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Deputy Secretary General’s remarks on a data revolution for sustainable development

These remarks were delivered on 25th September 2014, at the first meeting of the Secretary General’s Independent Expert Advisory Group for a data revolution on sustainable development.

Checked against delivery version.

Ladies and gentlemen,



Thank you for this opportunity. Let me begin by conveying greetings from the Secretary-General who asked me to convey his gratitude to you for taking on this vital and urgent assignment.

Your group has been given the responsibility to advise the Secretary-General on the data revolution and its implications. This includes measures to close the data gaps and strengthen national statistical capacities. You come from diverse fields of data and statistics. But your expertise has brought you together to chart a new course of transformative action to respond to the demands of a complex development agenda.

I am a deep believer in your mission.

Through your work, you give visibility to people who have been invisible in policy-making and implementation.

Time is of the essence.

As you are aware, we are in the midst of a process to define a new sustainable development framework to succeed the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

This is both a great opportunity and a huge responsibility for the United Nations and the rest of the international community.

The MDGs have been the most successful global anti-poverty push in history.

The MDG framework process has highlighted a number of keys to success.

This includes:
1) reliable statistics to design interventions, measure progress and enhance accountability;
2) the importance of linking goals and targets with investments in data production at country level; and
3) building national capacity for data collection and reporting.

Indeed, data quality has greatly improved in recent years. Yet, we all know there is an urgent need to do more to further enhance data collection, dissemination and analysis.

Going forward, the role of data and statistics will be critical. This is particularly since the Post-2015 development agenda embraces the three dimensions of sustainable development: economic development, social inclusion and environmental sustainability.

That is why the Secretary-General’s High Level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda has called for a new data revolution.

Better data and statistics will help governments reach the most marginalised and the vulnerable, track progress and make sure decisions are evidence-based. They can also strengthen accountability.

In the process, we need to find ways to garner broader participation and resources from international agencies, civil society organizations, the private sector and academia.

In addition to traditional statistics, we need to leverage new, non-traditional data such as big data.

The data revolution should build on innovative initiatives in technology and capacity building, especially at the country level. It should also expand existing monitoring frameworks towards sustainable architecture for development data.

The role of national statistical systems will be fundamental.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In closing, I encourage you to work in an open and transparent manner, engaging with non-traditional counterparts, not least civil society.

Outreach will be key to the legitimacy of this work. You should also amplify the voices of developing countries where the data gaps are larger and where human and institutional capacities are lagging.

As I said at the beginning of my remarks, we do not have the luxury of time.

You should know that your work will be a key input to the synthesis report of the Secretary General at the end of the year. I regret that the timeframe for your work is short. But we have confidence that you can deliver.

We cannot reach our shared goals without data that enable us to reach the most vulnerable, account for our impacts on sustainable development and improve monitoring and accountability.

I have no doubt that today’s meeting will help usher in a data revolution that will lead to a Post-2015 development agenda that leaves no one behind.

Ultimately, let us not forget that a data revolution is about far more than statistics and counting. It is about making sure that the voices are heard and that aspirations of people count.

On behalf of the Secretary-General, I thank you for your engagement and commitment.

I wish you fruitful deliberations and look forward to receiving your conclusions.

Thank you.


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  3. FOR EVERY ICT PROJECT THAT IS ABOUT $10 million, successful implementation RATE IS BELOW SEVEN PERCENT (i, e, , 6.4 %).

    Big Data will help in the development process, but, we must be very careful in the implementation Process.

  4. Which data?

    WHICH numbers, statistics, and data sets are ESSENTIAL for EVERY citizen, scholar, educator, student, and policymaker? And WHICH core data understandings constitute fundamental literacy understandings needed by ALL?

    And HOW do we prevent the above “big picture” ESSENTIAL numbers and data from being overwhelmed and obscured by and lost within an avalanche of specialization numbers and detailed minutia?

    (1) Contemplate, for example, a CORE SET of numbers and informational data that constitute “What EVERY citizen, educator, scholar, student, and policymaker should know about our planet.” And then let us draw up a list of the top-100 or so such numbers, data sets, and understandings and ensure that they are universally disseminated.

    As just ONE such example: What numbers comprise humankind’s world population levels over the 10,000 years of civilization? e.g., 1 billion in 1830, 2 billion in 1930, 3 billion in 1960, 4 billion in 1975, 5 billion in 1987, 6 billion in 1999, 7 billion in 2011, along with projected trajectories toward 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, or even 15.8 billion by the end of this century? (Speaking in biospheric terms, such numbers constitute the greatest single risk in the history of our species – and anything even approaching the latter higher-end numbers constitute the demographic and biospheric equivalent of a collision trajectory with a near-Earth asteroid.)

    (By 1992, for instance, such numbers prompted organization after organization of World scientists, including 99 recipients of the Nobel Prize and 1700 other top scientists from around the world, to issue FORMAL population-environment warnings.) And exactly HOW LARGE is each one of those billions? That is another data/statistical-literacy appreciation that EVERY citizen, scholar, educator, student, and policymaker should know (and which we address in our links below). (Hint: The answer is 38,461 years.)

    (2) What might other components of the top-100 such core “biospheric literacy” data sets and core mathematical understandings include?

    (They might include, for example, other biospheric data sets and examples such as Earth’s atmosphere and seas as precariously thin and superficial surface films; and planetary carrying capacity and real-world examples of limits OTHER THAN food and similar “running-out-of” suppositions, and real-world population data sets of actual real-world and quintessential population “Climb-and-collapse” outcomes that exhibit in 99% DIE-OFFS and/or even worse mass mortalities in environmental surroundings that remain roughly 99.998% UNOCCUPIED.) (One begins to appreciate that familiarity with such data sets might have potential implications for humankind, and for enormous rising generations of Under-20s and Under-30s all around the world); and

    (3) How and by what mechanism might such data sets, statistics, and biospheric mathematics be expeditiously and inexpensively disseminated and shared? As two “do-able” mechanisms, envision concise and easily-assimilated PowerPoint and PDF open-courseware resources, such as –

    (a) Emergency-scale one-day workshops for scholars, academia, and policymakers utilizing several PowerPoints in a three-hour morning session, followed by six or seven “executive briefing” PDFs for policymakers and academia in the remainder of the day, and

    (b) A one-or-two-week open-courseware unit such as a sample “Biospheric Literacy and Sustainability 101 – Six PowerPoints / Six Days” unit (see links below) for all first-year undergraduates and secondary students of every major.

    Such open-courseware resources already exist. A sample biospheric-literacy PowerPoint, for example is accessible at and a sample PDF executive briefing for leading scholars and policymakers is accessible at .

    For an entire collection of the six sample PowerPoints above, visit!powerpoints/c24vq

    and for a collection of sample PowerPoints and PDFs for scholars and policymakers, visit

    and for a collection of 20 or 30 freely-downloadable graphs, data sets, images, and slides for presentations, visit www (dot) flickr (dot) com/photos/pali_nalu/12880223364/in/photostream/

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