Data for development: a key challenge for Sustainable Development Goals

Following the outcomes of the Rio+20 Conference held in 2012, world’s governments are now in the process of developing a set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for the period 2016 to 2030, which will build upon the Millennium Development Goals and converge with the post 2015 development agenda. Main objective of the SDGs will be to continue fighting against extreme poverty but at the same time ensuring more equitable development and environmental sustainability.

A set of 17 goals has been developed and proposed by the Open Working Group, composed of representatives from 70 countries, in July 2014. To help framing the debate at the next UN summit in New York in September, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon further grouped them into six essential elements (see Box below).



One of the crucial elements to the success of the SDGs, however, will be a strong statistical systems, which can measure, incentivize and review progress across the goals. This implies a strong national data collection systems, that can result particularly challenging for developing countries.

A recent study, carried out by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) and prepared by a broad coalition of experts, estimates that, to allow 77 lower-income countries improve or put in place statistical systems able to measure and support the implementation of SDGs, a total investment of US$ 902 to 941 million per year will be needed. This estimate includes utilizing survey, census, administrative, economic, geospatial, and environmental monitoring tools but it can be considered very conservative since it excludes the costs of strengthening administrative data collection across all ministries and departments as well as those related to strengthening statistical literacy, analytics, and communications. Furthermore, human resources and the costs associated with putting in place appropriate policy and legislative frameworks are also excluded (see Table below).


According to the report, a further US$100-200 million in Official Development Assistance (ODA) would be necessary to support country efforts even taking into account current contributions – that in 2013 were in the range of about US$350 million per annum. On the other side, recipient countries must commit to fill the gap, mobilizing domestic resources behind clear national strategies for the development of statistics (NSDSs).

It is worth mentioning that not all the targets underlying the SDGs are quantifiable. For example, some environmental sustainability targets are considerably more vague (e.g. “ensure sustainable food production systems”) than the social ones. In particular, a recent report by ICSU found that 54 percent of the proposed targets could be strengthened by being more specific, while 17 percent require significant work. Both key indicators and commonly agreed definitions to enable comparison may need to be developed in the future, that will of course depend on the availability of data and capacity to measure them.

Against this background, the adoption of the SDGs certainly represents a challenge but at the same time is a unique opportunity to enhance data revolution and demonstrate the key role of data for development. In addition, the extraordinary rate of innovation in data collection techniques and technologies make this revolution more feasible than ever. To this purpose, the “Financing for Development Conference”, to be held in Ethiopia next July, will be a strategic forum where recognizing investment needs and lay the ground for a meaningful Partnership for Development Data.


This article was first published under ICCG International Climate Policy and Carbon Markets series, issue n.35, accessible in pdf format. 

(Image: A team of volcanologists take gas emission measurements during an assessment mission inside the crater at Mount Nyamulagira, a volcano in the Virunga Mountains northeast of Sake, Democratic Republic of the Congo. Photo credit: United Nations Photo/Flickr)