This week, the UN is holding the first-ever World Data Forum in Cape Town, South Africa. Over a thousand data professionals from around the world will discuss how data can be used to achieve the ambitious aims of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The Web Foundation team will be there, delivering the message that development data must be open, gender-inclusive and sustainable if it is to serve as the building blocks towards achieving the SDGs.
Development data must be open data
The UN’s landmark “A World That Counts” report said: “Data are the lifeblood of decision-making and the raw material for accountability.” We couldn’t agree more. But, if data is to live up to this potential it must be “open data” – free for anyone to access, interpret and reuse. In order to deliver on the SDGs, we need as much data as possible to be available as widely as possible to track progress, identify new solutions, and track waste or corruption. What is more, this isn’t just about efficiency and impact, it is also about accountability. Citizens have a right to that data – their taxes and public funds pay for its collection and the services delivered, so it belongs to them. These factors are what have led to bodies like the G7 and the African Union to declare that data should be ‘open by default’.
That is the vision, but the reality is very different. Last year, our Open Data Barometer study found that just 10% of government data is published as open data. And, the gap between data haves and have nots is immense. Half of open datasets in the Open Data Barometer are found in just the top 10 OECD countries, while only two are in Africa. Without urgent action, this data divide will mimic, and perhaps worsen inequality.
We must making changing this a priority, and as we increase the amount of development data collected, we must integrate accountability and transparency by design from the start: by committing to open data through global and regional mechanisms like the international Open Data Charter and the Africa Data Consensus.
Development data must be gender inclusive by design
We believe in open development data for everyone – and that means making sure women are counted and included. Although gender equality has its own dedicated goal – SDG 5 – we believe that for the SDGs to be truly transformational, gender must be reflected and considered across all 17 goals.
We simply cannot achieve gender equality without explicit strategies to gather data about, by and for women. Right now, according to UN Women, only 13% of governments dedicate regular budget to collecting gender data. Data2x, an initiative of the UN Foundation to improve gender data, has identified data gaps in 28 areas – from girls’ learning outcomes to sexual violence in conflicts to unpaid work and more. Many of these shortcomings are particularly pronounced across the Global South.
Last year, we conducted the TechMousso gender data initiative in Cote d’Ivoire, which showed us the demand and need for better, more timely and open gender data. We call on governments and civil society to work together to close these gaps, and make sure everyone is counted and included in the sustainable development mission.
Governments must commit long term, sustainable resources to data
Gathering, updating and opening all the data needed is a tall order that will take years to complete, and its impact will last beyond any one leader or administration. That’s why we need strong, sustained political commitment to ensure the data revolution is for everyone, and that no-one is left behind. This political commitment across the whole of government must outlast election cycles, and live beyond the career of any individual open gov/data champion – creating strong, stable and open societies.
The Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data is making great strides in raising awareness of the gaps in data collection and use, while at the same time setting up a data marketplace that will allow demand to meet supply in certain domains. Governments would do well do participate.
Meanwhile, regional agendas like the Africa Data Consensus and global principles such as the international Open Data Charter provide communities of expertise and support for governments as they work towards these ambitions. We call on all governments to adopt the Charter. Last, and not least, we call on aid agencies, multilateral institutions and other donors to increase their funding to initiatives designed to unlock the potential of data for sustainable development.
Find us at the World Data Forum
Interested to learn more about the Web Foundation and how we’re working to achieve these three objectives? Come hear from the team at the World Data Forum:
Anne Jellema, CEO, Capturing the 21st Century through data and algorithms
January 17th at 9:00am – 10:30am
Nnenna Nwakanma, Africa Regional Coordinator, Moving forward – A global action plan to harness the power of data for sustainable development
January 18th at 4:40pm – 5:30pm
Or follow us and find our colleagues in attendance on Twitter:
@craigmfagan, Policy Director
@nnenna, Africa Regional Coordinator
@EricaDaleP, Alliance for Affordable Internet research manager
@ingridbrudvig, Digital Equality Research and Advocacy Coordinator