Harnessing the Global Data Revolution to Achieve the Global Sustainable Development Goals

Every two days, we create enough data to equal the total amount created prior to 2003, according to Professor Sanjeev Khagram, who spoke Tuesday night in a talk titled “Harnessing the Data Revolution to Achieve the Global Sustainable Development Goals.” As part of the Sustainable Development Speaker Series, Professor Khagram explained his research and role in creating the Global Data Partnership.

    The problem, he said, is that there is not enough high quality data that are usable or used. For example, over a third of children under the age of five have not had their births registered, meaning there are well over 230 million children whose needs are not counted in any metric. 

    Data on gender and poverty are especially scarce, with 77 countries that lack accurate poverty data. However, Professor Khagram explains that there is now a huge opportunity in harnessing the data revolution. Already, there are numerous sources and types of data, from official government statistics, to geospatial data collected by private companies like Planet Labs, to big data such as that gathered about food consumption in Mexican grocery stores, to crowdsourced data such as Datashift’s map of sexual harassment in Egypt. 

    The Global Data Partnership, run through the UN, aims to create a norm for governments to share data and make them open-sourced by default. They partner with cities and countries to fill data gaps and create a global platform for accessing data in a way that makes it easier to develop and implement plans to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. At the end of 2030, these data will also make it easier to tell how effectively the SDG’s were achieved. 

    Data is both an opportunity for and a challenge posed to global governance, what Khagram calls “the oil of the 21st century.” As a tool, data has the power to carefully direct and inform the implementation of the SDGs, but is also raises questions about how (and if) to regulate or cooperate with the private sector in data collection. The Global Data Partnership is part of a larger 21st century theme of discovering how best to leverage the power of data to achieve global progress. 

Andrea Tuemmler