SDG Counting
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SDG Counting

2020 United Nations World Data Forum (UNWDF) Summary

By Brady Press and Ben Kickert

The UN World Data Forum (UNWDF) is the most significant data-focused global development event. Every year our team looks forward to following the conversation. Like many events in 2020, this year’s UNWDF was held virtually, and much of the content was centered on COVID-19. The Forum, which took place from October 19–21st, convened over 5,000 data experts from 100 countries, across various sectors, to explore innovative solutions for better data and to strengthen cooperation on data for sustainable development.

If you attended the event, revisit the event platform for full access to event recordings and information. For a quicker recap, read on for our key themes and links to summary notes for select events covered by SDG Counting.

Major Themes

Unlike other SDG-centric events our team covers, the UNWDF sessions universally discussed current data approaches, challenges, needs and opportunities for advancement. Among the variety of sessions covered, some themes rose to the top as most significant:

  • The need for disaggregated data, especially for women, youth and vulnerable populations. Despite improvements in recent years, many indicators and data sources still lack the granularity required to assess and direct development.
  • The impact of COVID-19 on data collection protocols. Globally, 9 out of 10 middle/low income countries lack the resources to complete their mandates — a situation complicated by the pandemic. Many methods of data collection, such as household in-person surveys are no longer possible.
  • A focus on modeling over counting. The challenges around traditional counting methods have led to an increased reliance on AI and modeling techniques for tracking impact and progress. This has led to new developments/approaches while also surfacing new issues to be addressed. This includes using geospatial data in new ways.
  • The role of the private sector in development data. The COVID-19 pandemic forced governments to find and utilize new data sources that could provide timely insights into the response. Corporations in the telecommunication, tech and finance industries have responded through novel partnerships.

In the weeks since the UNWDF concluded, our team has published over 20 session summaries highlighting key takeaways and linking to the original presentation. We have categorized them by topic (some fit multiple thematic areas) and include those links below. For a quick overview of the most important discussions, we recommend watching the opening session.

Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning

Data Privacy

Communicating Data

Data and the SDGs

Geospatial Data

The Private Sector

Vulnerable Groups

The Impact of COVID-19 on Data

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