The Importance Of Data In Implementing The Sustainable Development Goals

+SocialGood
5 min readNov 16, 2020

By +SocialGood Connector, Alejandra Acosta

Photo by Davi Mendes on Unsplash

For some years, the advancement of the 2030 agenda has been one of the top priorities of international human rights organizations and some local governments.

In fact, thanks to the 2030 agenda, the local work on sustainability has found a framework to connect with international action in terms of development. However, with the crisis of coronavirus and its impact on our world, sustainability seems to be left in second place — again.

Today, more than ever, it is important to remember that the sustainable development goals are not just a good branding strategy of the UN work. They are actually the starting point to making sure every country and as a consequence, the whole world, are working together in a coordinated way but also respecting the particularities of each country, with the objective of making life more sustainable with the planet and the people who live in it.

The implementation of the sustainable development goals has a lot of aspects that need to be discussed globally, but today I think it is crucial to focus on one of the most urgent issues: data. This issue was underlined during the past UN75 youth plenary session on the impact of digital technology and data.

In a time where coronavirus has made us aware of all the things we lack as a society, measuring our impact and having a big picture of what is really happening in our world in different areas like health, gender equity, governance and so on seems more important than ever before.

How can we measure the positive impact that we are making towards the 2030 agenda if we do not have proper tools to measure it? We cannot know what we cannot measure, and I believe that one of the main difficulties to know what is going on in each country, community, and organization in terms of sustainable development is that there is not enough reliable and high-quality information that tracks the SDGs. This means that there is a lack of data of each SDG at a local and global level, preventing us from truly knowing the specific advancements that are being made. This information needs to be collected based on common and global indicators that facilitate impact measurement and respect the privacy of individuals.

There are several challenges that impede the collection of high-quality information about the SDGs:

  1. Poor data management practices and systems. Organizations without the funding or capacity to develop well-designed, modern practices and systems cannot easily search and analyze their own data. That is a huge barrier to share quality information.
  2. “Siloed” data. Most data is accessible only to the collecting organization and, in some cases their funders, and not to other researchers, academics, practitioners, and policymakers unless those organizations have developed effective strategies to share data while also ensuring privacy protections.
  3. Lack of standardization. Data sets are often not standardized within or across organizations and may be incomplete and incompatible with international standards.
  4. Furthermore, gathering and centralizing reliable, high-quality data that can be shared appropriately with the global community interested in sustainable development and within and between governments presents several particular challenges:
  • Collection. Collecting data on sustainable development requires special care and attention. Collectors must employ sound methodologies to ensure data integrity and confidentiality.
  • Standardization. Data standardization requires many different governments, agencies, and organizations — each with its own legacy record-keeping system and mandates — to agree upon data standards and a common data architecture.
  • Aggregation. Having several different datasets that are standardized and compatible means they can technically be combined into larger or cross-sectional datasets, but political, bureaucratic, and legal obstacles may nevertheless prevent their data aggregation. Real data-sharing agreements must be reached to overcome these institutional barriers so that related and standardized datasets can be brought together into larger, more useful databases for analysis.
  • Data Integrity and Anonymity. Protecting the integrity of the data and the identity and privacy of survivors is of paramount importance once data has been collected, standardized, and aggregated. Special care must be taken to prevent database compromise or inadvertent release of information that can identify individuals and violate their right to privacy.
  • It is clear that collecting quality, standardized and safe information is a huge challenge that we have not yet come, but despite the difficulty, there are organizations making significant efforts to face these obstacles and add solutions to this problem from their own perspectives. Some of these organizations have uploaded valuable information to keep track of the SDGs around the globe to their own databases.

Here are some examples:

  • The United Nations Global Pulse is an innovative initiative in charge of accelerating the development of data analysis as a public resource for sustainable development. This initiative has organized several workshops and think tanks on data innovation with the objective of strengthening capacities of organizations to collect data and analyze it.
  • The Institute of applied investigation also launched a project call for its atlas of human development ( Atlas del Desarrollo Humano), which includes an index with more than 200 indicators to measure human development. Since this index was launched, it has been used as a main tool to create and design the most relevant public policies in Brazil.
  • Apart from the human development indicators, the atlas has data connected to the sustainable development goals, which will provide the most recent information to local communities to facilitate the design of policies based on the SDGs. In a world that is constantly changing, we need to make policy based on the right information.
  • Data2x is an initiative from the United Nations Foundation that builds and mobilizes action around gender data. Through research, advocacy, and communications, they make gender data central to global efforts to achieve gender equality. They partner with data producers to improve established data systems. With their partners in multilateral agencies, governments, and the private sector, they work to improve standards guiding data collection efforts. They convene organizations with a shared interest in improving data on specific areas — such as unpaid work or financial inclusion — to encourage harmonization in data collection practices. Through these efforts, they are changing the way women’s activities are captured in data systems.
  • Certainly, the collection and analysis of SDG data is a challenge that needs to be addressed as soon as possible to facilitate ways to measure the impact of initiatives that are being developed in communities and cities around the globe, because if we do not measure our actions, they are not tangible at all.However, despite these challenges,, there are initiatives proving that we are on the right track, and we only need to find innovative ways to find strategic partnerships to systematize and analyze information that allow us to share quality data with the organizations that are monitoring the global progress we have made in sustainable development.

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