Why do we need more development data?

Five years after they were adopted, it is increasingly clear that the world is not on track to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). To accelerate action, the United Nations General Assembly initiated a ‘decade of action and delivery’ at its 74th session in 2019. Its resolution calls on everyone – governments, private sector and civil society – to redouble their efforts to achieve Agenda 2030 and leave no one behind.

UN Member States are firmly committed to making sustainable development a reality. They stand ready to lift the poor out of poverty, halt life-threatening climate change, and tackle inequality in all its forms. But their resolve is being confronted by a severe gap in timely, accurate, and reliable data. These missing data reduce the ability of countries to design and implement efficient and effective policies and programmes, spot opportunities and avoid risks, and monitor progress.

The most severe data gaps are in the poorest and most fragile countries, where governments lack the resources to build strong statistical systems. In these countries, extreme poverty is widespread. But because we lack up-to-date and reliable data, nobody knows where it is concentrated or what needs to be done to overcome it. The last population count might have taken place decades ago, which means that today governments and development partners do not know where to build roads, schools and hospitals. Although many go hungry every day, nobody has the data to understand how agriculture can become more productive. Too many women and children are not officially registered, keeping them from accessing crucial public services and increasing their chances of being exploited.

In the next decade, we have a unique opportunity to tackle humankind’s biggest challenges with the right mix of data, tools and technology. Strengthening foundational data systems is a critical ingredient in making this happen. New data and technologies can help derive new insights from traditional statistics, as can digital connectivity. But to do so, we need to improve the flow of funding going into building strong, modern statistical systems.

What is the funding challenge for development data?

To respond to the challenges presented by sustainable development and the effective policymaking needs that come with it, investments into data and statistics have to increase in both quantity and quality. National statistical offices in the poorest parts of the world currently do not have the capacity to collect and use timely and reliable data. Studies show that an additional USD 700 million per year need to be mobilised up to 2030 to ensure that low- and middle-income countries can strengthen their statistical systems for the future. This will mean developing the knowledge and skills in-country to channel greater domestic resources into data and statistics, while at the same time finding new and better ways to mobilise external assistance. The assistance that is currently in place will need to be made more efficient so that every dollar spent bring more returns.

Addressing the funding challenge for data will require strong political commitments to put more resources towards building the statistical infrastructure for the Decade of Action. The Bern Network’s mission is to make more and better funding for data a reality by helping scale up support to national statistical systems in developing countries, coordinating assistance and boosting efficiency of cooperation for data and statistics. Together with its members, it will develop a series of concrete commitments for the United Nations World Data Forum in 2021 in Bern, Switzerland

By spending more on data now, we can make it less costly to achieve Agenda 2030, as it will enable smarter investments, reduce mistakes, and drive greater impact.