18 Dec 2020 - 17 Jan 2021

Strengthening Data and Innovation

SparkBlue • 12 December 2020

Welcome to the joint discussion on strengthening data and innovation.

Please answer any of the below questions (including the question numbers in your response). Feel free to introduce yourself if you wish. We look forward to hearing from you.


  1. What key lessons have emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic in reaching global development goals through interagency collaboration and joint work, specifically from the perspective of data and innovation?
  2. How do you see the role of UN agencies evolving in order to address emerging data and innovation challenges?
  3. What would enable UN agencies to contribute more effectively to transformational change and better leverage key partners to catalyze change and achieve the global development goals?
    1. Please specify which stakeholders and partners in your opinion should be prioritized and the various ways they could be better engaged: multilateral organizations, governments, civil society, private sector, foundations, young people, etc.
    2. Please specify how UN agencies can address external constraints and challenges that could potentially hinder progress in the next 10 years.


We commit to protect the identities of those who require it. To comment anonymously, please select "Comment anonymously" before you submit your contribution. Alternatively, send your contribution by email to mgriveaud@unicef.org requesting that you remain anonymous.

Comments (33)

Minerva Novero Moderator

The COVID-19 pandemic underlined just how essential timely and accurate data are in understanding and responding to a crisis unlike any in the United Nation’s history. From controlling and preventing the spread of the virus to managing and responding to the differentiated impact of the crisis across dimensions (health, humanitarian and socio-economic) in various contexts, data are crucial for making critical decisions and shaping urgent and targeted action.

The pandemic also demonstrated how instrumental innovative tools and approaches are in controlling the spread of the virus and responding to mounting needs. From contact tracing, rapid testing, monitoring spread and deploying emergency response, to tracking and understanding the evolving socio-economic impact, delivering medical supplies, getting food where needed, and rapid development of vaccine, among others, innovations (particularly data-driven innovations and innovations aided in various cases by digital technologies) have helped to save lives and to support livelihoods.

But the pandemic has also shown gaps and disparities within and between countries in these two fronts. To ensure recovery that is inclusive and sustainable, we need to urgently develop and strengthen capacities for data and innovation particularly in developing countries facing enormous constraints. Please join the discussion and help identify as well as explore efforts that could support our collective aspiration to emerge from this pandemic into a safer, more inclusive, resilient and sustainable world.

Ashwini Sathnur

The impact of the pandemic is the primary factor for the objective of implementation and deployment of the product solutions based on the conceptual frameworks of accessibility and inclusive development. The emerging technologies of digitization such as blockchain, artificial intelligence and e-commerce have proven to be the remedy to the causes and effects of the pandemic.

One example of the Innovative ideology product solution based on the subject areas of Accessibility and inclusive development is provided in the below mentioned website URL and link:-



The building of the Innovative ideologies and the concepts of blockchain in the United Nations serves as the necessary requirement for the public communities and the society. Thus marking the United Nations agencies as a pivotal role and leadership!

For the objective of mitigating the effects of the pandemic, the roles and responsibilities of the partnerships and the various organisations in the tasks and assignments of the implementation and utilization of the digital technologies is primary.

Thus leading to the negation of the effects of the pandemic!

Minerva Novero Moderator

Thank you for suggestions and insights, Ashwini Sathnur . Indeed, we could not underline enough the role of partnerships in addressing the complex, interconnected and differentiated impact of the pandemic and in crafting innovative solutions. You have pointed out crucial elements --sustainability and inclusion-- and look forward to seeing more insights on these as we progress into the coming weeks. Thank you also for sharing a resource; it will help inform our understanding particularly around sustainability, inclusion and new technologies such as those you raised.

Paulo Siqueira

In addition to other activities, in Vanuatu, we are providing strong support the Sustainable Development Goal 16, and more specifically, the Target 16.9: "By 2030, provide legal identity for all, including birth registration."

From the perspective of data and innovation, one of the areas we have been working is related with providing general statistics for the Government to support COVID preparation activities, natural hazard events (like tropical cyclones and volcano eruptions), including census preparation. The citizen data has been extracted from different datasets, e.g. civil, electoral, and population registries.

In our project, we have been working jointly with UNDP Crisis Unit, UNICEF and UNITAR (satellite imageries and data field analyses). The project has been using a different set of tools like mobile applications (Android apps), Kobo Collect Forms, and satellite imageries to identify and track households and displaced population. The tolls are installed in tablets for field work, with teams reaching areas where there is no electricity or ways to communicate. This approached has allowed the Government to register the undocumented population, issuing national ID cards, and registering thousands of new births.

Currently we are developing digital tolls to allow data interoperability and data integration inside several government departments (health, education, finance, etc.) – it means that developing a joint work with different stakeholders, including UN agencies, is a fundamental strategy to move forward in order to achieve global development goals.

The main constraints are related with financial support and capacity building. An effort to regionalize the discussions and provide a common response should be deeply discussed to avoid dispersion of resources allowing exchange of regional experiences.

