UN World Data Forum 2021: Moving from “What” to “How”
by Lorenz Noe, Open Data Watch
15 October 2021
From SDG beer, flamenco music, robust conversations, and espresso at every corner, the United Nations (UN) World Data Forum (WDF) 2021 had it all. Conducted in a hybrid format, the forum had sessions and plenaries in-person in Bern, Switzerland, as well as virtual sessions live-streamed across the Internet. For in-person participants, this was the first time many had seen each other in more than 18 months. During the intervening time, in part due to the data and policy needs precipitated by the COVID-19 pandemic, the conversation around development data had sped forward and crystalized many of the lessons that members of the community had debated for years. Remarks by the UN Secretary General and Deputy Secretary General reminded participants that we are now firmly in the Decade of Action and need to put in place the mechanisms and data that will enable policies to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The theme of this World Data Forum for Open Data Watch (ODW) therefore was moving from “what” to “how” and four main takeaways came together under this perspective:
Open data is here to stay
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed, and Brad Smith, President of Microsoft, had the same message: Data must be open if they are to drive change. The SG and DSG of the UN, building on the Cape Town Global Action Plan and the Dubai Declaration, underscored the importance of open data to the operations of national statistical offices. Brad Smith described the ways in which private businesses like Microsoft benefit from open data and how they can help public entities produce more open data.
Openness is now firmly enshrined in the guiding principles around development data and ODW’s virtual side event, “Beyond Open Data: What’s Next for the Movement?” picked up this thread. During the event, panelists debated how best to advise countries and organizations on operationalizing open data standards and using data to drive change. (Session recording here). Ahead of the next World Data Forum and throughout the Decade of Action, ODW will continue our work with the UN Open Data Working Group to provide guidance on the adoption of open data policies. And through our Open Data Inventory (ODIN), now entering its 6th round of assessing data availability and openness in 187 countries, we will monitor and assist NSOs in the implementation of those policies.
Data do not have value if they are not used
The importance of using data to move up the data value chain was a refrain heard throughout the conference. Whether discussing the latest data visualization tools, the importance of communicating on COVID-19, or leaving no one behind, all sessions came back to using data for impact. Our own session with PARIS21 and Development Gateway, entitled “Creating data use ecosystems: Tools and Frameworks to promote evidence-based policies,” stressed the importance of a holistic approach for proper data use. (Session recording here). Data literacy and skills, for example, are crucial aspects of understanding data and promoting use and impact. But they need to be matched with leadership that promotes data stewardship throughout the national statistical system. ODW, together with partners like SDSN TReNDS and PARIS21, will continue mapping out the data use ecosystem to create a virtuous data cycle for development data.
We need better data to truly leave no one behind
The original Agenda 2030 document called for “quality, accessible, timely, and reliable disaggregated data … to help with the measurement of progress and to ensure no one is left behind.” The UNWDF2021 recognized the importance of gender data to contribute to this goal and how far we are from data systems that include the most vulnerable. Data on children and people with disabilities, for example, are still missing in many national and international databases and much work remains to fill gender data gaps, to say nothing about the intersectional statistics of these three groups. Strong civil registration and vital statistics systems and better use of microdata (See our session on Microdata Use, Dissemination, and Emerging issues.” Session recording here) are essential for building data systems that reflect everyone’s experiences. ODW is committed to continue to work with partners, such as Data2X and IDRC, to advocate for and support participatory and inclusive data systems.
No one can do it alone
The last but most important insight from the World Data Forum is that better data systems for all will only be built with partnerships. As believers in the power of data, we know that information can also help stakeholders engage with each other in more productive ways. The launch of the Clearinghouse for Financing Development Data was an important step forward to help partners come together and learn how to raise and spend the funds required to build better data systems more effectively. (Session recording here). ODW will continue to support the efforts of the Clearinghouse and its gender focus and use our ever-growing network to build partnerships towards better data for all.