15 November 2018
SDG Knowledge Weekly: Data, Indicators and Statistics for Sustainable Development
story highlights

The Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data and Sustainable Development Solutions Network launched a case study series on the value of data in a variety of country contexts.

The Global Partnership for Education published a blog that highlights new ways of measuring progress towards SDG 4 (quality education).

A discussion paper and guest working paper on Global Policy Watch explore the potential for incorporating unofficial statistics within the official SDG indicator framework

This issue of SDG Knowledge Weekly looks at blogs, reports and case studies launched in the wake of the second UN World Data Forum, held from 22-24 October 2018 in Dubai, UAE. The knowledge pieces focus on data and indicators to monitor and measure SDG progress, partnerships to accelerate implementation, and linkages to the business world, where corporate metrics can offer additional insights.

Investing in data is relatively inexpensive, argues a series of case studies launched by the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data (GPSDD). The case studies were developed by the GPSDD and SDSN’s Thematic Research Network on Data and Statistics (TReNDS) to explore improvements in data and their return on investment. A blog on financing the data revolution by Jenna Slotin, GPSDD, and Jessica Espey, Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), points out that in addition to its low cost, “investing in data systems, capacities, technologies and processes” can stimulate long-term cost efficiencies alongside sustained social impacts and development outcomes.

The six case studies currently available cover:

A blog by SDSN’s Jay Neuner summarizes the case studies launched to date and previews upcoming releases.

Focusing on three cities in the US, SDSN also launched a working paper that examines efforts to localize the 2030 Agenda. The paper titled, ‘The USA Sustainable Cities Initiative: Lessons for City-Level SDG Action,’ synthesizes lessons learned in the pilot cities of New York, San José and Baltimore, through their experiences in integrating the SDGs with strategy development, partnerships and data. The paper offers step-by-step guidance for other cities developing their own strategies, particularly in the face of constrained public resources, and an ‘SDG Mapping Worksheet’ to help cities apply the lessons.

At the country level, a Devex Q&A with Marjo Bruun, Director-General of Statistics Finland, outlines how time use survey data can tackle inequality, with a focus on gender. Bruun notes that such surveys can fill gaps around employment statistics by enabling more accurate measurement of the amount and duration of paid employment, while also giving information on volunteer and informal work. She emphasizes that in developing country contexts, donors and data users need to be involved from the start in order for time use surveys to affect policymaking, and flags the need to raise finance from several sources, given the associated cost of collecting data from such surveys.

On indicators, the Global Partnership for Education highlights new ways of measuring progress towards SDG 4 (quality education), following a meeting of the Global Alliance to Monitor Learning (GAML) convened by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) Institute for Statistics (UIS). The post recognizes UNESCO’s role as the lead agency in developing indicators, methodologies and statistical approaches towards monitoring SDG 4, offers a primer on the GAML’s work, and summarizes key discussion points from the GAML meeting. The blog also reviews the status of specific indicators under Goal 4, and identifies lingering questions on data gaps, the consolidation of datasets and the development of simple monitoring tools that can be used in a decentralized manner to capture learning outcomes.

On the overall SDG indicator framework, the UN Inter-Agency and Expert Group on SDG Indicators (IAEG-SDGs) held its eighth meeting from 5-8 November 2018, in Stockholm, Sweden. The meeting reviewed: tier reclassification of 15 indicators; data flows, disaggregation and global data reporting; and the use of proxy indicators for indicators currently classified as Tier III (lacking a methodology or data). The latest tier classification is available here.

Barbara Adams and Karen Judd authored a discussion piece on Global Policy Watch that acknowledges progress made by the IAEG-SDGs, but notes a growing need to integrate new sources of data into official statistics. They lament that at least 40 indicators are still “stuck in Tier III.” The paper highlights the potential of competition for scarce resources among data providers and others in the statistics community, and emphasizes “with concern” that the outsourcing or privatization of statistics can detract from National Statistical Organizations’ (NSOs) authority or ability to manage official statistics.

Further exploring the use of unofficial statistics to track SDG indicators, a guest working paper on Global Policy Watch by experts from the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) elaborates on a proposal to incorporate unofficial statistics and outlines the context against which a mechanism is needed “to certify unofficial statistical indicators as official.” Authors Steve MacFeely and Bojan Nastav—self-described “staunch defenders of the need for impartial, independent official statistics”—explore such a need “somewhat reluctantly” and with hesitancy, in light of the risk that incorporating unofficial statistics into the SDG indicators framework could reduce funding to NSOs.

The paper acknowledges that unofficial data already serve as inputs to official statistics, but distinguishes between “data” and “statistics,” noting that the two terms are often—incorrectly—used interchangeably. Data, the authors clarify, are “basic elements or single pieces of information” whereas statistics “are numerical data that have been organized through mathematical operations.” The paper notes that, in “the post-truth era” and increasingly fragmented world of data, a risk management strategy is needed to maintain quality control and sound methodologies in the compilation of official statistics while avoiding delays, duplication and excessive expenditures. It proposes an agreed recognized body, mandated by the UN Statistical Commission, to review unofficial statistics to determine whether they are ‘fit for purpose’ to populate the global indicator framework.

Additional issues of the SDG Knowledge Weekly can be found here.

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