Surely, the use of digital tools is fundamental for the advancement and consolidation of any government activities - mobile applications, digital infrastructure, technical training, telecommunications.

Minerva Novero Moderator

Thank you for this great contribution, @Paulo! As you pointed out, digitalisation and digital tools can help us consolidate activities and data assets across government agencies, and you called attention to critical areas for strategic (and coherent!) action (including across UN agencies that support efforts on the ground). We can truly advance data integration and interoperability through joint work. When you have the chance, please kindly share more about the collaboration you just described (any links to reports or briefs would be deeply appreciated).

You also pointed out elements that we need to keep in mind, such as the commitment under SDG16.9 on legal identity. It is a commitment very much tied to the principle of leaving no one behind and is foundational or integral to the achievement of other goals and targets. Thank you for noting your collaboration! Your innovative approach is fascinating. I have spoken on digital identity and legal identity at the Tallinn e-Governance Conference in 2017, on behalf of the team leading at our end on this and related work (legal identity, elections, etc.), and here I note Dan Malinovich Niall McCann Risa Arai and Tariq Malik (you may be connected or collaborating already, but wish to make sure you all are aware of each one's fantastic work). Look forward to more contributions from you!

Paulo Siqueira

Thank you Minerva Novero,

There many UNDP colleagues that I didn’t had the opportunity to mention, like my project manager with the VEEP project, Anne-Sofie Gerhard, Niall McCann and Risa Arai  with whom we have been discussing about data privacy and data protection, Dan Malinovich on the election side, and Tariq Malik that I had the opportunity to interact years ago in project for Malawi.

Anyway, UNDP is a huge organization that I am sure has competent staff that would contribute to the Joint Global Consultations on the Strategic Plans 2022-2025.


Vivienne Wang Moderator

I am Vivienne Wang, with strong background in data and innovation. I do feel the urgency to get the data and innovation work better in achieving the SDG.  

In fact, the world of data changes every day, and innovations have increasingly added to the fact changing world.  The key challenge is how to collect and use the data and innovations to improve people's lives and achieving the SDGs.  

We are in the decade of action to achieve the sustainable goals by 2030, we have an opportunity to discover new ways of collecting data for inform decision-making and innovation, and making swift interventions in times of crisis.  There are many great suggestions such as creating incentives to share data and pilot new ways of working, enhancing public and private partnerships to adapt new method and pilot new applications, use of new technologies for data, and support scaling up adoption of new and innovative ways of working where proven effective. 

We love to hear from you what works well in your experiences.  Thank you.       



Using digital tools in data collection is, of course, a very good and effective approach. But in less economically developed countries sustainabilities of such approaches are under question. Such innovations are introduced through projects that are funded by INGOs or UN agencies with the idea that they are then taken over by governments that will fund, maintain, and further use the tools. But most of the time what happens is that after the project is ended the innovations are no longer continued because the government is not able to sustain what the project introduced. I am just wondering are there any low-cost approaches for timely data collection (remotely) in contexts where the internet is still not an option, especially in remote areas where those left behind and most vulnerable groups inhabit?     

Vivienne Wang Moderator

This is a critical point!  There is is need to further enhance the sustainability and national ownerships of the UN-funded project, and learn from the solutions that can be well deployed in the local development context.     


Vivienne Wang yes, it is very important that the government understands and see the needs as the development partner sees them, but, unfortunately, when it comes to government, political issues prevail over development, and reliable data becomes less important than indicating political results. The political interests then divert the government interests from improving data collection and adopting innovations 

Tom Wilkinson - FCDO - UK

I very much agree with the point about making sure digital tools developed for ODA countries are sustainable. As well as developing digital tools in the UK's FCDO/ONS Data Science Hub, our data scientists have been providing mentoring/coaching to individual staff in National Statistics Offices and other organisations across the SDG community, as those individuals scope and deliver a Data Science project. This has been very well received, and I think the model could be expanded by the UN organisations as a means to make sure that governments who are given digital tools have people with the skills and experience to continue using them, as well as passing those skills on to others.

Henia Dakkak

While I do agree with the discussion about the need for quality data for decision making, innovative solution and mobile technologies. 

Poor data protection could put lives at risk is an issue that had been raised by many actors as evident from the article through the link below (example from Somalia).  Please read the article https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2020/dec/30/poor-data-protection-could-put-lives-at-risk-say-somalia-aid-workers

It will be great to see how we can address the ethical issues related to the gap of data protection procedures. 


Vivienne Wang Moderator

Indeed Henia.  Poor date can be more harmful than no data, and data privacy protection must be go hand in hand with the data innovation.  

Toby Wicks Moderator

Hello all and best wishes for 2021. I work in the Data and Analytics Section at UNICEF HQ and have the privilege of moderating this discussion thread for the next five days...

To start, I'd love to pick up on the comment from Henia Dakkak above... I agree 100%. So how best to create environments that encourage innovation, use data effectively to drive programming for the most vulnerable, and at the same time, ensure that their rights are at the centre of these discussions and decisions?

