UN World Data Fo­rum set to im­prove lives

Grey Dam was the place for kids to cool off dur­ing the swel­ter­ing heat, and the cool spot for braais and fes­tive get-to­geth­ers in the cooler evenings. Of­ten, there were piles of lit­ter in and around the dam and sev­eral times dur­ing De­cem­ber and Jan­uary, g


The in­au­gu­ral United Na­tions World Data Fo­rum, tak­ing place in Cape Town, be­tween on 15-18 Jan­uary, is set to kick off with an am­bi­tious and in­no­va­tive pro­gramme of more 300 speak­ers from across the data com­mu­nity.

More than 1 000 data ex­perts from at least 100 coun­tries have reg­is­tered for the Fo­rum, in­clud­ing from na­tional sta­tis­ti­cal of­fices, data sci­en­tists from the pri­vate sec­tor and academia, in­ter­na­tional or­gan­i­sa­tions, and civil so­ci­ety groups, as well as po­lit­i­cal lead­ers and sus­tain­able devel­op­ment ad­vo­cates. The pro­gramme is posted on­line at UN­datafo­rum.org.

The Fo­rum, at the Cape Town In­ter­na­tional Con­ven­tion Cen­tre, will be an op­por­tu­nity for ma­jor pro­duc­ers and users of data and sta­tis­tics to col­lab­o­rate in in­no­va­tive so­lu­tions to de­liver bet­ter data on health, ed­u­ca­tion, in­come, en­vi­ron­men­tal in­di­ca­tors and other as­pects of sus­tain­able devel­op­ment.

With al­most 100 ses­sions and par­al­lel events, from data labs and in­ter­ac­tive knowl­edge-shar­ing spa­ces, to more tra­di­tional key­note speeches and panel dis­cus­sions, the Fo­rum is ex­pected to ad­dress a wide range of data is­sues.

“I am con­fi­dent that the first UN World Data Fo­rum will gen­er­ate fruit­ful col­lab­o­ra­tion across the sta­tis­tics and data com­mu­ni­ties, and cut­tingedge prac­ti­cal so­lu­tions to cur­rent chal­lenges,” said Wu Hongbo, UN Un­der-Sec­re­taryGen­eral for Eco­nomic and So­cial Af­fairs, who heads the Sec­re­tar­iat for the Fo­rum. “I also hope it will boost po­lit­i­cal and fi­nan­cial sup­port and part­ner­ships for im­prov­ing sta­tis­tics and data ca­pac­ity in many coun­tries, to har­ness the power of data for the public good and the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the 2030 Agenda.”

In­no­va­tive ap­proaches

The Fo­rum will fea­ture pre­sen­ta­tions and data labs fo­cus­ing on a num­ber of in­no­va­tive so­lu­tions, in­clud­ing:

• How us­ing mo­bile phones and on­line in­ter­views can im­prove the ac­cu­racy and cost­ef­fec­tive­ness of gath­er­ing data, based on ex­pe­ri­ences in Africa and Latin Amer­ica.

• How high-res satel­lite im­ages can be used to map poverty and mea­sure soil fer­til­ity and crop yields.

• How call records and other sources can be used to gather bet­ter data on mi­gra­tion and refugees.

• How open data can im­prove the pro­duc­tiv­ity of African agri­cul­ture, show­cas­ing prac­ti­cal lessons learned from an 8-year public-pri­vate part- ner­ship, the Africa Soil In­for­ma­tion Ser­vice, in­clud­ing ways to in­cor­po­rate new tech­nolo­gies such as crowd-sourc­ing, re­mote sens­ing and drones.

• How in­volv­ing mo­bile car­ri­ers, banks and so­cial me­dia com­pa­nies in part­ner­ships can gen­er­ate new, large-scale data sources.

• How civil so­ci­ety groups are us­ing data to talk to gov­ern­ments about cit­i­zens’ ex­pe­ri­ences and pri­or­i­ties, and how this can build ac­count­abil­ity and change pol­icy.

Core is­sues

Other ple­nary ses­sions and pan­els will fo­cus on core is­sues agreed by the or­gan­is­ing com­mit­tee, in­clud­ing:

• A new look at how to har­ness the data rev­o­lu­tion for sus­tain­able devel­op­ment;

• Re­think­ing how to build of­fi­cial sta­tis­ti­cal ca­pac­ity in those coun­tries where it is needed, en­cour­ag­ing new com- mit­ments and col­lab­o­ra­tions;

• In­te­grat­ing new data sources and big data in­no­va­tions into ex­ist­ing structures, and how to fa­cil­i­tate data shar­ing and col­lab­o­ra­tion across sec­tors;

• Count­ing mi­nori­ties and vul­ner­a­ble groups and im­prov­ing gen­der data so that we “leave no one be­hind” and en­sure the pro­tec­tion of hu­man rights; and

• Un­der­stand­ing the world through data: data vi­su­al­i­sa­tion, lit­er­acy and jour­nal­ism.

The Fo­rum was agreed to by the UN Sta­tis­ti­cal Com­mis­sion based on a rec­om­men­da­tion by the UN Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral’s In­de­pen­dent Ex­pert and Ad­vi­sory Group on a Data Rev­o­lu­tion for Sus­tain­able Devel­op­ment.

Im­proved use of data and sta­tis­tics will be cru­cial to achiev­ing the trans­for­ma­tional vi­sion of a bet­ter fu­ture for peo­ple and the planet, set out in the 2030 Agenda for Sus­tain­able Devel­op­ment agreed by world lead­ers at the UN in Septem­ber 2015.

Bet­ter data is needed to track progress and in­form pol­icy de­ci­sions from lo­cal to global lev­els. Rapid ex­pan­sion in new sources of data is cre­at­ing large-scale op­por­tu­ni­ties for in­no­va­tive so­lu­tions, which need to be in­te­grated with strength­ened of­fi­cial data mech­a­nisms and structures.

The first UN World Data Fo­rum will be hosted by the Govern­ment of South Africa and Sta­tis­tics South Africa, with sup­port from the Sta­tis­tics Divi­sion of the UN Depart­ment of Eco­nomic and So­cial Af­fairs.

A num­ber of part­ners – in­clud­ing gov­ern­ments, the World Bank, Unicef, and sev­eral civil so­ci­ety or­gan­i­sa­tions and re­search in­sti­tutes – are also col­lab­o­rat­ing to or­gan­ise the Fo­rum.

Photo: Sup­plied

On Satur­day 17 De­cem­ber, about 15 vol­un­teers came af­ter the weekly parkrun and cleared two bakkies full of rub­bish in an hour.

Photo: Sue Maclennan

Simangaliso Abra­hams (NV Cewu grade 4a), Achuma Nt­lanjeni (Khut­liso Daniels Grade 9), Liyema Ralo (CM Vellem Grade 8), Aviwe Tsewu (CM Vellem Grade 5a), Si­mamkele Wil­liams (Sa­muel Ntlebi Grade 6), Aya Bo­nani (Sa­muel Nt­siko Grade 11 and Clif­ford Ran­cho (CM Vellem Grade 9) all got stuck in pick­ing up bot­tles, pa­per and plas­tic in and around the dam.

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