“Data are the lifeblood of decision-making and the raw material for accountability. Without high-quality data providing the right information on the right things at the right time, designing, monitoring and evaluating effective policies becomes almost impossible.”
The IATI Secretariat welcomes the emphasis in the recent Independent Expert Advisory Group’s report on the importance of global standards and principles to underpin the data revolution. In its first recommendation, the IEAG calls for the development of a global consensus on principles and standards: “The disparate worlds of public, private and civil society data and statistics providers need to be urgently brought together to build trust and confidence among data users. We propose that the UN establish a process whereby key stakeholders create a “Global Consensus on Data”, to adopt principles concerning legal, technical, privacy, geospatial and statistical standards which, among other things, will facilitate openness and information exchange and promote and protect human rights.”
As a UN-led, multi-stakeholder initiative that has already developed a global open data standard for the publication of information on development cooperation, IATI can make a valuable contribution to this effort.
Many of the key issues identified in the IEAG report are ones that IATI seeks to address, such as ensuring data quality, usability and timeliness. As the report notes, “Good data are relevant, accurate, timely, accessible, comparable and produced free of political interferences.” IATI’s learning and experience over the past six years could provide useful insights for future work on this agenda.
The report further recognises that “[c]omparability and standardisation are crucial as they allow data from different sources or time periods to be combined, and the more data can be combined, the more useful they are”. This, too, is very much in line with IATI’s vision.
But while global standards can play an important role in helping to guide quality and direction, it is “strengthening national capacities that will be the essential test of any data revolution”, as the report acknowledges. The same is true for IATI: its ultimate success will be judged on its ability to provide decision-makers at national and sub-national level with the timely, comprehensive and forward-looking data they need on development cooperation to make well-informed decisions, as well as the information required by others to hold those decision-makers to account.
The real gains will be achieved when IATI data can be easily combined with national-level data to maximise impact – for example, with regard to capturing results. As this blog from IATI’s Technical Lead sets out, “[i]f top-down data on inputs and outputs from development activities could be joined up with bottom-up impact data collected through the national statistical system, development effectiveness would take a great leap forward.”
All IATI stakeholders have an important contribution to make towards a true data revolution for sustainable development. Donors can geo-code data on their activities to the IATI Standard and release structured data on their outputs; partner countries can invest in improved data collection by national statistics systems; and civil society should continue to demand high-quality open data, and use it to hold decision-makers accountable.