Timely and inspiring, the United Nations World Data Forum in Capetown (15-18 January) marked a decisive moment in the race to harness the power of the Data Revolution in service of Sustainable Development Goals.
Bringing together over 1,400 data producers, analysts and users from private, public, civil society and academic communities around the world, the Foum’s sessions defined and refined practical ways for data experts from official statistics, information systems, international agencies, civil society, the open data community and other key stakeholders to work together for sustainable development. Hosted by Statistics South Africa, the UNWDF also provided the opportunity for groups representing the full range of specific challenges – from agriculture, to health, to gender equality — to explore ways to build statistical capacity, improve and modernize national statistical systems, move open data principles into practice and make official statistics open by default.
Open Data Watch, alongside our partners PARIS21, Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data, Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN), United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA),the World Bank Group, Open Data for Development, and Open Data Charter, helped organize five panel sessions to bridge communities of open data and official statistics:
Click session titles for more information.
Open Data and National Statistical Offices: Challenges and Opportunities in a Changing Data Ecosystem
Building on the work of the 2016 International Open Data Conference in Madrid, this session looked at issues of open data and national statistics within the rapidly diversifying data ecosystem. Central to this is determining how national statistical offices, as they adopt open data policies, can effectively work with the growing range of actors to promote and harmonize open data practices.
Four key take-away points from the session:
- The Open Data Community and National Statistical Systems share common and complementary interests in open data for improved governance, citizen engagement, inclusive development, and innovation. The World Data Forum provides an opportunity to carry on a dialog between these communities that began at the International Open Data Conference 2016.
- National statistical offices (NSOs) play a central role in the coordination of open data initiatives of their governments. Given political support and legal standing, NSOs can make the outputs of the national statistical system open at relatively little cost, as demonstrated by the experience of Ecuador.
- Strong, focused support for open data through an Open Data Council or similar, independent body can provide coordination across sectors and help to drive an open data program forward.
- Open access to microdata – survey and census data at the unit record level — remains a major challenge. These data are needed to ensure that small groups are not left behind. But it is increasingly difficult to guarantee the confidentiality of individual respondents against sophisticated data mining tools.
Although a relatively new idea, Open Data has been adopted in many government ministries and international organizations who are eager to follow principles and standards to improve transparency and access to public information. This session discussed open data principles and standards and lessons learned in the recent years.
As was clear from the discussion, open data principles can only go so far. There must be a continuing effort to translate these principles into practice. Most recently, the Global Action Plan for Statistics formulated by the UNSC-HLG explicitly offered the following guidance about open data:
Bringing together leaders from national statistical offices, the donor community, and international agencies, this session tackled practical issues about what needs to change in capacity development, what can be maintained, what should be strengthened, and who should be doing what.
In the discussion, possible building blocks for statistical capacity building were defined.
Data advocacy is defined as ”the act of promoting the use of data for better decision-making, policy-formulation, monitoring of sustainable development and impact” and “encouraging investment in institutions and processes to produce high-quality and relevant data.” Using this definition, the panel’s experts highlighted what is working within data advocacy efforts, what needs tweaking, and where progress can be made towards scaling up these efforts.
The session also shared several stories of successful data advocacy, including the innovative outreach efforts by the Statistician-General of Statistics South Africa for the 2011 South Africa Census.
Held on the last day of the World Data Forum, a session entitled “Making Official Statistcs Open by Default” drew a full house from the open data community and national statistical offices. The objective of the expert panel session was to build consensus on national open data initiatives for official statistics in Africa and other developing regions. In addition to stimulating discussions and participation from the audience, the African Data Revolution Report was launched at this session.
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The 2017 UN World Data Forum set a great precedent for bringing together key stakeholders to work towards better data for development. Most concretely, the three-day conference concluded with a outlined vision and “to-do” list for harnessing the power of data to improve people’s lives – A Global Action Plan for Sustainable Development Data. Let’s build on the momentum set forth in Cape Town and continue to work towards strengthening national statistical offices and promoting open data practices.
See you in Dubai in 2018.