#GFI4SD – Post 1: Can Data Ensure SDGs Truly ‘Leave No One Behind’?

The inaugural Global Festival of Ideas for Sustainable Development 2017, organized by the UN SDG Action campaign and the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), billing itself as “the world’s first playable policy conference”, kicked off in Bonn, Germany, on 1st March. Over 3 days, the conference features High level plenary sessions, presentations, discussion and debates, policy simulations and participatory games based on interactive and immersive technology.

A central theme of the conference is ‘leave no one behind’, a soaring rhetoric that, in its broadest sense, means ensuring that targets and indicators will not be considered met unless they have been met for every person around the globe. In responding to this goal, the conference presents several sessions and discussion centering around what tools the global community and SDG actors need to ensure they have innovative approaches to accomplish their mission.

But for ‘leave no one behind’ to avoid being simply a slogan, it’s important to anchor it with a package of measurable outputs and interventions which ensure that no man, woman, or child is left behind, which requires data that emphasis the voices of the most vulnerable populations. But data can only drive good and accurate decision-making when it can provide the right information on the right things at the right time, the disaggregation of global-level goals into outcomes and outputs for individuals, can help achieve that.

While in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the UN recognises that measuring progress across all populations requires reliable disaggregated data, paying attention to the most vulnerable requires data that zooms in on these groups in finer detail – income, sex, age, ethnicity, migratory status, geographic location.  Keeping in mind the global nature of SDG’s, data are often driven and fenced within approach that heeds internationally-comparable data sets. So, what happens in practice tends to be an aggregate approach to data collection, where for example national-level statistics only show aggregate results that are very top down driven and tell only part of the true reality on the ground, potentially masking position of populations that are harder to reach.

The question of inclusive and participatory development was discussed by several participants and panels during the first day of the conference, specifically in relation to the impact of Globalisation, and how to ensure that no one is left behind in an era of disillusionment and growing inequality. In asking these critical questions, the discussants highlighted that to truly measure progress for each of the 17 goals, data needs to distinguish that what works for one demographic (ultra-poor rural women for example) is unlikely to work for another (like adolescent girls).

Some of the work of disaggregating data is already underway, but there’s still a long way to go. The United Nations Statistics Division created a database of SDG indicators, a laudable step on the very long road to measuring countries’ progress towards the SDGs, yet most of the data seems to consist of a single data point for a single country.

As the festival continues, no doubt more questions, and hopefully answers, will tackle the issue of unlocking data and people’s voices for effective SDG’s implementation.


Featured Image Credit: www.globalfestivalofideas.org/