Data and Statistics
Accurate data is the lifeblood of good policy and decision-making.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres, The Hague, December 2017
It will not be possible to deliver accelerated action to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) without the availability of high-quality, timely, disaggregated and open data and statistics. Today, new technologies such as AI and new sources of data, paired with existing data sources and methods, gives the world an unprecedented opportunity to address the increased demand for data to achieve the SDGs and strengthen evidence-based policy and decision-making. The Chief Executives Board (CEB) for Coordination and its two high-level committees, the High-level Committee on Management (HLCM) and the High-level Committee on Programmes (HLCP), have been contributing to strengthen and innovate the UN system’s joint efforts to collect, produce, provide and use data and statistics as well as to advance responsible governance of data.
International data governance
Data is critical for informing individual decisions and addressing major global challenges. The production, use and flow of data yields significant economic and social benefits, including the achievement of the SDGs. HLCP, at its 43rd session in 2022, took up the issue of international data governance from the perspective of global public goods and established a time-bound working group on international data governance to further analyze the topic.
A report titled “International data governance: pathways to progress” was developed and approved by HLCP at its 45th session in March 2023, and subsequently endorsed by CEB in May 2023. It includes a common narrative, rationale and vision for global data governance, acknowledges changing digital contexts affecting the production and use of data and seeks to offer a framework which balances the protection of data while unlocking data for global public goods, including the achievement of the SDGs. The report articulates a vision for accountable, agile, and fair international data governance for the benefit all people. As a follow-up step, HLCP requested the working group to further explore the normative foundations, including goals and principles, that could underpin an international data governance framework.
System-wide Road Map for Innovating UN Data and Statistics
At its first regular session of 2020, CEB endorsed the System-wide Road Map for Innovating UN Data and Statistics, which contains a set of ambitious and aspirational targets, with the aim of innovating United Nations data and statistical outputs in relation to the two roles played by UN entities in this arena:
- To support the development of national statistical systems, helping countries to produce fit-for-purpose data and statistics;
- To provide authoritative regional and global data and statistics to support the international community in responding in a timely fashion to regional and emerging policy needs.
The road map, which covers data and statistics related to all three pillars of the United Nations, advances the vision of the Secretary-General of a whole-of-United Nations ecosystem that maximizes the value of data responsibly to make better decisions and deliver stronger support to those the Organization serves. It contributes to the overall objectives of the Data Strategy of the Secretary-General for Action by Everyone, Everywhere that in turn constitutes a framework to support the road map as a priority initiative. The road map was developed through HLCP – which stressed the need for an overarching system-wide engagement on data innovation in support of the Decade of Action for the SDGs – by the Committee of the Chief Statisticians of the United Nations System, which is also overseeing the implementation of the road map.
Data Standards for United Nations System-wide Reporting of Financial Data (UN Data Cube)
Recognizing the need for timely, comprehensive, consistent and meaningful data on UN system revenue and expenses following the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, HLCM, through a joint initiative with the UN Sustainable Development Group (UNSDG), developed in 2018 a set of data standards for system-wide reporting on financial data – the UN Data Cube. The use of these standards allows the UN system to provide Member States with verifiable and comparable system-wide and entity-level data, based on definitions and classifications aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and with international standards.
The Data Cube also supports the United Nations development system in: (a) providing more transparency and accountability in its spending; and (b) allowing for more effective and efficient deployment of the limited resources available while communicating more clearly the system’s achievements, with an emphasis on linking resources to SDG results, in line with the Funding Compact with Member States.
The Data Cube consists of two key deliverables:
- Data standards for UN system-wide reporting of financial data, to enable timely, accurate and comparable disaggregated financial reporting across the entire UN system for transparency and accountability on system-wide financing by recipient country, donor, or SDG, in alignment with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) standards, and
- A road map supporting the implementation of these data standards, evolving to respond to emerging financial data developments and demands.
Further information and a copy of the Data Standards is available on the UN Data Cube page.
Data Protection and Privacy
The High Level Committee on Management (HLCM) formally adopted the Principles on Personal Data Protection and Privacy at its 36th Meeting on 11 October 2018.
The Principles on Personal Data Protection and Privacy set out a basic framework for the processing of personal data by, or on behalf of, the United Nations System Organizations in carrying out their mandated activities.
The Principles aim to: (i) harmonize standards for the protection of personal data across the UN System; (ii) facilitate the accountable processing of personal data; and (iii) ensure respect for the human rights and fundamental freedoms of individuals, in particular the right to privacy. These Principles apply to personal data, contained in any form, and processed in any manner. Where appropriate, they may also be used as a benchmark for the processing of non-personal data, in a sensitive context that may put certain individuals or groups of individuals at risk of harms.
UN system approach to the data revolution
At its second regular session of 2014, in follow-up to the report of the Independent Expert Advisory Group on a Data Revolution for Sustainable Development, CEB requested HLCP, jointly with HLCM and the United Nations Development Group, to develop an internal programme of work for the United Nations system in response to the data revolution. The programme of work, consisting of four initiatives, was discussed and agreed at the Committees’ twenty-ninth sessions in Spring 2015 and subsequently endorsed by the Board as a UN system approach to the data revolution. The four initiatives – namely, a Data Innovation Lab; a Data Visualization platform and dashboard; the World Forum on Sustainable Development Data; and the UN System Data Catalog – were subsequently established.