Perhaps some interesting links here to the climate and environment thread too... Gautam Narasimhan et al.?

Shelley Megquier

In response to @Toby Wicks reflections, I think one data and innovation element that needs more attention is public access and use. Data is often inaccessible to those that it is generated with the intention of serving. Data (and backing methodology) should be a public good, but I would argue that the global heath and development field does not put enough effort into making that aspiration a reality.

Further, packaging data in ways that decisionmakers at all levels can trust and easily understand, consume, and act on is critical for the advancement of health and development goals. I work at PRB, which is committed to analyzing, translating, and disseminating data and research in easy-to-understand ways and strengthening the capacity of others to do the same. We do this through partnerships, primarily with government and civil society, and with an objective approach.  Much more could be done in the important space of data for decisionmaking…

@Henia Dakkak brings up a critical point about ethics and I agree with the need for data protection and a ‘do no harm’ approach when it comes to generating, sharing, and using data. COVID-19 has also further illustrated that knowledge is power, in that the pandemic has magnified the facts that different levels of access to accurate information impacts health and wellbeing and that misinformation can been used to reinforce existing health inequities.

Honest engagement of the public in the process of generating data and public access to data produced is part of a needed transfer of power from global institutions to country-level stakeholders. Youth, for example, can be forceful leaders in data-driven accountability efforts. And, UN agencies have a critical role to play in continuing to promote equitable production and access to knowledge for strong progress towards global development goals.

Tom Wilkinson - FCDO - UK

I agree with earlier comments about the great potential of new technologies: Artificial Intelligence, for quickly and cheaply finding insights from messy data for decision makers across the SDG community; Blockchain, for providing data infrastructure to underpin decentralised institutions where there is no trusted central authority to deliver public goods; Collective Intelligence, to design institutions that let every member of a society's contribute their ideas, experiences and needs to the decisions that affect the public goods they need.

That being said, in getting excited about innovation, we shouldn't lose sight of the need for improving the basics of how data is used across the SDG community. For us to efficiently and automatically produce useful information for decision makers, we need the data generated by all the different organisations involved in international development to be easily combined and compared. This means developing common data models: common languages for the digital tools and systems being used, so that their data is interoperable with others'.

In the FCDO/ONS Data Science Hub, we have been developing a data model for describing both the results of international development programmes, through traditional logframes, and the justification for their activities, through digital theories of change. We'd welcome input from other organisations towards the design of this common language, so that it can help as many organisations as possible speak to one another easily about programme outcomes. But, we'd also welcome partnerships (like the one we have in Microsoft Philanthropy's Common Data Model initiative) to cocreate data models and tools to capture and accessibly report that data. Given their scale, UN organisations have a key role in helping promote standard data models and shared tools using these.

Toby Wicks Moderator

Super contributions @Shelley Megquier and @Tom Wilkinson. Thank you. On a related but separate note, would be interested to dig a little deeper with respect to data and innovation skills and capacity. At UNICEF we're trying hard to build the concept of "data as a team sport" - i.e. matching smart articulation of demand with appropriate supply of data, talent, and/or technology. Trying to move away from tools and data first approaches and most importantly, that the supply doesn't have to be from within UNICEF (alone). Any specific thoughts on data innovation talent / capacity and how best UN agencies, funds, and programmes can support an ecosystem that minimizes duplication and maximizes return on effort?

Waldistrudis Hurtado Minotta

Los datos se constituyen  en una herramienta fundamental para el diseño, implementación  seguimiento y evaluación de cualquier programa que conduzca a la transformación de las situaciones e inequidades  complejas exacerbadas por el Covid 19 que han afectado a la población con mayor impacto en las poblaciones en alto riesgos de vulnerabilidad afrodescendientes e indígenas, campesina. Las alianzas y cooperación conjunta con multiactores y multiniveles son estrategias sustanciales que cimentadas en los datos  permiten innovar sobre los hechos, el entorno y las necesidades de los grupos poblacionales a los cuales se quiere impactar  y promover nuevos marcos de actuación interdependientes e integrales para avanzar en una apuesta global inclusiva y pluralista  fortaleciendo la arquitectura institucional y creando puentes con las organizaciones de la sociedad civil para construir colectivamente de manera inteligente nuevas forma de relacionamientos para lograr los ODS  desde una perspectiva étnica/racial  e interseccional




Tom Wilkinson - FCDO - UK

I think the point @Waldistrudis makes about institutional architecture applies everywhere, and is actually indirectly related to @Toby's question about Data as a Team Sport. Just as the institutions promoted globally should ensure that all voices can be heard in the same conversations, I've found that successful data driven approaches to decisions need to prioritise the involvement of domain experts and need to be triangulated with qualitative approaches - they can't just be done by an isolated team of data experts. Agile approaches to project management are essential here, which try to give equal voices in daily and weekly planning to all members of the development team and customers so that their expertise isn't stifled by the bottleneck of a single leader. There is systematic evidence in research from the MIT Centre for Collective Intelligence that this sharing of influence leads to greater innovation by teams - although it can be detrimental to teams doing routine tasks, which might otherwise be automated. Agile doesn't necessarily specify how to extend that team-level inclusivity to the rest of the organisational or institutional architecture, but there is a growing body of Collective Intelligence research looking at this and suggesting positive signs to look for, even if not definitive prescriptions of how to restructure. The UN organisations might benefit from keeping sight of this research and being ready to adapt, so that data can be a team sport, while ideas from everyone can combine to solve the great problems of the world, whether Covid19 or future challenges. 

