The High Level Political Forum (HLPF), which took place over recent days in New York, was an opportunity to review progress in addressing the ambitious challenges of Agenda 2030. I was there to beat the drum for the critical role that better, disaggregated data will need to play if we’re to truly leave no one behind.
Earlier this year we launched a report that established a baseline on the situation of the P20 – the poorest 20% of the world’s population. A very clear and unsettling picture emerged from this baseline. Despite decades of talk about pro-poor and broad-based growth, the poorest 1.4 billion men, women and children share just 1% of the global income. Unless steps are taken, the gap between them and the rest of the world’s population will continue to widen. This is a fundamental threat to the success of the Agenda 2030, with its central commitment to leave no one behind.
Monitoring the progress of the P20 presents significant challenges. As we heard from a number of the countries submitting Voluntary National Reports (VNRs) this week, in many places the data to do so simply does not exist. If it does exist, it is often not sufficiently disaggregated to give a detailed picture at the individual level. As a result, governments do not have a clear picture of how these people’s lives are changing, and they do not know what they can and should do to ensure the gap narrows rather than widens.
To know who’s left behind you have to know who’s included – and the old model of measuring progress using national averages simply won’t work. Yet with 17 Sustainable Development Goals, 169 targets and 230 indicators we risk making the picture so complex that the political imperative to end poverty and ensure no one is left behind gets lost. That is why the P20 Initiative focuses on three simple indicators and asks:
- are the poorest better off?
- are they better nourished?
- are they counted by their governments?
Improvements against any of these three indicators will unlock and lead to other improvements in the lives of the poorest people. And if we see positive changes against all three indicators, the poorest people will be on track to be included in global progress. However, participating in discussions throughout the past few days really brought home to me that time is short and the VNRs are not yet measuring any indicators to track progress on the commitment to leave no one behind. Urgent action is necessary on two fronts.
First, decision-makers at the policy level should make it a benchmark of success that their interventions result in a measurable change in the income of the poorest 20% relative to the rest of the population. They must also measure progress against other social indicators, such as those outlined above. Improvement should be made across indicators to demonstrate progress. As the HLPF outcome document recognises, reducing poverty is intrinsically linked to improvements in other areas: “Note with concern that poverty remains a principal cause of hunger and that an estimated 793 million people are still undernourished globally, 155 million children are stunted, and other forms of malnutrition are rising.”
If we don’t start to measure something soon and try and drive change against it, we will fail to turn the commitment of leaving no one behind into action.
Second, we need concerted investment in the collection, analysis and use of disaggregated data. My colleague and co-founder of DI Judith Randel highlighted this during a panel session at HLPF. She noted that “there must be a political demand to know who is excluded and who benefits – we need political and technical progress together”. We need greater coordination across sectors, joined-up data and practical commitments from key actors. We can be optimistic here; at the recent High Level Meeting on the data revolution in Nairobi there was demonstrable political momentum around investment in data, with a number of specific commitments made by African governments and others too.
Countries need clear roadmaps and frameworks on how to take disaggregation forward across all sectors, and avoid creating silos by focusing on just one aspect of individual data in isolation (e.g. gender). This also means making better use of existing data, for example from censuses and household surveys, and leveraging new, non-official data to address current data gaps. DI recently worked with SOS Children’s Villages to launch a briefing looking at data on children outside of parental care – a group likely to be left behind. As well as identifying the data gaps, we made recommendations on how to improve data so we can close these gaps and start to address the needs of these children now.
We need to harness the energy of the data revolution, build on discussions and commitments, nurture and support the political will to use useful, good quality data to achieve the SDGs and make sure no one is left behind. And I echo Judith’s closing comments: “we are lucky to be living in a time when data is a central pillar of the conversation”. But, importantly, we must not wait until we have perfect data. We must use what we have and start to make progress against the goals.