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Independent Expert Group on Data Revolution has kick-off meeting during General Assembly Week

MeeThe Independent Expert Advisory Group (IEAG) on a data revolution for sustainable development was convened last week at UNHQ 25th-26th September, during General Assembly, for two day-long sessions. Below is a brief overview of the various sessions and some of the issues discussed.

Inaugural Meeting of Independent Expert Advisory Group at UNHQ

The group reviewed their mandate and agreed that it included defining what a data revolution for development means, suggesting measures to close data gaps, and seeking opportunities for new innovations and data sources while strengthening accountability at all levels. The group discussed the substance and timing of the report to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, due in early November.

During the initial discussion, group members highlighted several important issues including what the group means by the data revolution for development. Many members of the group view this concept as more of an evolution or accelerated data evolution, rather than a completely new paradigm, while others focused on the possibilities associated with big data and privately produced information.

Members of the group highlighted the fact it is imperative to ensure that the data is of sufficient quality and that because the mandate is for a data revolution for development, the goal of the data revolution should be to provide a framework for and investment in data that helps in achieving the SDGs and in monitoring and accountability.

The idea that the information demand for the SDGs will exceed the capability of data collection efforts was underscored. Even developed countries would need help in improving their efforts. Members mentioned that there are two things that are distinct: technological progress (which is inevitable) and what this progress means for official statistics. The role of National Statistical Systems in this new world could be an important point of discussion regarding the data revolution.

Other recurring themes during the discussion were the increase in the generation of data in the private sector and the implications of that for questions of the regulation and management of information, and a continual focus on the purpose of data for decision making, for accountability and for tracking progress. The group highlighted the need to align the frequency and format of data collection to decision making cycles in the public sector and elsewhere.

Meeting with Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson

Mr. Eliasson presented his idea of what the data revolution should be and it involves measures to close data gaps and to strengthen national statistical capacity to respond to the demands of a complex development agenda. He also mentioned the need to leverage new, non-traditional data like big data and that a data revolution of about far more than data and statistics, but also about how they are used.

The group then commented on Mr. Eliasson’s presentation and asked him questions including how this report can be made most useful in order to impact decisions, the process over the next several years, and on data as a human right. Mr Eliasson responded by directing the group to look at the OWG outcome document to see that countries feel the need for transformative change.

Read the Deputy Secretary-General’s full remarks at this event

Civil Society Outreach Day

A gathering of civil society and expert group
On Friday 26th September, the Independent Expert Advisory Group held a Townhall event and some in-depth sessions centered around a specific topic of the data revolution, with members of civil society, academia and the private sector. These served as a listening session for IEAG members, with representatives from over 60 civil society organisations in attendance.

Open Data and Accountability

One of the main issues discussed in this session was making data more open, potentially through Freedom of Information Acts, however, a problem is that even when these laws exist, many times they are not implemented. There was agreement among the entire group that data that is not confidential should be openly available. One big issue here is the capacity of people to find and understand the data that exists.

Discussion of possible open data standards created on the international level; the Open Government Partnership could be used as a model. A second issue with open data that was discussed was the risk of spreading data that is not high quality. A potential solution to this was the proposal of creating some sort of audit agency for open data and statistics. The European Union currently has something similar in place and an audit is conducted every five years. Many of the members emphasized that this audit must be done by an independent organization. Overall there was consensus in this meeting that there is a need for more open data, but that in order to make this a reality, efforts need to be made to ensure this data is of a high quality and that there is accountability of the data producers to protect confidentiality and privacy concerns.

Measuring the Sustainable Development Goals

This session was designed to discuss how the data revolution can be leveraged to make measurement of the SDGs more feasible. Some of the participants from civil society stated that there will be a need to move beyond quantitative indicators to more qualitative measures for measuring human rights-based targets. There was a strong point made that a lot of data currently exists but is not shared. For instance, many NGOs collect survey data at the local level but this data is not shared with NSOs or government agencies. Participants stressed that better coordination amongst a wide array of partners could go a long way to improving the measurement of the SDGs.

The importance of inclusiveness was discussed in relation to gathering data. Many times those people or groups most in need of measurement are not measured due to the difficulty of measuring them, the data revolution needs to ensure that all people and groups are included. Administrative records are an important source of information and this information needs to be made available to National Statistical Offices (NSOs) .

Another point for measuring the SDGs is that it will be important to have an adaptive monitoring system that will enable those involved to development new techniques to account for those being excluded. Feedback loops would help with this.

Finally, the point was made that maybe instead of data being seen as supporting and monitoring other sectors of development, data should be viewed as a development objective in and of itself. Finally, there was a great deal of consensus that there needs to be less of a focus on global aggregates and global reporting and more emphasis on data at the national and local level.

Challenges and Opportunities of Big Data and New Technologies

One of the biggest problems with big data is that currently it is almost all solely in the hands of the private sector. How can this data be made more public? The point was made that this fact is troubling from a development perspective as the private sector has very different objectives to the public sector and is not necessarily invested in the post-2015 agenda.

There was broad agreement that norms need to be developed around big data and that there needs to be trust in the confidentiality and reliability of this data.