Paulo Siqueira

The use of digital technologies in least developed countries (LDCs) and some developing countries is a very complicated issue. Digital infrastructures it’s a very strong component that limits the benefits of using old and the so-called new technologies, as many of the them have been existing since many year ago. A turning point, from my perspective, has been the use of telecommunications services (e.g. satellite services) that has been allowing information flow and communication access, with reasonable prices, by large part of the population with less financial resources, something that was not imaginable few years ago.

As a result of this process, the young generation has become very familiar with the use of mobile technologies. The learning curve is fast, and I see the use of telecommunications and aggregated services exploding. This need to be explored by countries administrators, moving from the “old” concept of e-governments to digital governments, moving from digitization to digitalization.

In addition to the issue of infrastructure, there is the question of sustainability, as already mentioned by @Askarsho. So, digital sustainability is a key point when developing strategy to implement and support projects in the context of the SDG.

I have worked in several countries in Africa and other poor parts of the word, and the question of digital sustainability, together with capacity building, is recurrent. With the lack of technical specialists, it’s necessary now to work with the young population providing training and developing the skills necessary for a real digital transformation – and the use of mobile technologies helps a lot.

Currently, in our project Vanuatu, we are working hard in capacity building, providing specific training and working together, side by side,  with the objective to achieve digital sustainability.

I have developed a UNDP Digital X proposal with the objective to scale our project to the Pacific region and to the countries that are part of The Pacific Community (SPC). The proposal aims to provide and share regional digital technical expertise, building a pool of trained ICT, GIS and data analysts that can support each other, any time, from their different countries and regions. The focus of the work is the achievement of the SDG Goal 16 and to set setup of a strong digital network in region, establishing a regional digital hub, with the identification of potential technical expertise in the areas of ICT, Civil Registration and ID Management.

As mentioned by @Henia Dakkak, there is the topic of data protection and data privacy, and we are working closely with UNDP on the UN Legal Identity Agenda (UN LIA) to address the legal requirements and international standards.

Minerva Novero Moderator

Welcome, colleagues, to the last week of this online discussion. Thank you for all great contributions thus far, which brought our attention to such issues as and challenges around sustainability, public access and use, inclusion, infrastructure, institutional and policy frameworks, etc. Thank you also for sharing examples to highlight approaches that work.

In this last week we would like to invite you to pipe in on other aspects we may have missed or have not adequately discussed yet (such as local capacity and ecosystems building for data and innovation, particularly in developing countries; models that may work in varying contexts, including financing models that could support efforts; role of infomediaries; issues around data integrity and security; governance issues; interoperability, trans-border data exchange; etc.).

We would also like to hear more from you on the lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic, specific to data and innovations, and the role of UN agencies in this space. Please share your views and reflections on the questions we posed, leaning on insights from your own work. And, of course, details about your own efforts would be instructive and would be deeply appreciated.

da qun xiang

The lesson of cowid-19 is that the world lacks unity, and the world lacks unified leadership 。

To solve today's world crisis, all countries in the world must unite, reform the UN Security Council system, actively support and support the establishment of an international order led by the Secretary General of the United Nations 。

The innovation of global scientific and technological data technology must be brought into the management scope of the United Nations。

The United Nations should formulate international laws to manage data Internet technology, so that the development of Internet technology can grow and develop under the supervision of the United Nations 。

The root of today's crisis is the lack of a unified regulatory standard for the development of digital technology and Internet technology in the world ,It is imperative to strictly control the rapid development of digital technology and Internet 。The United Nations, together with other countries in the world, formulates rules for the management of digital technology and Internet technology, so that they can operate under the framework established by the United Nations。

We should strengthen the unity of all countries in the world and the global civil society, and establish a global, open and transparent digital technology and Internet development system with the Secretary General of the United Nations as the core 。

he crisis that cowid-19 brought to the world clearly tells us that all countries should strengthen their unity, abandon nationalism, and have a clear idea of the core position of the United Nations in leading the world 。

With the UN leading the world, the world will have a bright future!

Minerva Novero Moderator

Thank you so much for your inputs, @Da Qun Xiang. Indeed, the COVID-19 pandemic has emphasized the need for global solidarity and the urgency for coordinated and integrated action on global challenges. Efforts have been underway on UN reform, and much progress also gained in the areas your raised (digital cooperation, data and innovation, given in particular the UN Secretary General’s efforts on these fronts).  Much still to do, and your (and all other stakeholders’) continued engagement in efforts would be crucial. Your call fro greater UN role is well noted. If able to share more thoughts, time permitting, particularly on how we build that open and transparent/inclusive Internet and on the “rules for the management of digital technology and Internet technology” as you put it, that would be greatly appreciated. Stay well!

