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Brendan Guy, Global Policy Fellow, Natural Resources Defense Council

Stakeholders from governments, businesses, and civil society actors convened in Addis Ababa on July 15, 2015, to pledge funds, establish programs for the sharing of data sets, and develop technical and analytical support that will help to close the gap in useable data that hampers efforts to address extreme poverty. Data is key to measuring the effectiveness of programs and services. It will be especially important for monitoring and evaluating specific targets defined in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Leading the effort were representatives from more than 20 governments, international organizations, and corporations that have made specific commitments to help establish the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data in September 2015. This multi-stakeholder partnership will undertake a number of tasks: the creation of development data standards, the delivery of data generation, the establishment of platforms for data access, and support for knowledge exchange aimed at capacity building and peer learning.

Significant progress has been made towards eradicating extreme poverty over the past few decades. Extreme poverty, or absolute poverty, is defined by the United Nations as “a condition characterized by severe deprivation of basic human needs, including food, safe drinking water, sanitation facilities, health, shelter, education and information. It depends not only on income but also on access to social services.” Extreme poverty is typically measured by the number of people surviving on under $1.25 per day. Recent statistics from the World Bank estimate that, although this number has been halved since 1981, it still sits near 1 billion.

Global efforts towards improving the lives of the world’s significantly impoverished were mobilized around the Millennium Development Goals in 2000. Although only 15 years have passed, the world is a significantly different place as the MDG commitment period comes to an end. As the international community works on the establishment of the new SDG goals, the technologies available to support and facilitate development are producing mountains of data. This explosion in data and the opportunities and challenges it presents is nothing less than a data revolution.

Data offers significant potential for informing decision makers and providing real-time feedback from aid workers and aid recipients. This information could have profound implications for resource allocation and service delivery. Most importantly, however, data could greatly improve accountability in the development sector, ensuring that development efforts are efficient and effective. Unfortunately, these mountains of data are often untapped due to complexity, inaccessibility, or lack of interoperability for users. What’s more, increasing dependency on technology and data increases the risk that those without the resources and capacity to use these tools may be excluded from development analyses, leaving them hampered in the utilization of development aid.

In 2014, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon named an Independent Expert Advisory Group on the Data Revolution for Sustainable Development. The Data Revolution Group—made up of 24 experts from civil society, the private sector, academia, governments, and international organizations—was asked to propose ways to improve data systems for achieving and monitoring sustainable development. As a part of their 2015 report, they suggested that a multi-stakeholder and collaborative global network for sustainable development data should be established to coordinate and mobilize the actors necessary to make the data revolution serve development more effectively.

The groups and individuals working to establish a Global Partnership on Development Data will capitalize on technology to facilitate a multi-stakeholder and collaborative approach to solving the data problem for sustainable development. As more actors enter the development sector and work toward the eradication of extreme poverty using new approaches, data on the impact of these efforts will be vitally important to replicating success and making adjustments on the fly. The SDGs will be ambitious and data will be essential to achieving them.

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