Another issue is that it is very difficult to infer causality with big data and as a result, big data will not be a panacea for the availability of development data. There was no real agreement on how to address big data, other than it will be an important part of the future and needs to be closely examined.

Finally, the point was made that there are equity issues with big data, as the digital divide can exacerbate the ability to collect information using big data.

Image 2: Independent Expert Advisory Group speak with Civil Society representatives in themed sessions, this one focused on the challenges and opportunities of Big Data and innovations.


  1. An suggestion only: use National Statistical System throughout the text, replacing “NSOs or government agencies” and “National Statistical Offices (NSOs)”.

  2. Data Revolution that is not an Integral Part of Agriculture Revolution, Enterprise Revolution, Government Revolution, Applied Research Revolution and Attitudinal and Behavioral Change Revolution that is not based on One Worldwide Approach with One Policy, Program, Project Intervention, 3Pis and 3PIs’ Training as One that is using One Worldwide Database Management System is not likely to be adequate to support Sustainable Development Goals (better called MDG 2 to save cost of Global Branding and Public Education that this is not a new program but a continuation of MDG) because SDG is far more robust than MDG yet No African Country will meet MDG by 2015 and there is No Bridge Building between MDG Lessons Learning and Lessons Forgetting LINKING MDG to SDG (MDG 2). That is the Bad News.

    The Good News is that this type of One Worldwide Approach exists if the Independent Expert Advisory Group is interested in considering same for possible adoption if its Technical Assessment confirm that this One Worldwide Approach could help all relevant Sub-national, National and International Development Cooperation / Sustainable Development Stakeholders achieve increasing convergence between Data Revolution and related Revolutions Vision Intention and Reality.

  3. Is there a monitoring and evaluation process in the works to define intermediary objectives to achieving these general goals and monitoring progress towards both them and the ultimate objectives of data availability as a support for sustained and sustainable social and economic development?

  4. In the World Bank Group; IMF; UN Headquarters; Each UN Agency Headquarters, Regional Office, Country Office and Sub-Country Office; Each Developed Country National Government; Each Developing Country National Government; Each Major University in each Country Developed and Developing in our World today, there is Huge Knowledge generated from Study / Conference Reports based on vast research, analytical and technical capabilities yet because this knowledge is not fully applied or there is no bridge building between lessons learning and lessons forgetting, mistakes of history continue to be made.

    Please take a look at this link:’

    The Data and Poverty issues raised underline need for a Data Revolution that is effectively integrated with Agriculture Revolution, Enterprise Revolution, Government Revolution, Applied Research Revolution and Attitudinal and Behavioral Change Revolution. This will involve the IEAG making sound recommendations on re-establishing existing rules and establishing new rules.

    As long as relevant authorities refuse to build bridge between lessons learning and lessons forgetting in the Correct APPLICATION of the knowledge, it will be uphill task Configuring the World in ways that effectively solve real World complex problems on the ground in each Developed Country and each Developing Country ( it is self deception to behave as if only Developing Countries have Sustainable Development and Development Cooperation problems) will continue to be Mission IMPOSSIBLE. If this is knowingly or unknowingly allowed to continue, the ultimate consequences could be Catastrophe for all World Citizens.

    This is AVOIDABLE and this UNDERLINES Urgent Need for the IEAG to come up with Data Revolution Solutions that Deliver Sustainable Benefits to over 2 Billion World Poor, including Women and Children in both Developed and Developing Countries sides.

    It is our hope that the IEAG recommendations will help achieve increasing convergence between Final Push to achieve MDG by 2015 and Post 2015 Development Agenda Vision Intention and Reality.

  5. Such an exciting initiative! I’m delighted to see that the United Nations is looking to make international data more open. I remember many years ago having to hand code data for UN reports into a spreadsheet. The world has changed so much since then, and the opportunities for matching current and emerging data acquisition, ingest, processing and visualization techniques to the myriad of UN processes and missions are profound. Think for example about relatively simple things like crowd sourcing applications could be adapted to help the UN track emerging events of concern at the local level. Or how technology that automates the process of sifting through data feeds could help find local, relevant data nuggets in a timely manner. And don’t forget the fundamentals of data storage, ETL, security, accessibility, or proper system design – among other issues – that will help get the data where it needs to go and keep it safe. There are so many different use cases, and so many different solutions to explore. It’s a new era.

  6. Interesting initiative. Better data, better policy. But data can be misused and abused. People can even refuse to use available data however big or small. Given the problems the UN deals with, is big data the best use of its resources?

    • I think if the data is in a format that is accessible for the public, then almost necessarily it will be very easy to use internally as well.

      Data openness will contribute to perception (and actuality) of replicability, which in analyses which claim some “scientific” basis is key. If the data is only available in theory, but is hard to obtain, the need to uphold replicability will feel less pressing and quality of analysis would almost certainly be less.

      My main concern is that it would become a wash. In Canada, the open data website had a lot of stuff on it a few years ago, but now a lot of stuff is just useless aggregated data, like provincially aggregated summaries as opposed to anything remotely approaching raw data.

