Meet Open Data Watch’s Visiting Statistician:
Luis Gonzalez Morales
Open Data Watch is pleased to welcome the first Visiting Statistician, Luis Gonzalez Morales, to our team. Luis is currently on sabbatical from his role as the Chief of the Web Development and Data Visualization Section of the United Nations Statistics Division. Since joining the United Nations Statistics Division in 2005, Luis has worked with National Statistical Offices and international partners on methodology and capacity development projects, in the fields of economic statistics, data quality, development indicators, and the coordination of national statistical activities for the SDGs.
Get to Know Luis
In nearly 20 years working with the United Nations Statistics Division, where do you recognize the biggest improvements happening?
Twenty years is a very long time in the world of data, statistics, and information technology, and a lot has improved over the last two decades. However, I would say that an overarching theme that has characterized the development of official statistics during my time at UNSD is an ever-accelerating push towards the digital transformation of both national and international statistical systems. On the eve of the SDGs, we spoke about a “Data Revolution for Sustainable Development”. And today, as we start to bounce back from the COVID-19 pandemic, we are seeing many concrete examples of how National Statistical Offices and international statistical agencies are fully embracing the use of new digital technologies, new sources of data, and innovative data science methods in their day-to-day operations.
I think that another very significant improvement in the field of official statistics, particularly over the last five years, is the tremendous progress made in making data openness a strategic priority for national and international statistical systems, as demonstrated by the prominence that it now has in the agenda of the United Nations Statistical Commission.
What do you see as the most significant challenge still facing the data for development community today?
The expectations and demands on statistical systems are greater than ever, as decisions to address today’s urgent global challenges require information across multiple domains that is trusted, accessible, easy to use, and firmly grounded in facts and evidence at the local level. But there is a growing gap between the need for information and the resources available to sustain and develop the data systems that produce that information. There is plenty of human talent in every national statistical system, and we know there are proven technologies and solutions that can be readily applied to enhance data production and use – but there is by far not enough funding to make isolated efforts scalable and sustainable.
There is also a real risk that data openness is leveraged mostly by small interest groups, rather than used for broad socially beneficial purposes. Publishing data online is not enough. We need to ensure that more high-quality data becomes findable, accessible, inter-operable and re-usable as a digital public good, while respecting privacy and confidentiality. And we need to invest much more on data literacy, to ensure that all communities have not only equitable access to data but are also empowered to derive useful insights from it.
With only seven years left until 2030, what is most needed to strengthen national and international statistical systems such that they can deliver on the data demands of the SDGs?
To achieve the SDGs, policy and decision makers need to be able to derive actionable insights from the huge volumes of data that are already available at the national and global levels. I think there is an urgent need to strengthen the capacity of statistical systems to make their existing data more discoverable, accessible, and easier to integrate and to interoperate. This requires investing in new technologies—like artificial intelligence and semantic web technologies for data dissemination and analysis—and also in new skills—like data science and data storytelling. Crucially, this also requires that national and international statistical systems engage in new types of partnerships with other actors from across government, private sector, academia and civil society.
Another key aspect we need to focus on right now is the strengthening of the data stewardship role of national statistical offices and international statistical agencies. This means that we need to work harder to put in place the right data governance and management tools and frameworks, in order to effectively and efficiently undertake the Sisyphean task of ensuring that the data collected across national and global statistical systems are of high quality, trusted, reliable, and in conformity with the Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics and Principles Governing International Statistical Activities.
Why did you select Open Data Watch as an organization to conduct your sabbatical with?
Since its creation, Open Data Watch (ODW) has been at the forefront of supporting national statistical systems in their quest to modernize themselves and embrace a user-centric approach to statistical capacity development. ODW has been a trusted partner not only for UNSD, but for many national and global statistical organizations, in developing new thinking around open data policies, helping understand challenges and opportunities, and mobilizing resources and talent to address the former and seize the latter. Because of its sharp focus on data impact, and the amazing team of experts that are leading ODW initiatives and research on data needs for sustainable development, data dissemination best practices, data stewardship, and user and stakeholder engagement, I think ODW is the best possible place where I could be during my sabbatical.
What are you most eager to work on during your time at Open Data Watch?
One of my main goals in working with ODW team is to develop new ideas on how cross-domain open data platforms can maximize the impact of data sharing and data use to inform policy and decision making at all levels. I’m particularly interested in exploring principles and best practices that can guide the design of a cross-domain open data platforms, and to identify functional features that that have the highest potential benefit the end users of data.
I’m also very interested in contributing to a better understanding of how we can minimize the burden on national statistical offices and other producers of official statistics when it comes to opening up and integrating their existing data assets, for instance through automation, but also through the design of better data governance and data management practices across organizations.
Sustainability and scalability are two big areas of personal interest to me. What architectural principles, standards and approaches are best suited to facilitate the long-term collaboration between different data providers, and between them and data users? And last, but not least, how can we incentivize the long-term willingness of Member States and other public sector and private sector stakeholders to fund cross-domain open data platforms? These are questions that I’m looking forward to exploring together with ODW colleagues.