Thomas Bannister

Hello everyone and thanks for the opportunity to comment – at UNV we have also just been holding some online consultations and I can well appreciate the amount of work that has gone on behind the scenes just to get to the discussion stage!

I would like to mention the importance of working with and supporting volunteers for better data and innovation. At UNV we have spent the last few years collecting information from Member States as part of the plan of action to integrate volunteering into the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Many governments and partners have told us about the challenges of measuring SDG progress and ensuring their work is led by good evidence. But many have also shared examples of how volunteer-led data collection can be a powerful, community-based counterpart to traditional data generation methods. Looking at the COVID-19 response provides a very long list of examples – such as the million Village Health Volunteers collecting daily health information in rural Thailand.

In this decade of action (people, local, global), I think UN agencies can look to better integrate volunteer-led data collection into their work and their support to Member States. In their programmatic work, they can look to scale up existing efforts, such as UNICEF's U-Report system. They can also work with government partners to create an enabling environment for volunteer-led data collection as part of local and national SDG measurement efforts, taking note e.g. of examples such as the EU support for citizen science as part of its “Science with and for Society” programme. UN agencies can also advocate for volunteer-led data collection to be embedded into global SDG measurement, as UN Environment has done by integrating citizen science into SDG Indicator 14.1.1.

On 'bad data' - which is raised above, UN agencies can help increase the quality and uptake of data generated by volunteers by bringing govt, researchers, statisticians and volunteer groups together to strengthen trust and develop common definitions and criteria (e.g. the standards for Public Participation in Scientific Research). And across the board I think its important to create opportunities for sharing good practices and methodologies of using volunteer-led data, and sharing examples of successful state-civil society-community partnerships around crowdsourced data. And here ‘successful’ doesn’t just refer to the goal of generating quality data, it also refers to the numerous other opportunities you get when working with volunteers - to (reciprocally) learn, develop capacities, strengthen communities, change norms, and innovate.

And talking of innovation... volunteers are not just potential data machines, they also often identify needs and ideate solutions much more quickly than the office-based worker. The UN system shouldn’t miss out on opportunities to harness this creativity to ensure that its work is responsive to the people it is intended to serve. This means creating spaces for volunteers to come together to co-create, and developing feedback channels to listen to opportunities identified by volunteers (e.g. Greenpeace’s Greenwire or innovation incentive mechanisms in Red Cross Red Crescent Societies). I think most importantly though, it means ensuring that ideas from volunteers are listened to and acted upon. Ultimately, UN agencies must continue evolving democratic and adaptive organizational cultures and missions that embrace bottom-up innovations, including from volunteers, while also ensuring that innovators retain ownership of their ideas.



Minerva Novero Moderator

Thank you, @Thomas Bannister, for your valuable inputs and for raising the important role and contributions of volunteers for better data and innovation. Really appreciate the various points you raised and the examples you shared (if you have the chance to share links, such as the effort in rural Thailand, that would be greatly appreciated. I think we can learn much from these efforts).

Thank you also for framing what role UN agencies can do, from advocating for volunteer-led data collection to creating opportunities for volunteer engagement also in innovation. Indeed, volunteers can help identify needs on the ground and help ideate solutions. I think they can also serve as infomediaries and as front liners in capacity building on data and innovation. What do you think? Your point on “bad data” and what you think UN agencies can do to help strengthen trust as you note is well taken, and I think we can expand this line of thinking to also explore what could help build local capacities (across the whole chain, from infrastructure to skills to data-driven decision-making and data-driven innovations). It seems that you have some experience in these fronts (perhaps also on bottom-up innovations that you rightfully raised as very important). We have a couple more days for this discussion, so hopefully you could pipe in further, or you can send via messages through this space. Thank you again and hope all is well.

Thomas Bannister

Minerva Novero thank you for your reply!  Yes definitely to your point on infomediaries (had to google this :)) and capacity development. I think the combination of new technologies and community volunteering is a very powerful one, not just for new data but also a site to transform other important areas e.g. around ownership, governance, behavioural norms, state-civil society relations etc.

Some links below:

Let me know if you want any other links or information, thanks!




Fang Yi, Lin

An Introduction and the Problem:

Starting from the top, I am sure in the public space we all know how modelling of populations and contact tracing has helped governments stifle the rampant spread of COVID-19. We have known for a while and seen first-hand how powerful data can be in solving problems when used efficiently. It grants insight at a level of depth an individual would not be able to see. I would like to highlight Big Tech, like Facebook and Amazon, where data is collected at such a scale and granularity that entire customer acquisition, identification and profiling mechanisms can be automated. Extending from this example, data about different facets of human life, not just COVID-19 related is an incredible powerful tool that can be leveraged for problem identification and solution generation. Data can be used to create digital twins that elucidate redundancies in systems, identify the most pertinent problems affecting populations, and clarify bottlenecks in verticals. I believe moving forward properly democratizing access to data is key to spur growth and encourage innovation.