    • Better Data, Better Policy. Yes in theory. In practice, much needs to be done to achieve increasing convergence between theory and practice. To achieve this, there is urgent need for all relevant Sub-national, National and International Development Cooperation Stakeholders to Jointly agree Common Definitions of Goals, Targets, Indicators, Advocacy, True Development, Development Research etc.

      There is Evidence that current World Governance Indicators, WGI, such as Major ones, like those of World Bank Group, Transparency International etc are themselves corrupt. Since Data Revolution and related Revolutions in a specific Community – Neighborhood to Global, cannot be designed and delivered for success on sustainable basis, without minimum certain levels of corruption being attained by the Community and since no Country – Developed or Developing has achieved (All Common Occurring Forms of) Corruption Free Society Status, then Credible, Available and Affordable Database Management Systems are Key to achieving Data Revolution and related Revolutions Vision Intention and Reality. Nathan’s comment below on the current situation in Canada underline this point.

      Why is it the case: that UN Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform is not Active in Mobilizing Global Collective Action for World Sustainable Development? that 10 years after World Bank World Development Report 2014 on Public Sector Management, PSM was released, fundamental PSM issues identified in the Report continue to challenge our World? that 8 years after World Bank Communication for Governance and Accountability Project, ComGAP was started, fundamental ComGAP issues identified in the Project Document continue to challenge our World?

      As long as IEAG Recommendations do not come up with practical solutions to these real and complex Data Revolution and related Revolutions problems on the ground on Developed Countries Governments, Developing Countries Governments, International Institutions and Partners sides, the probability is high that 10 years from now, these same fundamental issues will still be challenging our World. Allowed to occur, given increasing Global Instability and Global Poverty, the consequences could be catastrophe for all World Citizens and our Fragile Planet.

      Over 2 Billion World Poor are looking up to IEAG to Get it Right this time. To achieve this, there is a need for Design and Delivery of Data Revolution and related Revolutions Policy, Program, Project Interventions, 3PIs’ and 3Pis’ Training as One built upon Commitments, Competencies and Connections. The Competencies should be acquired and continuously updated within Capacity Building on 3 levels:-
      1. Individual: Hard Competencies – Learning and Skills and Soft Competencies – Character, Courage and Mindset
      2. Institution: Operating Systems that Empower Individuals to fully deploy their Competences in their Day to Day work
      3. Environment: Political & Cultural; Economic & Financial; Social & Environment; Peace & Security; Religious & Moral Space that Empower Institutions to Thrive on Chaos

      Should IEAG, UN Executive Management, UN Security Council and UN General Assembly demonstrate genuine Commitment towards full implementation and effective monitoring and evaluation of the implementation of all good ideas and pertinent suggestions harvested from this consultation; all necessary Connections would be made resulting in the flow of all Resources: Influence, Science, Technology, Innovation, Fund, Material and Human required to achieve increasing convergence between Data Revolution and related Revolutions Vision Intention and Reality.

      The Key Moving Forward is Leaders genuinely Committed. Until Neighborhood to Global Leaders genuinely Commit to fully Implementing Data Revolution and related Revolutions, a hesitancy lingers. But the moment these Leaders definitely Commit, then God moves and a whole stream of events begins to flow. All manner of unforeseen incidents; meetings, collaboration, cooperation, partnerships, persons, material and funding assistance – which no one could ever dream up or imaging at this time – begin to occur. And it All starts to happen the moment Leaders identified, make firm Commitment.

      Please note that there are fundamental issues of:-
      1. Organization, Orientation and Discipline of Citizens to be the Moving Force Driving the Transformation of Society;
      2. Consultation, Diagnosis, Prescription, Surgery and Recovery Management;
      3. Meaningfully involving all who contribute ideas accepted by IEAG, UN Executive Management, UN Security Council and UN General Assembly in the implementation of the ideas, as adopted or adapted to specific context;
      4. Meaningfully involving Internal Consultants and External Consultants
      5. Effective Global Partnerships for achieving Sustainable True Development in each Country – Developed and Developing, each Continent and Worldwide
      6. Creating Demand for Data Revolution and related Revolutions as basis for Creating Supply for Data Revolution and related Revolutions.
      that need to be clearly identified and correctly solved, if there is to be increasing convergence between Data Revolution and related Revolutions Vision Intention and Reality.

  7. We are surprised and shocked that the IEAG lacks envrionmental experts. We would highly recommend that environmental experts and groups (including UNEP) are actively aproached and invited to be part of this group. That will avoid an inbalance in data revolution and put the environment higher on the agenda and better integrated within the national statistics and accounting systems. As 14 of the 17 SDGs are directly related to the environment, this is an absolute need for a serious measurement and follow up.

  8. Pingback: Open letter to the UN Data Revolution Group - The hi:project

  9. The IEAG is called on a data revolution for sustainable development. However, the lack of environmental experts in this group shows that its name is just pure rhetorics since one pilar or sustainable development is precisely the environment. Therefore, no sustainable development will be achieved through the data revolution unless experts in the field of environment are integrated. In fact, a data revolution is urgent in the field of the environment: lack of data, opacity and problems of comparability reigns.

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