There’s another international gathering taking place this week outside of Davos, Switzerland, and it’s arguably the more critical platform for the prosperity and health for ordinary citizens around the world. Leading data scientists and policymakers are convening in Cape Town, South Africa through January 18 for the World Data Forum, which seeks to catalyze international cooperation and collaboration on data systems and information technology.
While data in its most basic form may not capture hearts and minds, it is weaved into every aspect of the global programs and initiatives that global citizens rally for, including gender equality and getting children in school. To tell that story, we asked three leading thought leaders from Turkey, Pakistan and Senegal three questions on how data has shaped their lives and the lives they seek to empower and prosper through their work.
Mehmet Arda offers his perspective from Istanbul, Turkey on our three questions:
Global Daily: Can you recall a moment in your life or an experience in your work that underscored the need for better data in sustainable development?
Arda: Around the time I finished 3rd grade of elementary school (if you really want to know when, it was in 1955!) I saw some information in the newspaper that a large proportion of Turkish population had not gone to that level of school. I felt proud and more educated than a large part of the public. Around me, however, everybody was in school. I wondered where in the country these unlucky people were. I had some idea but I wanted to be sure. Of course, I did not know where to look for the information.
Apart from academic interests, the need for good data usually arises from personal concerns. For example: How much of the publicly owned areas are opened to construction every year; how much is classified or declassified as protected forest area? Interest may arise from being both a good, concerned citizen and someone who owns land upon which construction is not permitted. The rationale and criteria behind statistical classifications are at least as important as the numbers and probably more so. In many cases, these reflect value judgments or political preferences. Understanding these will greatly help in the utility of data for policy design, implementation and evaluation, if less so in simply monitoring. The need for good data is not only for policy makers. Those who want to criticize should also base their arguments on good data and solid information. This is rarely done.
In Turkey, the initiative by TurkStat to develop and publish a “wellbeing index for provinces”, which covers many topics related to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, has been a crucial step for identifying specific needs. As it is very new, how it will affect policy design and implementation and eventually people’s lives is yet to be seen. This puts together, in one place, a variety of indicators and assigns an index number, which should help regions to measure themselves against others.
Global Daily: In what area of data for sustainable development do you see the biggest gap?
Arda: The biggest gaps are in the environment, and safety and security related areas. In regards to the environment, there may be big disparities between rules and implementation. As results usually appear with a lag, good measurement of implementation, rather than a list of rules is much better for monitoring. In safety and security related areas, there are large gaps between reporting and actual cases, and diversity of perceptions. Ignoring them generates discrepancies that may lead to faulty policies and, or monitoring.
Global Daily: What impact are you hoping that the World Data Forum will have?
Arda: That the World Data Forum would show that data problems exist for all countries, not only developing ones. This realization should also lead to more fruitful cooperation and identification of the particularities of each country, which go beyond technical and human resource needs. Sharing of experiences about how these specific problems were tackled should provide ideas for others facing similar, if not same, problems. A large gathering such as World Data Forum, attended by a diverse group should also strengthen the position of those involved in data generation and dissemination within their countries.
Southern Voice on Post-MDG International Development Goals (Southern Voice) is a network of 49 thinks tanks from Africa, Asia and Latin America, which serves as an open platform to make contributions to the Sustainable Development Goals.
Mehmet Arda is the retired Head of the Commodities Branch at UNCTAD where he worked for 25 years, he was Professor of International Relations and Economics at Galatasaray University, Istanbul (2007-2013) and adjunct Professor at Koç University. Currently he is on the Executive Board of the Centre for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies (EDAM) in Istanbul and a member of the Global Relations Forum (GIF). He is a founding member of SenDeGel, a civil society organization engaged in development cooperation in Least Developed Countries. Occasionally he undertakes consultancy work for the United Nations and the Turkish Government. He has a BA in Economics from Dartmouth College, and a Ph.D in Economics from the University of California, Berkeley. His current research focuses on the governance of globalization and sustainable development; Least Developed Countries; middle powers, South-South economic relations and development cooperation; international trade and international value chains; commodities and natural resource management.
Image: Heroes for Change – working to achieve the Global Goals. GlobalGoals.org.