However, necessitating that a single organisation (like the UN) utilizes and then implements initiatives to address all these issues is rather impossible, which is why there needs to be an effective way to engage entities to leverage on data to solve problems.

Additionally, it is equally important that solutions are sustainable. As rightly mentioned above by @Akarsho , many initiatives depend on government support, and often they die out due to the lack of it. Solutions need to be able to stand on their own two feet, specifically in the aspect of funding , quick deployment, and scalability. It is for this reason I believe a creating a business would be to enable them to create businesses that both contribute to the SDGs and sustain themselves.

I will cite the example of Magorium and Evercomm, both Singaporean startups. Magorium is turning waste plastic into bitumen to be used in roads, and Evercomm is creating energy solutions for physical infrastructure. Both contribute towards the SDGs and are already creating huge impact with the size of their businesses and growth.

Building businesses deliver myriad other benefits:

  1. Job creation (which in turn reduces unemployment rates).
  2. Encourages tech innovation and research.
  3. Bolsters the economy of developing localities.
  4. Democratizes job opportunities for those less privileged.

Political issues prevailing over innovation, as mentioned by @Akarsho, is also a problem. So perhaps we should freshly reconsider our perspective and engage with a demographic that is not ingratiated with governance: Youths.

The solution:

To create the above, I believe we should start with youths. This generation of youths have a strong want to participate in the creation of a future they will inherit. I do not believe there are globally unified mechanisms that engage the massive population of youths to solve the SDGs effectively.

That is why (sadly) we still see much rebellion and distrust from youths towards authorities around the world. The narrative of “creating your own path” has become a rallying point for those to seek to make an impact.

To achieve the above a few things are necessary:

  1. Youth’s capacities need to be built (in agreement with Thomas Bannister ).

In both developed economies and developing ones (although this is far more prevalent in developing economies), youths lack the skills for venture building and the job market. There is a pertinent need to equip them with these skills. There are entrepreneurial curriculums called acceleration programs globally that we can look towards to deliver these skills.

Additionally, they lack expertise and mentorship. Youth inspires energy and passion, but also inexperience. Building a community of mentors and youths globally that can advise and guide the younger generation is another piece of the puzzle.


  1. Funding must become accessible for appropriate and impactful initiatives (contributing towards SDGs)

Initial amounts of funding need to be made available to such initiatives to jump start them. In order to build this, we must identify funds that are aligned with and willing to invest in completion of the SDGs as well as the myriad benefits listed above, and we must have a method of evaluating and identifying which start-ups are legitimate and worth investment.


  1. Access to resources such as Data.

I agree with a commentor above that individuals that experience a problem daily most acutely understand its depth and complexities. Should they leverage mass amounts of disaggregated data, individuals will be able to better refine their initiatives, their identification of problems, and their solutions. Being able to afford youths on the ground a bigger picture will ensure that initiatives are designed with thoughts of applicability towards the larger ecosystem, and not just within a microcosm or echo chamber.

Their depth of knowledge on the problem coupled with access to resources to clearly identify how big and where the problem is will enable youths to build initiatives that are multiple times more impactful than if they were working alone, blind.

Some things to take care of:

Proper collection and usage of this data are also failsafes that we have to ensure are included. Much of data collected is not available to the public. We are aware of the data that is being collected from us, but the usage of the data is rather opaque. No effective laws or enforcement exist to governing the distribution or selling of private data, and that certainly runs many risks when terrorist organisations or individuals that have purposes that neglect public well-being can utilize this powerful tool. There needs to be an international standard for regulation and enforcement on data collection and usage and I believe the UN is in a good position to facilitate this.

It is also important to note that in the democratization process we ensure that the data is disaggregated, and we pay attention to groups that are traditionally marginalized and how they are doing in crisis situations e.g. the pandemic. Extending this case beyond the pandemic however, it is also important that visibility of such minority groups as well as initiatives that support and include these groups are given the same amount of visibility and support.

Ouedraogo Koudaogo

What key lessons have emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic in reaching global development goals through interagency collaboration and joint work, specifically from the perspective of data and innovation?

After all the great comments I read I am afraid I am not adding new things but allow me to say what I observed during the time of COVID's first phase. on the ground, I saw the same dispute around who is producing data and for what segment of the population (children, women, Reproductive Health, etc) or for what sector agencies are interested in.

The main lesson I draw is that we kept battling for our "flags" while the need was for all populations and should be aligned to national priorities set up in development reference documents. In doing so we are not helping the host government has a broader view of the situation and to act accordingly. The question is how we can help governments face the scarcity of reliable data on the population in general and then we could disaggregate these data for specific project needs.

