Stefan Schweinfest (Photo by IISD/ENB | Kiara Worth)

Stefan Schweinfest,
Director, UN Statistics Division

We did it! The first UN World Data Forum in Cape Town, South Africa, brought together an impressive group of data producers and users from the public and private sectors, policy makers, academia, and civil society representatives, to find ways in which we can, together, harness the power of data for sustainable development.

The Forum provided a unique opportunity for technical and policy-level discussions geared towards producing and using data and statistics to ensure progress towards the 2030 Agenda.

The buzz from the 1500 participants from 100+ countries confirmed that the Forum was a great success. In almost 100 sessions, innovative ideas were explored, pledges were made, and proposals for concrete data solutions were presented.

We still face serious data gaps all over the world, and data that does exist is insufficient in both quantity and detail. It’s time to roll up our sleeves and put all the ideas and solutions that emerged from Cape Town into action.

We need to work together

The exponential growth in data sources–from mobile phones to administrative records, from satellite imagery to all kinds of citizen-generated data–, and the continuous innovation in technologies and methods to collect, analyze and disseminate data and statistics, present us with vast opportunities to produce the information needed by citizens and policymakers to make better decisions and improve people’s lives.

We need, more than ever, official statistical systems that provide clear rules, standards, and principles for a new “data architecture.” Having clear standards will help protect individuals’ privacy and boost statistical capacity, while enabling decision makers at all level to access the data that they need.

At this first UN World Data Forum, we launched the Cape Town Global Action Plan for Sustainable Development Data.

The Cape Town Global Action Plan calls governments, policy leaders and the international community to undertake key actions in six strategic areas, including: coordination and leadership; innovation and modernization of national statistical systems; strengthening of statistical activities and programmes; dissemination of data on sustainable development; building partnerships; and mobilizing resources. It is expected to be adopted by the UN Statistical Commission in March this year.

It is an ambitious plan that serves an organizing framework to put a process in place at the global level and in every country. It is a plan that aims to strengthen systems to provide detailed data to ensure that no one is left behind.

I invite all of you, as members of the global data community, to use the Cape Town Plan as a unifier, as you implement your regional, national and local road maps.

As I highlighted throughout the Forum in Cape Town, at this stage the Global Action Plan is a “to-do list.” We, as the members of the global data and statistics community, need to step up and fill in the blanks: Who is going to do it, when, and how?

I want to emphasize that the Cape Town Global Action Plan is a living document that will be updated as we move forward. As we carry forward the conversation that started in this January in Cape Town, let’s fill this matrix with true action, so that when we come back for the next UN World Data Forum, we can proudly take stock of our common achievements.

So Where Do We Go From Here?

In the face of challenges from the 2030 Agenda, we need to have the right tools to ensure that we collect high quality, timely and disaggregated data. The first UN World Data Forum was a launching pad for innovative ideas and solutions for the production and use of better data for sustainable development, and an opportunity to get behind the Cape Town Global Action Plan for Data. It has also given us the momentum to raise awareness of the critical role that data plays in a fast and ever-changing world.

Until the next Forum, I will be knocking on a lot of doors and following up with our data partners, governments and institutions, to ensure that we keep this momentum going.

I feel strongly that we need systems in place so that countries can make the best use of existing data, and that institutions talk to each other to ensure that their data resources are put to work in support of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Most countries already have vast sources of data waiting to be used, but this information is often poorly organized and difficult to access and integrate into the statistical production process. There is still a lot we can do better. We need to ensure governments commit more resources to their data collection and monitoring processes. We also need to ensure that the international support for statistical capacity and data literacy is coordinated. While we prepare to meet again at the next UN World Data Forum in less than two years, we do not need to wait to take action.

I look forward to more collaboration and exchanges and a growing consensus on data principles and other policy issues until we meet again in less than two years in Dubai for the second UN World Data Forum.


Photo by IISD/ENB | Kiara Worth