UN Data Forum: Data Advocacy Impact Panel (live blog)

This is a liveblog written by Rahul Bhargava at the 2017 UN World Data Forum.  This serves as a summary of what the speakers spoke about, not an exact recording.  With that in mind, any errors or omissions are likely my fault, not the speakers.

Data Advocacy: What works and what has impact?

This session will try to look at the same issue from different angles.

Shaida Badiie – Open Data Watch

Shaida Badiie is the Managing Director of Open Data Watch.  Defining “data advocacy” is tricky.  Shaida defines data advocacy as both promoting the use of data for a variety of purposes, and encouraging the production of data. Some examples can help.  First, Pali Lehohla, the statistician general of South Africa, is a success story.  His advocacy strives to leave no-one behind in the census.  Another success story is Project Everyone (who designing the SDG logos).  A third is about showcasing the benefits of data via case studies, from a variety of organizations (including Open Data Watch).  A fourth example is to be found in is advocating for institutional change.  A fifth example is people like Hans Rosling, who do an amazing job telling data stories through their passion and communication skills.  How can be develop more of these types of people?  Sixth – there are some champions for data in the political realm.  The last story, seventh, is a failure in funding for statistics.  The gap has been measured, published, and highlighted.  Investment in data is going down.  Shaida leaves us with a challenge – how can we advocate for more funding more effectively.  Data needs to be seen as essential to the effort for the SDGs to succeed.

Heli Mikkelä – Statistics Finland

Heli works for Statistics Finland, which has a history of over 150 years.  Usually these departments are more focused on production, versus how they are used. During the last few years this focus has shifted to more on the usage.  If you don’t produce what is relevant, you won’t get more resources.  This is how you prove you are useful.  You have to produce reliable, relevant, and timely statistics. They deliver a variety of services, from open data, to statistical literacy, to partnerships.  Recently there was a reduction in funding, and they had to choose what datasets to terminate.  At that point many organizations and people outside of the department stood up and advocated for maintaining funding because Statistics Finland produced content that was so useful. We have to recognize when data makes a different, and how it does.  We need to discuss this with those that aren’t so familiar with data.  Real important comes from inside; finding examples where data is relevant to people’s lives.

Dr. Albina Chuwa – Tanzania National Bureau of Statistics

Dr. Shuwa is the director general of the Tanzanian Bureau of Statistics. Our data is for the development of the people.  Data must have its own principles and standards, because it has to be comparable. We want data to operate within existing systems, so we can cut costs.  Each country has signed on the to Africa Data Consensus. Tanzania is setting up a national roadmap for SDGs, aligned with some of the cross-national agreements in regards to data. Data ecosystems help make this word.  Across Africa governments agreed to allocate 0.15% of budget to data production. Tanzania is working on an open-data policy, by default. This includes posting it to a governmental open data portal. With public data, accountability has increased.  Citizens are using data to challenge the government (job creation and tax collection are two examples).

Emily Curie Orio – Data2x

Emily Courey Pryor Is the director Data2x.  Their slogan is “without data equality, there is no gender equality.”  They focus on improving the production, availability, and use of gender focused data.  They want to build an advocacy movement for gender data.  There is a surge of support for this right now, due to longer term work and preparation. They started from a call from Hillary Clinton to address the black-hole of missing gender data.  Starting from that spark, they found that there wasn’t once place where everyone could go to get all the gender data that existed.  Data2x mapped the data gaps and formed partnerships with big agencies to try and fill thos gaps. While doing this they realized that they need an integrated advocacy campaign in parallel to achieve any uptake or sustainability.  The first thing they need is some champions that help to create this campaign – Hillary Clinton, Christine Lagarde, and others.  The second thing needed to create this movement is an engaged and intrigued media as well, with a growing number of articles highlighting the gender data gap. A third is good creative assets, such as their video has been a great tool to advocate to those within this community, and those outside. The fourth thing they need is engaged stakeholders.  Data2x is now working with stakeholders large and small.

From here, they need to:

  • engage data collections and producers
  • bolster policymaking champaigns
  • link gendar data to policy change
  • understand private sector data
  • develop advocacy approaches for multiple audiences

Tariq Khakar – World Bank

Tariq is the Global Data Editor at the World Bank.  The release of the free World Bank open data portal was a big shift, but that was just one piece of what the Bank does. In 2014, they did a study of PDF downloads and found a whole set had no downloads at all. This led to a reconsidering of how people wanted to consume information; there was momentum to repackage the information in more accessible ways. The key to advocacy is to stick in people’s head… like a song you can’t stop humming.  They started looking for nuggets like this. Tariq suddenly found a need to have their communications staff be able to make a good chart and write a good headline – like “Most Refugees don’t live in camps”.  Since training up, they’ve produced thousands of these charts and headlines with simple chart making tools.  That’s doing advocacy with data, specifically for the Bank’s mission to end poverty. Their “my favorite number” video series helps them tackle advocating for better data.  It includes the line that “we believe collecting data is giving voice to the poor”. To get something stuck in your head you need a convincing number ,and a strong and compelling story.

Q & A

They take a few questions, and then afterwards let the panelists respond.

Both Shaida and Dr. Chuwa mentioned the commitment of countries to designate budget for data generation, or data sur-charge.  Is this working? 

In Africa we have networks of women’s groups, like FemNet; are you working with them? Are you helping build their data literacy?

For Dr. Chuwa – how can we advocate for more data from federal statistical bureaus?  Especially datasets that can be politically sensitive.

PWC has done some work showing how businesses are aware of the SDGs, but most don’t know how to respond or act on them. PWC is starting to help national statistical offices respond too.  What can private companies like them do to help?

We have to look at how data impacts the lives of every individual?  How do we move from nicely smelling places and people to where change is needed?  We need to solve the problems today.

Dr. Chuwa tells a story about releasing maternal mortality rate data, where they partnered with a lot of organizations. In terms of funding and production, the government isn’t funding at that rate yet. They got a loan from the World Bank to cover the costs of data production. Tanzania has the OGP, so all the procurement contracts are available on the open data portal, except mining and land. They data visualization based on stakeholder needs.

Heli shares how they need advocacy to make changes on what is released.  Regarding what role private sector actors can take; one is funding, another is to be a consumer and give feedback.

Tariq comments that for private sector actors, partnering on production is good, or analysis and communication. There are more things they can do in the Bank in terms of investing in data in countries.  This doesn’t move up the national agenda for financing.  They even need to build up the commitment to data within themselves at the Bank.

Shaida has a number of examples of working with the private sector to test models.  We need to find some kind of continuous process for collaborating. One of the reasons we haven’t been as successful funding SDGs is that the new donors aren’t as interested in building long-lasting infrastructure for data. In terms of taking data to people – it needs to be a two-way street.  You have to make it clear why people should contribute data, and also how to disseminate it back to them.

Emily begins by mentioning that Data2x is already talking with FemNet and Civicus, on a project tracking SDGs for women and children.  In the private sector, one thing to add is the idea of data corporations investing in that field… namely funding the national statistics bureau or something.

Capacity building is a non-stop process.