Data for sustainable development

  • 08/05/2019
  • 1 min reading time
The earth at night NASA Earth Observatory
The earth at night (photographed in April and October 2012). Photo: NASA Earth Observatory.

New sources of data, new technologies, and new analytical approaches, if applied responsibly, can enable more agile, efficient and evidence-based decision-making and can better measure progress on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in a way that is both inclusive and fair, according to the United Nations (UN).

“The volume of data in the world is increasing exponentially. By some estimates, 90% of the data in the world has been created in the last two years, and it is projected to increase by 40% annually,” as highlighted by the UN. It is growing because “it is increasingly being gathered by inexpensive and numerous information‐sensing, mobile devices and because the world’s capacity for storing information has roughly doubled every 40 months since the 1980s,” they add.

According to the global organisation, today, data is the lifeblood of decision-making and the raw material for accountability: “in the private sector, analysis of big data is commonplace, with consumer profiling, personalised services, and predictive analysis being used for marketing, advertising, and management.” In order to gain real-time insights into people’s wellbeing and to target aid interventions to vulnerable groups, similar techniques could be adopted to guide global development.

Real-time data for the SDGs

An explosion in available resources and the rapid evolution of technologies are transforming how governments, citizens, and companies use data, particularly to support the implementation of the SDGs, according to the Thematic Research Network on Data and Statistics (TReNDS). However, the “data available for the SDGs’ 232 indicators of progress for people, the planet, and our collective prosperity, are insufficient – not timely enough, not accurate enough, not inclusive enough,” the network explains. “Take, for example, the census; in many places, it is conducted no more often than every 10 years and in others, it has not been conducted since before the turn of the 21st century,” they add.

That is why TReNDS and the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data are performing a new project aimed “to apply the best knowledge, data sources, and technological solutions to identify these indicators ­– helping us better understand SDG progress today, not just at the finish line. With this understanding, governments, businesses, multilateral organizations, and civil society will be better situated to actually achieve the SDGs in the next decade.”

Through this project, “governments and partners will determine a set of indicators for which high-frequency data are available – such as night lights as an indicator of population. These would complement the official data used for the SDGs, filling in gaps caused by infrequent surveys, left-behind populations, et al.,” they explain. “These indicators would be used to inform policy and budgeting decisions by policymakers, to guide direct investments by companies, and to increase accountability through parliamentarians and civil society – particularly valuable for governments needing to address their most pressing sustainable development issues today,” they add.


We also recommend you