We need more than numbers: Launch of SDG Monitoring – UIS Data Blog

Silvia Montoya, Director of the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, @montoya_sil

The success or failure of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will depend, very largely, on sound statistics. It is obvious that we’ll need quality data to track progress towards the goals from their launch in 2015 to their 2030 deadline. But we’ll also need it throughout the journey to tell us whether we’re going the right way or need to change direction. We’ll need comparable data to show policymakers what is working (and what is not), to keep them motivated and, whenever necessary, to hold them to account.

The case for good data seems crystal clear. Now all we have to do is conduct the surveys, gather the statistics, crunch the numbers and we’re done, right? Wrong. In the SDG era, some traditional approaches to data may have reached their limits. The SDGs, with their focus on the quality and sustainability of progress – rather than the percentages or numbers of people reached – require us to question everything we think we know about the production, analysis and use of data. Above all, we need to improve the coverage and quality of existing data while developing new indicators.

This presents us with some interesting challenges. How, exactly, do we ramp up the amount and quality of data? How do we create global data standards? How do we ensure that an indicator on education performance in, say, Bhutan is comparable to that from Bolivia? And how do we provide data in a way that resonates with policymakers and the public alike? The new SDG Monitoring – UIS Data Blog, launched today, aims to highlight innovative solutions to such data dilemmas.

The blog will spark debate on how best to produce and use internationally-comparable data on education, science, culture and communication to monitor the SDGs. The aim is ambitious: to improve the availability, quality and use of data for effective policymaking.

This means supporting countries and strengthening their capacity for data collection and analysis. They are critical partners in the global push for data, implementing new and robust methodologies and standards that will apply across all countries, and using the resulting data to enhance the lives of their citizens.

It also requires close consultation with other agencies and technical experts, as well as with donors to ensure that investments in data are well spent. At the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS), we focus on coordination and consultation. As the official source of internationally-comparable data on education, we are mandated to produce indicators to monitor SDG 4 on inclusive and equitable quality education and lifelong learning opportunities. In addition, UIS data will be used to monitor progress towards key targets related to science, culture and communications. However, no single organization can produce all of the data needed to monitor progress across every target. So we are working closely with a range of partners to create new standards and methodologies needed to produce the indicators.

For example, in the area of learning outcomes, there is no comparable measure of reading and mathematics that covers every country. Each assessment has its own framework and methodology, making it impossible to compare the results. Given the pressing need for a neutral forum on this issue, the UIS is building the Global Alliance to Monitor Learning to bring together assessment agencies, national education authorities, civil society groups and the international education community. The alliance will enable us to move beyond the commitment of SDG 4 to define and agree on the fine print of the specific measures and instruments needed to monitor the goal over the next fifteen years. The Catalogue of Learning Assessments is the first step – the only open data source with comparable information about assessments from more than 60 countries to date. The challenge lies in developing and harmonising standards to use data from different sources through an institutional framework that also supports countries to produce, understand and use the resulting information.

Overall the SDGs present us with a golden opportunity to raise the data bar, recognising that the statistics we use, and the way we use them, can transform the world around us. The SDG Monitoring – UIS Data Blog will showcase best practices in the pursuit of good data, from international initiatives on comparable data to citizen-led data collection at the community level. It will celebrate the new technologies, new partnerships and new approaches that make it possible to monitor progress in innovative ways.

We are hoping for a vibrant exchange among those who produce the data and those who use the statistics: statisticians and ministers, researchers, policy experts and civil society organizations. And we look forward to contributions from experts worldwide who have fascinating stories to share.


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