In practice, we relied on consultants to do the job of data collection and not building the capacity of national entities in charge of data collection and management such as the national statistics Institutes in many countries. 

for some SDGs we may have data but for other SDGs, it might be difficult if the data collection for these SDGs is not funded. Why can't we add up our little money to have greater data collection tools and capacity building in-country.

While in theory, we are all aware of our limited capacities, we continue to act in isolation and I think data collection could be an entry door for more joint work.





3. What would enable UN agencies to contribute more effectively to transformational change and better leverage key partners to catalyze change and achieve the global development goals?

To contribute more effectively to transformational change, we need to get better at measuring change. This means shifting organizational and inter-agency focus at all levels from Data / monitoring for reporting purposes to Data / monitoring to improve program quality and impact. We need to go beyond output-data (e.g. number of service delivery points established or number women and girls accessing a service), and start collecting, analyzing, reflecting on and using outcome data and generating evidence of our transformational work (how are we changing women's and girls' lives, in their own voice?). 

If we talk about quality of services, we need to better define quality and ensure that we collect, analyze and use data to improve it continuously.

We need to not only talk about, but to measure and foster change (changes in knowledge, attitudes and practices of service providers towards GBV survivors and / or women's rights rather than only reporting on number of service providers trained on the GBV survivor-centered approach; % women and girls reporting feeling safer due to safety audit recommendations having been acted upon rather than only # of safety audits conducted; % of women and girls reporting need met and / or demonstrating improved psychosocial wellbeing as a result of regular participation to psychosocial support interventions). 


I believe a key Strategic Direction for the UN and all humanitarian partners is to generate and use data / evidence for change in a more systematic and coordinated way. We need to invest more brain and energy into developing standardized Results Frameworks and comprehensive Monitoring, Evaluation, Accountability and Learning Strategies for our programming, and allocating dedicated financial resources to program adaptations and learning. 

Bethany Brown

From my perspective with the International Disability Alliance, data is the first step to accountability. There are some great resources to draw on within the UN system for the prioritization and engagement of persons with disabilities through targeted outreach with the “full and effective implementation” of the Quadrennial comprehensive policy review of operational activities for development of the United Nations system (Link here), and its call for implementation of the UN Disability Inclusion Strategy (UNDIS) (Link here).

UN Agencies can contribute more effectively to transformational change through the inclusion outlined in the simple 15 indicators shifting the work of each agency to better include persons with disabilities in their leadership and planning, inclusion, programming and organizational culture.

The report of the SG on UNDIS shows that at baseline, the UN system has much room to improve (Link here). If participating agencies want their work to leave no one behind, implementing the already-established UNDIS is an organic way to ensure that agencies’ internal work and programmes do not leave persons with disabilities behind.

Persons with disabilities, like many of those furthest behind, may not yet be included in official data and statistics. Persons with disabilities should be included in grassroots community data. The Disability data Advocacy toolkit (Link here) offers examples of citizen-generated data and the Leave No One Behind data platform. The platform’s goal is to make SDG implementation more inclusive and accountable towards those who are furthest behind in society.

The Washington Group on Disability Statistics (Link here) has excellent question sets suitable for population censuses and surveys, and important for international comparability and monitoring of the CRPD and the SDGs.

With the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, states parties undertake to “collect appropriate information, including statistical and research data, to enable them to formulate and implement policies to give effect to the present Convention,” including through data disaggregation (Link here, Article 31).

Responding to Henia and Shelley's earlier comments about ethics, part of the ethics around data also extend to the accessibility of use should extend to persons with disabilities; data should include them, and then they should be able to use and benefit from that data.

Accurate and appropriate national and international data collection on persons with disabilities helps to identify and address gaps, find solutions, and allows for evidence-based policies and development programmes to ensure that persons with disabilities can participate in all aspects of society on an equal basis with others.

Chen Chiu-Hao

Q3. What would enable UN agencies to contribute more effectively to transformational change and better leverage key partners to catalyze change and achieve the global development goals?

Youths represent some 16 percent of the global population, which includes over 1.2 billion young people aged between 15 to 24, whose mindset, skills, and ambitions hold extraordinary potential for economic, social and environmental progress. By aligning and activating the youth’s mindset towards the SDG, the youth population alone is significant enough to serve as a tipping point for influencing change. Resulting in overall mindset change towards the SDG for the rest of the world’s population.

UN agencies plays an important role in equipping and providing adequate support, framework, guidance and tools to the international youth communities through local government, education institution, NGO and etc. There is much untapped potential for these youths to reinforce efforts in collecting and validating grassroots data. If cultivated and empowered properly, youth can be a powerful ground force to execute ideas/solutions and bring major impacts in sustainable development.                                  

