By Dr. Christine Sow, President and Executive Director, Global Health Council
Data, measurement and accountability have been front and center at the recent UN Financing for Development Conference (FfD). On Wednesday, July 15 I participated in a morning event – extremely well attended despite the early hour – “Harnessing the Data Revolution for Sustainable Development” hosted by The ONE Campaign, the governments of the U.S. and Mexico, the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) and the Sustainable Development Solutions Network. One of the most radical panels at FfD, it highlighted voices from government, private sector and civil society calling for the availability, quality and use of data for planning, tracking and holding to account power holders around the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
While the FfD conference ostensibly focused on the financing mechanisms and principles that will underpin the SDGs, the importance of the availability and use of high quality data was noted again and again as critical to the success of the various approaches and mechanisms being discussed at the conference. Not least was the idea that quality data is necessary to “follow the money” – both in terms of donors accounting for their funds but arguably more importantly for countries to track how funds are used internally for the purposes of rational planning and accountability. If the buzzword of the post-2015 agenda is “domestic resource mobilization,” countries will need to know how much money they need to mobilize and where to use it.
Momentum for open and useable data is growing. This is particularly critical because of the power it will give to those committed to accountability – Knowledge is power is an old adage, and the data revolution for sustainable development can provide badly needed power to those who need it most. Carlos Lopes, Executive Secretary of the ECA, stated: “We are tired of reporting – we need data for planning our own future.” He cited the importance of the Africa Data Consensus to ensure the existence of communities of data users who are also data producers: “They will benefit from increased transparency and usability of data and they will repatriate the data to Africa. Good will is essential but Africans have to do it themselves.” He further noted the need for transparency around the quality of data, and the importance of holding organizations accountable about the numbers they publish; along these lines he announced that the ECA will start openly grading the data sources used for global reporting – using green, yellow and red – against international norms and standards. All these ideas are radical – they speak to the need to put control in the hands of the people and governments themselves rather than trusting others to produce data and tell us what they show.
Another significant contribution from government during this session (and throughout the conference) was the impassioned discourse of the Secretary General of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Angel Gurria. He spoke convincingly about the need for evidence-based policy rather than policy-based evidence and the promise that the data revolution holds to push policymakers in this direction. And he poetically spoke of the three Ps: population, planet and poverty, gracefully encapsulating the priorities and concerns that are fueling the debates of the FfD conference and the upcoming Sustainable Development Goals Summit that will take place in September 2015. In an earlier session he had also spoken to the need to capture funding flows, specifically noting the need to quantify contributions from private sector, civil society and philanthropic sector when we think about global funding for development. The Total Official Support for Sustainable Development (TOSSD) framework has been launched to do precisely this – contributing an important new tool, and albeit a clunky new acronym, to the sustainable development space. Gurria also reminded us that investment in ODA is largely a reflection of political will (a theme that came up again in at least one other session, “Who Pays for Progress?” held by Action for Global Health and its partners), noting that the UK has increased the proportion of its budget going to ODA despite the economic pain and restructuring it has undergone over the better part of the last decade.
It is exciting and invigorating to see data gaining ground as a key component of the upcoming development paradigm; easy access to high quality data will be the essential step to expanding the power of communities and governments to account and hold accountable for the commitments we will so publicly make as we move into the era of the SDGs.