The Race to Innovate for Development Should Not Leave Foundational Data Systems Behind.

AuthorMelamed, Claire
Position2030 Sustainable Development Agenda

Data is everywhere, constantly being created by humans and machines across the globe. But as half of the world seems to be drowning in data, too many people and places are still invisible in the numbers that drive decisions.

Being counted in the data means you can be better represented by your leadership. It means that policymakers can allocate resources to your needs and you can better advocate for yourself and your community. Being visible and able to see ourselves in the data can be empowering and transformative. When confronted by a set of data, most of us will look first for our city, our community and ourselves. But this is a right denied to too many people. Restricted access to data mirrors other inequalities, and a poor person in a poor country is the most invisible human being there is.

There are gaps in data on people, on places, and in time. Two out of five children in the world aren't registered at birth, meaning that they are invisible when it comes to planning services to meet their needs. In many countries, remote villages aren't mapped, meaning that help is slower to arrive when a crisis hits, be that an epidemic, such as Ebola, or a natural disaster. In our age of rapidly developing technology, it is astounding that much of the data being used to monitor the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) was collected before the SDGs were even agreed upon.

It is encouraging, therefore, to see the United Nations embracing technology as a tool for positive social change. The Secretary-General's High-level Panel on Digital Cooperation and his Strategy on New Technologies come at a critical time: we're approaching 2020, which will mark the 10-year countdown to the SDG target date. As acknowledged in the Dubai Declaration, launched at the Second United Nations World Data Forum in October 2018, the 2030 Agenda's data demands are urgent and require the power of new data sources and technologies, leveraged through strong, diverse partnerships. (1)

Achievement of the SDGs is a marathon, not a race, but when we're hitting a wall, game-changing innovations can help us power through with unprecedented speed and scale. One example--the Africa Regional Data Cube (2)--is an initiative that makes 17 years of satellite imagery and Earth observation data available and analysis ready, enabling Ghana, Kenya, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Tanzania to improve agricultural production, monitor and protect the environment, and optimize urban planning for...

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