Article: Unpacking the Data Revolution at the Country Level – Initial Findings


By Debapriya Bhattacharya and Kate Higgins

On October 14, 15 and 17 2014, the Post-2015 Data Test team came together from all corners of the globe in New York and Washington DC. With our empirical, country-level work completed, and the post-2015 machinery – including the UN Secretary General’s Independent Expert Advisory Group on a Data Revolution for Sustainable Development – gearing up following the UN General Assembly, we decided the time was ripe to share our initial findings with member states, civil society, UN agencies and think tanks and to explore their implications for the data revolution and the post-2015 agenda more broadly.

The Post-2015 Data Test has three objectives: road-test a universal, country-relevant post-2015 framework across a variety of country contexts; assess data adequacy for monitoring the post-2015 goals at the country level; and inject global-level deliberations and decision making with country-level realities and perspectives.  It is led by the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) and the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs (NPSIA), in association with Southern Voice on the Post-MDG International Development Goals and involves in-country empirical studies in seven countries: Bangladesh, Canada, Peru, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Tanzania and Turkey.

Reflecting on our research to date, in New York and Washington DC we highlighted five key findings:

  1. Universality:  A universal, country-relevant framework that comprises global goals and targets but gives space and flexibility for country differentiation can have resonance across countries at differing stages of development.But allowing countries space to identify national priorities is critical to ensuring the utility of the framework and robust adoption at the national level.
  2. Data availability: The availability of data for tracking progress against a range of different potential post-2015 goals is variable.  We road tested seven goal areas: education; employment and inclusive growth; environmental sustainability and disaster resilience; poverty; global partnership for sustainable development; governance; and infrastructure and energy.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, the areas where data were most available were education, poverty and employment. The areas where data were least available were governance, environmental sustainability, infrastructure and energy.
  3. Data quality: Data quality was also variable across goal areas and largely mirrored our data availability results.  Applying our data quality assessment framework (take a look at our detailed methodology and implementation guide for more information), we found that data quality was best for education and poverty and worst for governance, environmental sustainability and disaster resilience.
  4. Disaggregated data: Some disaggregated data is available by sex, urban/rural location and sub-region but little disaggregated data exists by income level or social (e.g. ethnic) group.  This means that significant investments are required to properly deliver the “leave no one behind” agenda.
  5. Global minimum standards: Global minimum standard targets are not relevant in high-income countries, and not feasible in low-income countries (without a significant injection of resources and necessary changes in global policies and frameworks such as financial regulation, trade and climate).

We presented five recommendations for the data revolution and the post-2015 sustainable development agenda.

  1. Measure what matters: Better data are needed across the board, but an ‘extra stretch’ will be required in areas that look set to be identified as central to the post-2015 sustainable development agenda: governance; environmental sustainability; and data disaggregation.
  2. Capacity and policy space need attention: The technical, political economy and regulatory dimensions of data production needs attention.  This means building the technical capacity of national statistical agencies as well as line ministries.  It means making data timely, accessible and affordable, and having the right regulatory framework in place. At the same time, the capacity of data users needs to be developed so that they can use traditional and new sources of data to effectively hold governments to account.
  3. Data is political: There is demand at the sub-national and national levels of government for more and better data, and heightened recognition amongst citizens about the power of data. But politics play a key role in determining what is measured, who is measured and how data is shared. This has implications for how data on more politically-charged issues, such as governance, are collected and shared. It also has implications for how motivated governments will be to collect data on typically marginalized and excluded groups.
  4. Support country ownership: If the post-2015 framework is going to be more grounded in country-determined priorities and processes, the international community must be prepared to relinquish some control.  A country-determined agenda may mean a messier framework: different types of targets for different types of countries, less international comparability, and the slower generation of required data in the short term to ensure sustainability in the longer term.
  5. There is an appetite for more and better coordination on data: At the national level, data generators and data users want more and better data coordination to, for example, establish principles for data generation and use, ensure coherence between survey instruments, and establish data dissemination policies. National-level actors recognize the importance of international coordination to ensure and support comparability, reporting, resourcing and lesson-learning, but warn against over-engineering the international architecture.

We look forward to launching the country reports and the global synthesis report in early 2015.  In the meantime, we’ve planned a series of blogs reflecting on the initiative to date, which will be released in the coming weeks. You can also take a look at our initial findings on the Post-2015 Data Test website here. And of course, please follow us on Twitter @post2015data.

Many thanks to the United Nations Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and the Center for Global Development for helping us make these meetings happen. More to come!