UN Data Forum: stats can improve lives


The first United Nations World Data Forum was held in Cape Town. With more and more data circulating, it can be used to improve lives. The Cape Town Global Action Plan for Sustainable Development Data grew out of the forum.

UN Data Forum
Pali Lehohla, head of Statistics South Africa, speaks during the inaugural United Nations World Data Forum in Cape Town from 15 to 18 January 2017. (Image: Statistics South Africa, via Flickr)

Brand South Africa reporter

The increased reliance on data in the world has the potential to improve people’s lives. This was the message from the inaugural United Nations World Data Forum held in Cape Town.

The four-day forum, from 15 to 18 January, brought together data experts from over a hundred countries. It was hosted by the South Africa government and Statistics South Africa in partnership with the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA).


The concluding plan, named the Cape Town Global Action Plan for Sustainable Development Data, will be presented to the UN Statistical Commission for adoption at its upcoming session in March.

Accurate and better data could, the plan stated, create new ideas and solutions to boost collaboration and resources, and inform policies that needed to be put it into action.

“Improved use of data and statistics will be crucial to achieving the transformational vision of a better future for people and the planet, set out in the 2030 Agenda agreed by world leaders at the UN in September 2015,” the UN said.

“Rapid expansion in new sources of data is creating large scale opportunities for innovative solutions, which need to be integrated with strengthened official data mechanisms and structures.

“The UN World Data Forum is the perfect place to launch the action plan and get all the major players behind it,” said Wu Hongbo, the UN under-secretary-general for economic and social affairs, underlining the importance of accurate, reliable, timely and disaggregated data in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

“Data,” said Jeff Radebe, minister in the presidency, “has become so critical in our daily lives that we hardly ever notice its use in every facet of life.

“It has become like the oxygen that we breathe. The only time we realise that we have a challenge is when it is not available.”

In an interview with the UN, Hongbo used a practical example to illustrate the importance of data and accurate statistics.

“Take the registration of birth and death. According to our information, in this world, about 100 countries do not keep accurate and complete records of people who die and new babies.

“Just imagine,” he continued, “if you are planning for, say, employment, for city expansion, for education, [and] you do not know how many people you have in the country [and] the city. That would be disastrous. That shows how important data and accurate information is and will be for the implementation of Agenda 2030.”

Pali Lehohla, head of Statistics South Africa, echoed Hongbo: “We cannot achieve what we cannot measure.”


The plan

In essence, the plan is a to-do list for the world to improve data. It calls for collaboration and commitment from governments, policy leaders and the international community to undertake key actions in six strategic areas including innovation and modernisation of national statistical systems, dissemination of data on sustainable development, building partnerships and mobilising resources.

The Global Action Plan calls for the application of new technologies and new data sources into mainstream statistical activities, and integration of geospatial data. It also calls for data on all groups of the population to be expanded so that no one is left behind, a key principle of the 2030 Agenda.

It was prepared with input from the global statistical community and data experts.

Next meeting

The second forum will be held in the United Arab Emirates, it was announced, in late 2018 or early 2019.

“We are looking forward to working with the colleagues from the United Arab Emirates to organise together an open and inclusive second World Data Forum,” said Stefan Schweinfest, director of the UN statistics division. “This will be a unique opportunity to strengthen data and statistical systems for development not only at the national, but also at the regional and global level.”

Source: United Nations

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