The need for and the dawn of a data revolution is at the heart of the international community’s conceptualization of the UN-led Post 2015 Sustainable Development Goals. A call for a data revolution by the UN Secretary General’s High Level Panel on the post-2015 development agenda provided an opportunity for countries to harness the power of information in the implementation, accounting and tracking of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at all levels of government.

Basing on DRT’s experience of working on community and sub national levels in Uganda, the IEAG report fell far short in several respects particularly when it comes to issues of context and local realities. DRT’s views on the matter were communicated in an open letter to the UN Secretary General which was made by a consortium of organizations.  In the letter, the organisations emphasized that the global data revolution debate must be rooted in local and contextual realities.

There are, however, three significant areas of concern:

Lack of consultation

Whilst we acknowledge the limitations of producing this report to such tight deadlines, we regret the consequences in terms of lack of time for adequate consultation. This has led to frustration and criticism from many interested parties. Moving forward with this project, we recommend that the UN allows enough time for consultations to ensure sufficient participation in the process from all relevant stakeholders. As the report itself says, it is subsidiary to the revolution.

Insufficient emphasis on strengthening human capacity

The report emphasizes the need to build both technical and institutional capacity, but it underestimates the efforts required to strengthen human capacity – perhaps the most significant challenge that the data revolution faces. The final report includes a welcome acknowledgement of the risk of rising inequality between those who can access and use data and those who cannot. To mitigate that risk, more emphasis should be placed on strengthening human capacity, both to collect data and to use it.

Over-emphasis on global priorities at the expense of national

Progress in human development, including that envisaged in the draft Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) framework, will be driven by the actions and priorities pursued at national and sub-national level, with global efforts playing a supplementary role. Similarly, the Data Revolution for Sustainable Development must also be driven at this level, providing decision makers at national, municipal and local level and those holding them to account with the data they need to make well informed decisions. While the IEAG report states that “strengthening national capacities will be the essential test of any data revolution” – a sentiment we wholly endorse – some sections of the report continue to emphasize the role of global institutions and processes at the expense of national contexts and priorities. Providing experts with better data to monitor global progress on the SDGs will be a useful by-product of a successful Data Revolution, but should not be its driving motivation.

By Bernard Sabiti