Responsible Data Towards Achieving the SDGs
Three Take-Aways from the UN World Data Forum
Posted on 20th of October 2021 by Andres Arau
From 3 to 6 October 2021, Bern hosted the Third UN World Data Forum (UNWDF), gathering data experts and scholars from organisations across the world. The event, intended to foster “better data towards achieving the SDGs,” used a combination of virtual and in-person sessions to bring together panellists and participants.
The keynote speaker, Microsoft President Brad Smith, confidently asserted that “no matter what the problem may be, data can play an indispensable role in solving it,” while others focused attention on the risks generated by data. Members of the RD4C team attended the conference and share some takeaways relevant to the responsible handling of data for and about children.
Three Key Takeaways
1. Build trust in data
"How we can really ensure trust in data?" asked Ola Awad, President of Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics. Like many panellists, she wondered how we can build and maintain trust in the data ecosystem – not only from the public, but broadly among all stakeholders.
In this age of rapidly evolving technology, widespread misinformation and scepticism towards institutions, data activities must guarantee a holistic protection of people's data; and it is essential to ensure that the needs and expectations of those affected by the use of their data are respected. The mere participation in a system should not be conflated with trust, as James Lowry, Assistant Professor at City University of New York, noted throughout his address on the issue.
2. Expand opportunities to strengthen data capacity
Another series of sessions were dedicated to seeking new approaches to develop capacity for better data. Stakeholders called for building technical know-how and strengthening data literacy at every level. “I believe we should all be data literate,” said Nicolas Kurek, UN Youth Representative.
Boosting data literacy implies increasing the data capacity of people – not only data stewards but also non-specialists – as well as ensuring the information is as intelligible and accessible as possible for anyone to make informed decisions. To accelerate the process, responsible, trustworthy, and open data ecosystem should be put in place.
3. Put the interest of people at the centre of data systems
Last but not least, the UNWDF, moderated by speakers such as independent journalist Arthur Honegger, reiterated the need to “put data into the hands of citizens.” Partnerships should be people-centric and ensure that the needs, interests, and expectations of individuals are prioritized.
Importantly, data should represent everybody and leave no one behind: individuals and groups, including marginalised and vulnerable populations, should always be informed and engaged by those handling data about them.
Activities Relevant to RD4C
These are only a few overarching takeaways emerging from the UNWDF. The event also highlighted three data-for-development investment initiatives that could provide lessons for actors seeking to use data responsibly to advance children's interests:
- The Clearinghouse for Financing Development Data, launched by The Bern Network as a platform to track and analyse the state of financing for data and to help countries, donors and development partners identify funding opportunities.
- The Global Data Facility, World Bank-hosted fund to support fundamentals and frontier data and statistics priorities at the global, regional, national, and community levels.
- The Complex Risk Analytics Fund (CRAF’d), multilateral financing instrument supported by the UN and an increasing number of governments to expand shared capabilities for using data to better anticipate, prevent, and respond to complex risks in fragile and crisis-affected settings.
RD4C to accelerate progress on SDGs
While the forum did not focus on children specifically, the discussions highlighted the importance of designing and respecting responsible data practices for vulnerable groups, including children.
The Responsible Data for Children (RD4C) initiative advocates for responsible handling of children's data and follows a set of actionable principles to ensure that the best interest of children is put at the centre of data activities. The takeaways outlined above provide useful insight on how the RD4C community can continue to work toward more responsible handling of data for and about children globally.
For more information on the RD4C initiative, visit the website.
For more information on the Forum see the Summary Report and The Bern Data Compact for the Decade of Action on the SDGs.
[Image credit: Piero Olliaro]