• Blog
  • 19 February 2016

Monitoring the SDGs: getting the data to talk

How do the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and Sustainable Development Goals differ? Where are the gaps, overlaps and clashes between them?

This blog was written by Tom Orrell, Senior Advocacy Advisor at Publish What You Fund

How do the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs/Global Goals) differ? Where exactly are the gaps, overlaps and clashes between the two frameworks? How are national and international information systems going to manage the transition from monitoring the MDGs to monitoring the SDGs?

These are but a few of the early challenges that will need to be resolved before the SDG framework can be properly implemented and monitored on a global scale. Whilst the solutions are complex and convoluted by their very nature, harnessing the potential of the data revolution for sustainable development that was called for by the UN Secretary General in August 2014 will go some way in meeting these challenges.

A key principle behind the data revolution for sustainable development is that data has immense potential to help drive poverty eradication and sustainable development. More and better quality data needs to be collected and it needs to be as granular as possible to help ensure that no one is left behind. Critically, the data that is generated needs to be easily accessible and useable by decision-makers, civil society groups, the private sector and citizens.

One specific area that needs attention is the fostering of greater comparability and interoperability between the standards to which development-related data is currently published. At the moment, much of the data that exists remains siloed – stored in a format that cannot be easily compared to other similar data. This situation results in decision-makers only ever having snapshots of particular issues but not the full picture.

The challenge of incompatibility between data standards has been recognised at the highest levels of the international development community. The Third International Conference on Financing for Development outcome document (the Addis Ababa Action Agenda) recognised the need and value of joining-up data standards at paragraph 128 for instance:

“Data access alone, however, is not enough to fully realise the potential that data can offer to both achieving, monitoring and reviewing sustainable development goals [SDGs]. We should endeavour to ensure broad access to the tools necessary to turn data into useful, actionable information. We will support efforts to make data standards interoperable, allowing data from different sources to be more easily compared and used. […]”.

Similarly, Principle 4 of the recently launched international Open Data Charter (ODC) recognises that, “in order to be most effective and useful, data should be easy to compare within and between sectors, across geographic locations, and over time” and that “data should be presented in structured and standardised formats to support interoperability, traceability and effective reuse.”

Enabling interoperability between the international data standards produced and used by development-related institutions including the UN system, the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, amongst others is at the heart of the Joined-up Data Standards (JUDS) project. Joining up data standards is not about developing one new singular standard to replace existing ones but rather about maximising the value of existing standards by enabling them to talk to each other, including in machine-readable format.

In the coming months, we look forward to sharing the progress of our work with data standard setters, data producers and users, from all stakeholder groups, and starting a broader conversation on how we can jointly produce better information for decision-making and accountability purposes. As Justine Greening, the UK’s International Development Secretary, put in a blog commenting on the launch of the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data, “only by collecting and using good, measurable, open, accessible and disaggregated data can we leave no one behind.”

This blog was written as a part of the Joined-up Data Standards project, a joint initiative between Development Initiatives and Publish What You Fund.