New UN data revolution report emphasises that open data standards are crucial

The UN Secretary-General’s Independent Expert Advisory Group’s report, ‘A World That Counts’ was presented yesterday. We welcome this much anticipated publication, which builds on the momentum generated by the 2013 report that called for a “data revolution”.

We have been closely following the work of the expert group, including making a submission on the draft earlier this week. The submission was based on our experiences of advocating for greater transparency in development effectiveness, and we are pleased to see that some of these comments, along with those of our partners, have been taken on board.

In particular, we welcome the report’s focus on the need for data standards to facilitate openness and information exchange. Specifically, standards that accommodate open, disaggregated, accessible, timely and comparable data: Especially data that responds to the needs of a wide range of users. The report paints a picture of a data revolution that is driven by a combination of stakeholders from governments, civil society, international institutions and the private sector.

However, the report misses the opportunity to highlight areas of progress. In particular, it makes limited reference to specific international open data initiatives and the ongoing development of standards such as IATI and OpenContracting. In fact, there is no reference to incentivising the greater publication of data on development financing. Whilst the report rightly highlights the need to close the technology and data literacy gaps between countries and citizens by investing in capacity building, it does not emphasise how much data is being collected but isn’t being proactively published in useful ways.

The report also suggests that it is UN member states that will eventually decide how this agenda will form part of a post-2015 accountability framework. So, those of us advocating for transparency and the usefulness of open data still have more work to do to ensure that the revolution we want to see is effectively taken up by policy makers and more importantly, implemented at country level.

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