High-level panel discusses ways to harness data revolution inclusively & sustainably at UN General Assembly

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(New York) More than 170 world leaders, UN officials, actors, and public and private sector partners gathered this week in New York for both a High-Level Thematic Debate on Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals on Thursday and the historic signing of the Paris Agreement on climate change on Friday.

The importance of empowering all people through the data revolution, and the opportunities and challenges that new data sources hold in implementing the 2030 Agenda, were broadly discussed at the UN General Assembly on Thursday during a session on ‘Technology and Data for the Sustainable Development Goals’.


High-level panel discusses ways to harness data revolution inclusively & sustainably at UN General Assembly 1

Under the theme ‘Harnessing the Data Revolution for SDGs: opportunities and challenges,’ the second panel focused on improving data production and dissemination capacities, especially for the most vulnerable, through innovation, sound multi-stakeholder partnerships and robust policies.

H.E. Amina J. Mohamed, Minister of Environment of Nigeria, underlined the importance of the data revolution for achieving the SDGs during her opening remarks stating that “the usefulness of Big Data to empower people is coming to fruition.”

Setting the scene of the discussion, UN Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs Mr. Wu Hongbo emphasized that the SDG agenda is explicit in its call for quality, accessible, reliable and disaggregated data for systematic follow up and for the review of programmes at global and country level. He highlighted the importance of data in pinpointing the needs of the most vulnerable, “those who have been left behind” and called for an integration of new non-traditional big data sources with statistical data.

The Under-Secretary-General urged all stakeholders to contribute to sharing and advancing the data revolution to “truly respond to national needs.”

The high-level panel on Harnessing the Data Revolution, moderated by Minister Mohamed, saw statements from panelists and discussants, including Member States, UN agencies, public and private sector actors on four main topics:

  • The opportunities and challenges of the data revolution to advance the production and dissemination of timely and quality data in the implementation of the SDGs;
  • Best practices for leveraging new data sources (ranging from big data to citizen-generated data) to ensure people’s access and capacity to use this data;
  • Inclusiveness of all people in the data revolution, with particular focus on the most isolated, vulnerable groups; and
  • The importance of multi-stakeholder partnerships for the dissemination of reliable and timely data. 


Barbatunde Osoimehin, Executive Director of UNFPA stressed the importance of robust national data ecosystems and explained that every potential data user must be educated to ensure they become part of the dissemination process. 

Panelists discussed the importance of big data analytics for better prediction and preparedness at country level as well as the potential benefits of using data in decision-making processes. 

One largely debated topic centered around open data policies and partnerships conducive to data production and data generation. Discussions pinpointed that, while there are still barriers impeding data sharing, recent years have seen favorable signals in the collaboration between private and public sectors.

Christian Bach, Chair of UN Economic Commission for Europe called for all actors to work together to be able to gain access to new data sources that can drive implementation of SDGs at country level.

UN Global Pulse Director Robert Kirkpatrick served as a discussant to the session, and reminded that harnessing Big Data for the SDGs will require: (1) a new scientific understanding of how to mitigate risks, (2) new engineering technologies to store and analyze it safely and (3) sound governance frameworks to ensure its responsible use. 

“We, as a society, must invest today in the partnerships needed to ensure that innovations based on this new natural resource become drivers of empowerment of the poor and marginalized, and accelerate our journey to the future we want,” he stated concluding the event.  

The session on Technology and Data for SGDs was one of five focus areas of the ‘High Level Thematic Debate on Achieving the SDGs’ organized by the President of the UN General Assembly. Download the event concept note here. and programme with list of speakers here

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