Using data to measure the SDGs in municipalities

May 9, 2019


In a world where it seems that everything we do—or even want—has become data, how is it possible those who work in the public arena feel they don’t have enough data to work with?

The 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) give us the opportunity to reach common goals for a better future. But how do we know whether we are getting there? Data are what allow us to understand if our choices are having the impact we want. That’s why the 2030 Agenda also needs a data revolution. A bold plan of action, as the SDGs, rely on relevant targets and specific indicators to measure progress. A lot of information about economics is available, but there is a long way to go in terms of social and environmental data. We need to go beyond census and household surveys and think about new kinds of data. More than that, we need to learn how to use all the data that are being collected on our smartphones and systems of registration and turn them into information and knowledge.

UNDP Brazil has been working with municipal data since 1998, when we launched, together with the Institute for Applied Economic Research (Ipea) and João Pinheiro Foundation, the Atlas of Human Development. It includes the subnational Human Development Index (HDI) and more than 200 indicators of human development. Since its launch, the subnational HDI has been used as a parameter in some of the most important public policies in Brazil, such as Mais Médicos programme--a public policy to bring doctors to the most vulnerable communities.

When world leaders adopted the 2030 Agenda, one of the challenges which arose was  how to inform  municipal public managers of their progress towards the SDGs? With the important support of Itaipu Binacional, we started a local pilot programme to check which kind of administrative data is available and can be related to the SDGs. This resulted in a new platform, the Oeste do Paraná. It has 67 indicators of 54 municipalities of the West of Paraná State, a region known for its important UNESCO-rated subtropical forests and the Itaipu hydroelectric dam, which is the largest in the world. The indicators are shown on tables, maps and a municipal profile that combine the region’s most important information. The webpage also carries information regarding the SDGs and a tool to monitor the plans for the 2030 Agenda.

Based on both experiences, UNDP Brazil is also preparing a new version of the Atlas of Human Development. This project is part of an initiative from UNDP to boost innovative experiences in the field. Besides its traditional indicators, the atlas will have administrative data connected to the SDGs, which will help provide the most recent information to municipalities as they devise policies to align with the 2030 Agenda. The administrative data will be selected from the perspective of human development, and sustainable development. In a world in constant transformation, we need disaggregated and the most up-to-date data to create data-driven public policies.

We still have a long way to go. Big data, machine learning, artificial intelligence are relatively recent concepts in development—90 percent of all data was collected in the last two years—but in Brazil we’ve made a good start.

The SDGs invite us to think creatively and take a step further in the use of data in public policies, developing ways to discover who is being left behind, and change the course of history by 2030.