UNDP: Mitigating data challenges is imperative for human development and getting the SDGs back on track

April 25, 2023

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres address the World Data Forum in Hangzhou, China

26 April, Hangzhou – On the first day of the UN World Data Forum, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) highlighted the immense need for mitigating data challenges to get back on track with achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agenda.

In 2023 the world approaches the halfway point of the 2030 Agenda set in 2015. Global crises like the COVID-19 pandemic, climate-induced disasters, as well as wars and conflicts with international ramifications have caused human development to fall back to 2016 levels, reversing much of the progress towards the SDGs.

For the first time in the 32 years that UNDP has been calculating the Human Development Index, which measures a nation’s level of development through health, education, and standard of living, human development levels have declined globally for two years in a row.

"A bleak future is not inevitable. The multitude of crises, or polycrisis, that currently confronts us, must be a wake-up call for immediate and concerted global action. In responding to it, leveraging data to its full potential is indispensable in learning from our mistakes of the past, and chart a new, more sustainable course forward,” said Beate Trankmann, UNDP’s Resident Representative in China, and the head of UNDP’s delegation to the World Data Forum. 

Gaps in the availability of disaggregated socio-economic and community level data is one of the shared challenges that UNDP has identified in many of the 170 countries where it is present. This is often further compounded by capacity gaps in making adequate use of the already existing data. Meanwhile other data sources also need to be collected more systematically and digitized.

As for new data sources, like satellite imagery and big data from social media, Internet of Things sensors and citizen science, many countries are unable to use this data efficiently due to a lack of proven methodology, technology, capacity, or the change in thinking required to use new data sources and effectively combine them with traditional data sources. 

Additionally, many governments, including in some high-income countries, face challenges in their institutional data architecture, where data that is generated by national statistics bureaus can be siloed from the needs of policymakers in line ministries, leading to inefficiencies.

UNDP provides a range of solutions that enable countries worldwide to leverage data to drive collective intelligence, help develop more effective, inclusive, and sustainable policies, and strategic foresight.

The Data Futures Platform, acts as a gateway to UNDP’s data solutions and a clearinghouse for development data from across the UN system and other development partners. It provides practitioners from across public and private sectors, civil society, and academia with access to resources, insights, and analysis to address policy challenges across regions.

During the 12 sessions that UNDP is hosting at the UN World Data Forum, UNDP teams are facilitating exchanges and introducing additional solutions that address challenges across different thematic areas such as good governance (survey to measure progress on SDG 16), climate change and the environment, as well as peace and strong institutions.

One of these solutions is the Data to Policy Navigator, which offers a step-by-step guide assisting government executives regardless of their data proficiency levels with systemically using data to inform policy development across sectors and better work with national statistics offices. Another solution is the GeoHub, a one-stop-shop for all UNDP’s knowledge and expertise on geospatial data and services to support policymakers solving policy problems at a granular and local level.

"Improving public-sector decision-making will require us to meaningfully address age-old and chronic challenges in areas like funding data projects and data sharing. UNDP advocates for a future that treats data as a public good like roads and clean air,” said Anthony Ngororano, UNDP's Resident Representative in Kenya. 

"Data partnerships, especially with the private sector, are vital to ensure that populations around the world, especially the most vulnerable, like women, rural farmers, and people living in poverty, benefit from the immense opportunities that the data revolution offers", he added.