Tracking SDG progress in the Arab region is now available to everyone

July 11, 2018

To develop the Arab Development Portal (ADP), we engaged UN agencies, NGOs, youth and government ministries. Photo: UNDP PAPP and Sharek Youth Forum

A strong data ecosystem is crucial to the success of Agenda 2030. As countries report on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) progress at the High-Level Political Forum, they need data to review their performance and identify priority areas for action.

Collecting reliable data in one place

In the Arab region, development data is often outdated, unreliable and fragmented across international, regional and local sources. To promote informed analysis, policy-making and advocacy, and to help countries monitor their progress on the SDGs, we engaged UN agencies, NGOs, youth and government ministries to develop the Arab Development Portal (ADP).

The ADP provides a multi-layered reporting system that reflects information on each SDG indicator, including all its disaggregation levels. The tool also allows you to monitor countries’ progress against the targets set out in their national development plans, such as the Saudi Vision 2030, Egypt Vision 2030 and Jordan Vision 2025.

A quantitative analysis and cutting-edge data visualization offer a multi-country comparison. Another feature provides automated reports on data availability, identifying areas that may require additional data collection or statistical support.

Comparing access to improved water sources in Egypt and Libya

Through a strong partnership with national statistical offices across the region, the ADP team established a successful model where national statistical data is shared on a regular basis and automatically integrated into the ADP database. Moreover, through the application of Statistical Data and Metadata Exchange technology, the ADP will be able to continuously enrich its database by importing data from other organizations’ databases with no compatibility issues, and vice v

To navigate a world where data is bigger, faster and more detailed than ever before, we invested in innovation and new technology. The open-source database programme MongoDB can fetch 21,759 data records in 100 milliseconds. Basically, instantly. This is particularly useful in those Arab countries that still have weak internet infrastructure and low-speed connections.

Visualizing data to explain difficult concepts clearly

All the data in the world is useless if you can’t understand it. Usability is key. To help people make sense of the data and turn it into insights, we introduced a series of advanced visualization tools.

The Knowledge4All portal, for example, was developed to track the state of knowledge in 131 countries and provide policymakers with evidence to design knowledge-based policies for sustainable development. The portal presents data through cutting-edge visualization tools, such as heat maps, scorecard techniques, as well as treemaps and charts, with the possibility to conduct a multi-country analysis.

The Global Knowledge Index aims to provide evidence for knowledge-based policies for sustainable development.

Data also needs to be available to everyone, everywhere. To make it more easily accessible, we developed five multi-language mobile applications. Two of the most advanced are the Arab Human Development Report (AHDR) and the app version of Knowledge4All, where users can easily access, analyze and visualize data, download reports and follow live news.

Using new portals for research and policy development

The ADP has been used by academics to write blog pieces around different development topics. The UNDP Regional Programme created its 2018-2021 Regional Programme Document by using data from the ADP. Governments, like Lebanon’s National SDG Committee, have been using the database as a starting point to conduct their data gaps assessment within the framework of the SDGs.  

For national data producers, we invested in building trust and becoming a services hub for them. We offer capacity building to improve data management, analysis and dissemination, and we give them access to our own developed content management systems and visualization tools.

We engaged youth, since people under 30 make up a third of the population in the Arab region. In 2017, we held the first SDG data hackathon “Visualize 2030”. This initiative brought together 50 brilliant minds from 14 Arab countries who used data from different portals to produce audio-visual materials around SDGs. The winners of the 2017 data camp made a short video on the benefits of breastfeeding, which was used by Lebanon’s Minister of Health to guide the development of Lebanon’s campaign in support of breastfeeding.

We also supported the establishment of the first Arab network for data journalists.

Building a data knowledge community online and offline

The Knowledge Project launched the ‘Knowledge Week’ initiative in 2018, which was organized in different capitals in the Arab region and beyond. The aim of this initiative is to drive active conversation and raise awareness on the importance of knowledge and knowledge-based policies for sustainable development. The starting point for these discussions is the Global Knowledge Index (GKI).

Stephany Boustany from the Knowledge Project presents the Knowledge4All portal to participants at the GITEX Knowledge Week in Dubai in 2016. UNDP photo

The first Knowledge Week was held in Egypt from 6 to 12 March 2018 and had around 2,100 participants, including students, professors and researchers. Then it landed in Jordan, from 22 to 26 April 2018, engaging almost 500 people. One of the main results triggered by this visit was the organization of a series of workshops that brought together various educational sectors in Jordan and the Ministry of Labour to address the gap between education and the labour market.

The ADP is also launching the “Data-Driven Debates” (3D) in universities. We want to establish a constituency of youth that can engage in public debate on their countries’ priorities and challenges.  Linked to this, through the annual Visualize 2030 Data Camp, we want to create an interactive platform where web developers, statisticians, journalists, web coders and graphic designers can come together to create innovative and data-driven content.

We are active on Twitter and on Facebook. Our strategy is centred around linking data to key socioeconomic and political debates taking place in the Arab countries. We monitor local newspapers and trending topics to produce relevant content that can be used to offer either a wider perspective or context for the discussions. For example, when the Lebanese media was covering the CEDRE conference, we produced content on the economy and the macro-fiscal situation in Lebanon. When a parliament is discussing a new bill, we also produce content from the relevant data.

A first regional initiative of this kind, the SDG tracking tool, and initiatives around it, will support Arab countries in achieving the ambitious targets set out in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, with the promise to leave no one behind.

About the authors
Alberto Natta is a programme analyst with the Regional Bureau Arab States at UNDP.  Follow him on Twitter: @AlbertoNatta

Farah Choucair is a social cohesion specialist and project manager for the Arab Development Portal. Follow her on Twitter: @FarahShoucair

Hany Torky is the chief technical advisor for the Arab Knowledge Project at UNDP. Follow him on Twitter: @hanyt8