Date of Meeting: 12 July 2018

Meeting Organizer: Bangladesh, Norway, UNDP, UN-DESA

ISJC Staff Present: Jacob Hevenor

Reporter: Jacob Hevenor

Which SDG does this topic cover? 11, 16, 17

Type of meeting: High Level Political Forum Side Event

Brief summary of presentation of information made

The purpose of this meeting was to emphasise the importance of good data collection. Furthermore, how countries deal with collected data (data management and data analysis) is a determining factor in meeting SDG 11, Sustainable Cities and Communities.

The first speaker was Margrethe Rognerud, a senior advisor at Statistics Norway

  • “Leaving No One Behind” is not just a phrase; it is a promise.
  • People want to see numbers – it is often easier to convey a message through simple statistics than through words.
    • It does not have to include big data or complex technology.
  • The UN recommends civil registration (called for in SDG 16.9) and a detailed census that collects more than just the population.
  • To be counted is both a right for an individual and a help for good governance.

Stefan Schweinfest, Director of the UN Statistics Division, chipped in with his expertise.

  • Big data came to the fore during the General Assembly in 2014, and there is now a high-level group in the Statistical Commission focused on it.
    • It also led to the Data Forum, which first met in 2017 and which drafted the Cape Town Global Action Plan.
  • What data can be helpful in sustainable development, and what is just noise? Most data, frankly, are useless.
  • How do we balance availability of data with the right to privacy? Anonymisation (the process of encrypting or removing any personally identifiable information from data sets) is a start.
  • “Leaving No One Behind” translated into statistics means disaggregation (breaking up a data set into constituent parts, so that an outlier group is not lost in the larger sample size).

For a case study, the panel turned to Anir Chowdhury, a policy advisor at a2i (Access to Information in Bangladesh, a government data project).

  • Five big problems with data can hinder development: data gaps, analog (non-digitised) data, unintegrated data, a lack of analytical skills, and the intimidating size of big data.
  • Bangladesh is trying to be on the cutting edge of national statistics and analytics.
    • There is a publicly available SDG tracker website.
    • Every year each government department signs a performance agreement with the cabinet, in which they promise to report fully and truthfully on their relevant aspects of development.
  • Bangladesh also has one of the world’s largest routine health data-collection systems. It is an alternate source of data with a huge potential to identify development shortfalls.
  • Our next goal is to move from just hard numbers to a more personal focus.
    • For example, we know how many children dropped out of school. Now we want to know what types of children tend to drop out, and why.

Douglas Keh of UNDP made a case for statistics as necessary for development.

  • The recent legalisation of sports betting in the United States led to a huge rise in the stock prices of sports statistics companies. How can we spark that same interest for national statistics?
  • In the traditional model of development, a project ends and the development stops. But MDGs/SDGs change that – we break each goal down into its key components, and the statistical monitoring continues regardless.
  • Governments have competing priorities, so SDG advocates have a long way to go. The key is to continue advocating.
    • The prospect of profit pushed statistics into the mainstream in the sporting world. What will push statistics into the development mainstream?

The next speaker was Robert Kirkpatrick, the Director of UN Global Pulse, an initiative to harness big data and AI for development.

  • Big data is the next great natural resource, but it belongs to an extractive industry. The Secretary-General wants to see it used for the public good.
  • UN Global Pulse is pushing data philanthropy, where companies can protect their businesses and privacy, but make some of their data available for development purposes.
    • Example: mobile phone location services show real time movement maps. While this can be used for extracting profits, it can also, for example, track the spread of an epidemic and allow health workers to target their response.

Umar Serajuddin, a Senior Economist at the World Bank’s Data Group, talked about the role of open data.

  • At the World Bank, our goal is to always push new data analytics techniques so that our own publications will be obsolete very quickly.
  • Why should organisations and corporations make their data public? After all, it takes away the advantage of extracting profits.
    • Data quality has improved because more people can point out mistakes.
    • Public perception of data collection has improved with transparency.
    • Data scientists have more free time, without having to cater to individual requests for data.

Thao Nguyen, the Director of Airbnb in Asia, talked about how the company is leveraging tourism data to promote certain tourist experiences or emerging destinations. The company can note where tourism is on the rise and adjust their strategy accordingly.


What was of particular significance to share with The Salvation Army globally?

Big data and algorithms may be out of reach for a non-profit, but this meeting had lessons for all kinds of data collection.

Disaggregation is critical for targeted social services in the Army, mostly to make sure that no group is left behind. Additionally, with the growing power of simple computer programs, all data should be digital.

Obviously, the resources available to a national government are not available to other organisations. However, Bangladesh, Norway and other nations are strong examples to follow in finding the right tension between privacy and data-driven development. Data collection, management and analysis are extremely difficult, but are necessary for both driving and tracking progress.


Web links for more information The Bangladeshi government’s SDG Tracker is one of the most thorough SDG measurement systems in the world. UN Global Pulse, created by the Secretary-General, works to make big data serve the public good. The Cape Town Global Action Plan for Sustainable Development Data was written during the first UN World Data Forum, and contains the initial framework for how the UN can utilise new data technologies for development purposes.

Tags: United Nations, SDG16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions, SDG11: Sustainable Cities and Communities, SDG17: Partnerships for the Goals