still struggling to recover.
 
In rural areas where few have access to the Internet, speech-to-text technology can analyze talk radio shows to understand the needs of local communities in real-time.
 
Indeed, our ability to harness big data will enable us to have a better grasp of the socio-economic conditions of people and planet in a highly granular and multilayered way.
 
It can contribute significantly to making the invisible visible.
In short, our ability to harness big data can revolutionize the data ecosystem, transform policy-making and help us keep the promise of leaving no one behind. 
 
Ladies and Gentlemen,
 
So why are we so far behind inspire of the efforts made so far.
We believe the global statistical community cannot deliver this necessary data alone.
 
We have said it needs to partner with other stakeholders, including government agencies, technology companies, research institutes and civil society organizations.
 
For example, satellite data in combination with population statistics are being used to measure how many people in rural areas have access to all-season roads.
 
Mobile position data in combination with satellite data are being used to estimate the number of new migrants, including children.
 
These are exemplary initiatives undertaken under the leadership of the United Nations Statistical Commission in partnership with global technology companies.
 
Active partnership discussions are ongoing with global technology companies and global data providers. This work is also building on existing partnerships, such as the Partnership in Statistics for Development in the 21st Century and the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data.
 
I am also pleased to note that the second UN World Data Forum in October 2018 in Dubai, UAE, will bring together data experts from national statistical offices, the private sector, civil society, the scientific and academic communities, and international agencies to foster collaboration and innovation.
 
This Forum is supported by the statistical community together with the Global Partnership and can build additional support for a common political commitment to fill the SDG data gaps.
 
Ladies and Gentlemen,
 
Big data offers tremendous opportunities to save and improve lives. At the same time, it also comes with risks to individual privacy and human rights.
 
While we reap the benefits of the Data Revolution, we must also ensure the right protection frameworks are in place and that ethical norms and human rights are respected so that big data can be used safely and responsibly for the public good.
 
In this regard, the UN Development Group I chair has developed a Guidance Note on privacy, data protection and ethics in the use of big data for the SDGs, which is now in use by more than 30 UN agencies. We look forward to engaging with partners in advancing the dialogue on this and its relevance to all. 
 
In addition, an active effort is under way within the UN development system to adopt common data privacy principles. I look forward to the conclusion of this important process and for engagement with member states for a wider discussion on its potential relevance and application at the national level.
 

Ladies and Gentlemen,
 

The United Nations and the World Bank are also strengthening our collaborative work to support the data revolution required to support member states in accelerating and monitoring the progress of the 2030 Agenda.
 
As you will hear later today, the potential of the positive change of the data revolution is significant.
 
The technology at hand to strengthen and accelerate our approaches and action, is readily available and evolving rapidly.
 
Like-minded partnerships and data networks are growing and building interlinked data ecosystems.
 
I call upon all of us to further seize these opportunities and to ensure that we march progressively and positively forward towards an inclusive, resilient and sustainable future for everyone, everywhere with a life of dignity at its core.
 
Thank you.