Science, technology and innovation (STI) data will play a key role underwriting the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), from health and education to economic development and the environment.

To support the demand for new data, the UIS, which is mandated to collect STI statistics to monitor the SDGs, is working with countries and statistical partners, represented by the STI Advisory Board, to produce indicators and methodology that will guide national, regional and international policymaking.

New thematic indicators to help monitor the SDGs

At a recent meeting of the Advisory Board, the UIS proposed a set of draft thematic indicators and invited feedback from members. While there is no specific STI goal, STI will be essential to reaching other SDG goals and targets. Thematic indicators are designed to complement and enhance the core set of global indicators against which countries will report. These indicators – along with technical guidelines for data collection – will provide a resource for countries aiming to set benchmarks and focus their policymaking and resources in order to reach the SDG targets and goals.

The UIS already collects data for the two indicators designated to monitor SDG 9.5R&D spending as a proportion of GDP and numbers of researchers per 1 million inhabitants.  

Revising the statistical definitions of scientific and technological activities

Scientific and technological activities cover three categories: research and experimental development (R&D), science and technology services (STS) and scientific and technological education and training (STET). While the OECD’s Frascati Manual  provides the standards for conducting R&D surveys, the concepts of STS and STET have not been revised since 1978.

The UIS has been working with partners and countries to update the definition of STS, particularly in light of the massive changes brought about by technology in recent decades. Such services include activities that contribute to the generation, dissemination and application of scientific and technical knowledge. For example, the routine collection of rainfall data, historical inventories of flora and fauna, and astronomical, meteorological and seismological monitoring are fundamental inputs into R&D, but the standards in place to ensure their comparability are outdated.

The revised STS concept, presented to the STI Advisory Board, provides for a better delineation of the relationship between STS and R&D; clarifies parts of the definition that were considered unclear; updates the terminology and definitions to better reflect the current status of S&T, including new technologies and policy priorities; and ensures that the measurement guidance clearly reflects the broad scope of STS, and is relevant not just to Natural Sciences and Engineering (NSE) but also to Social Sciences, Humanities and the Arts (SSHA).

The UIS work plan also includes revisions to the UIS R&D and innovation surveys. The Board recommended that UIS look beyond the formal business sector to track innovation activities in the informal sector, such as home and farm-based enterprises.

The meeting was an opportunity to deepen the already strong collaboration with partners, such as AOSTI, Eurostat, the IDB, RICYTUNU MERIT and WIPO.