Building Trust in Data and Statistics
by Shaida Badiee
“Trust arrives walking and departs riding” – A Dutch Proverb
The 2018 UN World Data Forum promises to be an exciting event, bringing together communities of data producers, researchers, policy makes, and users. It is a unique UN-led undertaking. For three days, on October 22-24, we will all be “data people” and regarded as equals, no matter our organizational affiliation. We will all have a voice and an opportunity to share our expertise and vision for a better world served by better data.
Like the first World Data Forum, the 2018 Forum is organized around themes. Theme 5 is Building Trust in Data and Statistics. This is hugely important topic and of particular interest and relevance today as the specter of “fake news” and “alternative facts” looms around us. More than ever, we need to build trust in data throughout the data value chain, from production to analysis and from dissemination to use and its final impact on decisions that affect the lives of people. The Forum will be a great occasion to discuss what it takes to achieve this goal.
So, what do we need to discuss? Let’s start by thinking about what the data ecosystem of 2030 could look like – both what we want to achieve but also what we want to avoid – and use that as a guide to identify the issues we need to address at the Forum.
What do we want for a 2030 data ecosystem?
Hope to achieve: A world where data are part of the DNA and culture of decision-making, used by all and valued as an important public service. A world where citizens trust the systems that produce data and have the skills and means to use and verify their quality and accuracy. Where there are safeguards in place to protect privacy while bringing the benefits of open data to all. In this world, countries value their national statistical systems, which are working independently with trusted partners in the public and private sectors and citizens to continuously meet the changing and expanding demands from data users and policy makers. Private sector data generators are generously sharing their data with public sector. And gaps in data are closing, and the “leave no one behind” dream is coming true with SDG goals on the path to being met by 2030.
Hope to avoid: A world where large corporations control the bulk of national and international data and statistics with only limited sharing with the public sector, academics, and citizens. The culture of every man for himself and who pays, wins dominates data sharing practices. National statistical systems are under-resourced and under-valued, with low trust from users, further weakening them and undermining their independence from political interference and ability to control quality. The divide between those who have and those who do not have access, skills, and the ability to use data for decision-making and policy has widened. Data systems and their promise to count the uncounted and leave no one behind are falling behind due to low capacity and poor standards and institutions, and the hope of the 2030 agenda is fading.
With this vision in mind, are we on the right path? An optimist would say we are closer to the data ecosystem that we want to achieve. But there are many examples of movement in the wrong direction. There is no magic wand to make our wish come true, but a powerful enabler would be building trust in data and statistics. This we should set as a goal to achieve in all our data strategies and action plans.
Here are some important building blocks underlying trust in data and statistics:
- Building strong organizational infrastructure, governance, and partnerships;
- Following sound data standards and principles for production, sharing, interoperability, and dissemination; and
- Addressing the last mile in the data value chain to meet users’ needs, create
value with data, and ensure meaningful impacts
I encourage all our expert colleagues and partners to propose relevant and vibrant sessions for theme 5 of the 2018 Forum and share their expertise widely. Last year we had some twelve sessions on open data, data interoperability, data standards, and principles, which launched important initiatives in the following year. As we take stock of our progress and make ambitious plans for the future, we must keep in the mind the responsibility we all share to demonstrate that we work in the public interest and that the public’s trust in data and statistics is justified.
Trust is not easy to achieve or maintain, but it is easy to lose. The path to the data ecosystem we want for 2030 data ecosystem is the trusted path.