13 July 2018
Data Dashboards, Democracy and “Cooper-tition” Discussed at HLPF Side Event
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The International Institute for Sustainable Development organized a side event during which four North American communities shared their experiences in turning local data into action.

Participants discussed how data needs to be turned into stories to inspire action.

12 July 2018: An event on community indicator systems, held on the sidelines of the UN High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF), underscored the difference between data being “available” and being “accessible.” The discussion also highlighted: the importance of culturally relevant indicators and community ownership over data dashboards; the value of making data collection less labor-intensive; and the potential of data dashboards to foster “cooper-tition” among communities.

The side event was organized by the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) and hosted by the Permanent Mission of Canada on 12 July 2018, in New York, US.

Opening the discussion, Ambassador Louise Blais, Deputy Permanent Representative, Canada, suggested that the SDG follow-up and review process would be easier if data and management experts had been better included in the negotiations for the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Kate Brown, Executive Director of the Global Island Partnership (GLISPA), presented on behalf of Hawaii Green Growth, a public-private partnership (PPP) that leads the Aloha+ Challenge and its dashboard of sustainable development indicators [audio recording of presentation]. She said the initiative has been able to maintain political momentum in the shift from one governorship to the next. Three small island developing States are now working to develop a dashboard to measure their progress, Brown noted, following on Hawaii’s experiences.

Although Hawaii’s dashboard existed before the SDGs, the initiative has “cross-walked it back” to match the SDGs, Brown said. The SDG dashboard serves to: pave the way for conversations and collaboration; drive decision making by highlighting opportunities for improvement; and fosters “cooper-tition” in which communities can work together but compare results to push each other for faster change.

Dan Steinberg, City of New York, said that New York’s “Voluntary Local Review” (VLR) presented at the 2018 HLPF, which was the first in the world, illustrates how the OneNYC plan lines up with the SDGs [audio recording of presentation]. He noted the “productive tension” between the universal nature of the SDGs, which provides guidance, and the context-specific nature of measuring progress in cities. Steinberg also highlighted a “democratic” challenge in using data to engage the public, noting that the City’s data are open, but not user-friendly. He said new technologies are effective internally for collecting and analyzing data, but they have not been harnessed for decision making, nor to facilitate the use of local knowledge to guide policymaking.

Data dashboards can pave the way for conversations and collaboration, and drive decision making by highlighting opportunities for improvement.

Kusum Wijesekera, British Columbia Council for International Cooperation, outlined SDG “scorecards” for measuring progress in municipalities and for looking at many departments’ diverse dashboards together [audio recording of presentation]. She noted that Canada has agreed to report on the SDGs at the global level, but this relies heavily on the provinces and municipalities showing their progress. Wijesekera shared the process of identifying national and provincial indicators that both align with a particular SDG target and relate to local priorities, which entails consulting with issue experts and city staff. She also drew attention to the “lag time” in data production, meaning that data are one to three years old when they are finally processed.

Stefan Jungcurt, IISD, presented Winnipeg’s ‘Peg’ community indicator system, which was developed in partnership with the United Way of Winnipeg [audio recording of presentation]. He said the project began with two years of consultation to find out which issues mattered most to the community, noting that a key lesson from the dashboard’s first iteration was to make it simple for users, as well as for those uploading data at the back end, to reduce expense and frustration. Jungcurt added that in order to “embed pure data into a human story,” the project has produced videos and stories alongside its indicators and maps. The new version, which was launched in June 2018, maps the indicators to the SDGs and makes data visualizations more informative.

In the interactive discussion, a participant asked about gaining access to data in a context with less transparency. Panelists responded that a lot of data exists in most countries, but from different sources and at different levels of disaggregation. In general, it is “available but not accessible,” Jungcurt said.

On developing targets and indicators, Steinberg said New York City arrived at its targets through negotiations with expert agencies, and in consideration of the budget, with oversight from City Council. A participant expressed concern about a two- or three-year consultation process to develop culturally relevant indicators and create community ownership. Wijesekera said some indicators are easier to measure than others, and these could be prioritized in the presentation of data: “if we wait until we get everything perfect, we’re going to be even further behind.”

The 2018 session of the UN High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) is convening in New York from 9-18 July. [SDG Knowledge Hub sources] [Side event webpage] [SDG Knowledge Hub coverage of HLPF 2018] [SDG Knowledge Hub story on New York City’s voluntary local review presentation to HLPF]

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