Youth involvement might be expedient to bridging data gaps and the SDG for the following reasons:

  • International and local non-profit agencies, such as UN Global Pulse Lab in Jakarta, have led the way in accelerating the use of big data and artificial intelligence to garner more actionable data. Much of this however depends on crowdsourcing and credible information from the masses. The current generation of youth are referred to as digital natives. In their formative years, they are exposed to technology, and consider these to be an integral part of their lives. They are considerably well-positioned to leverage on emerging tools and technology to collect data digitally for SDGs.
  • Youth engagement can augment the existing channels for intervention. As both the changemakers and beneficiaries of change, the youth will be able to play the role of credible influencers. The energy and creativity associated with the youth voice will also bring about impacts that go far beyond the baseline objectives of a project.
  • Social inclusion is increasingly recognised as an important building block for transformative change. Efforts have grown to ensure that women, youth, indigenous peoples, persons with disabilities and other marginalized groups are included, as part of the decision-making process.
  • Several youth networks have also been established to better involve young people in civic engagement and bottom-up efforts. Groups such as UNMGCY, ACE-EDGE, AYO, and Social Impact Catalyst (Enactus) allow for youths who are established leaders in their domains to come together in collaboration. It is vital to continue providing the right avenues such that at the grassroots level and in their own locality, more youth may play a role in policy formulation.


Calum Handforth

Hi all,

This has been a great discussion to follow - and I'm belatedly sharing a few thoughts from some of our work on cities, and digitalisation more broadly:

  • Data collection is a foundational aspect of our work, as many others have highlighted. The adage of 'if you're not counted, you don't count' definitely holds true. This reaffirms the importance of building data collection workflows that are responsive to the realities of many marginalised populations. This includes training and leveraging local skills. And, also, building data literacy in governments and other institutions. Open Data is another important aspect here too.


  • COVID-19 has highlighted the importance of agile governance - with local and national governments able to respond quickly to changing circumstances. These shifts need to be informed by data, but will also demand some comfort with ambiguity - or uncertainty. However, fast response is not an excuse for ignoring fundamental norms: avoiding bias, focusing on inclusion and sustainability, etc.


  • We talk a lot about 'Big Data', but we need to focus more on 'Lean Data'. This includes taking a portfolio approach to measurement - within and across UNDP, and across the sector - but also focusing on the lives behind data-points. This includes using data collection methods that are most suited to beneficiaries, or the local context, and collecting genuinely useful and meaningful data (something I come back to again below!). More agile tools like the PPI are great for this (and happy to discuss this further, it's an area I've explored a lot).


  • Just to reaffirm one point, inclusivity is not negotiable. And this includes in how we use data to inform decision-making. There's been some good UNICEF thinking on this, highlighting that mobile data has been used to inform pandemic response - but mobile ownership is variable, and often not always inclusive. Similarly, we need to avoid focusing on the aggregate. Digging into the data, or disaggregating it, can highlight that more privileged groups are able to travel less due to their ability to work from home - for example.


  • One aspect that I think is sometimes forgotten, is the essential need for feedback loops. Data collection must not be an extractive exercise, and we should be designing-in feedback processes from the outset. This also includes managing expectations. I've worked on initiatives that have been unexpectedly successful - for example, using IVR to inform radio programming - and there was a real risk that we wouldn't be able to use this data to meet the needs and expectations of stakeholders. Piloting and iterating, as ever, is crucial.

Two more personal notes!

  1. We really need to be building on what works, and this includes leveraging open-source and other technologies. Free and very user-friendly data collection tools such as ODK have been proven at the largest scales - and I would be more than happy to discuss the nuances of their deployment. Similarly, we must avoid duplicating data collection efforts - or collecting data 'just in case'. Every question asked of a farmer, trader, healthcare worker, is a lost minute or longer that they could be working or doing absolutely anything else! Time is perhaps one of the most precious commodities for those most vulnerable.
  2. I have very real concerns with the increase in private-sector owned data platforms. I've worked on many projects leveraging MNO, Big Data, social network data, administrative data etc. All of this work - and insights - are hidden behind NDAs, and this presents very real challenges with transparency and accountability - and, fundamentally, with replicability. I think there's a real opportunity to shape a discourse around this - for example, building on the great work of the FlowMinder FlowKit, providing a more open approach to analysing MNO data.

Apologies for a range of thoughts. As ever, always happy to discuss further!



Waldistrudis Hurtado Minotta

Muy interesante cada uno de los planteamientos  frente a las lecciones  aprendidas  en el  marco del Covid 19 que convocan a todas las agencias desde el rol que cada una desarrolla  ha promover   nuevos marcos de actuación desde la gestión del conocimiento  sustentada en los datos. Las  agencias deben estimular la participacion de todos los grupos  y sectores sociales en sus ciclos vitales  en los procesos de investigación que conduzcan  sobre lo que se evidencia  nuevos mecanismos  de interacción  entre los gobiernos y las comunidades  para garantizar respuestas asertivas y holísticas innovando  en sus formas y lógicas de implementación. Es un imperativo la democratización y universalidad en el acceso a la información  y en la participación de los sectores excluidos afrodescendientes e indígena, mujeres y jóvenes en la producción de los datos  sobre los cuales  se deben tomar decisiones que involucran nuevos modelos de gobernanza  en la garantía de los derechos y la igualdad de género 

Please log in or sign up to comment.