Madrid, 17 July 2020 – Having access to quality data is essential if governments are to measure the progress towards the Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals, and if civil society and the public are to be able to track progress. Recent research conducted by Access Info in seven European countries, published in the report “Opening Up SDG 5: What do we know about Gender Equality?” (March 2020), found, however, that although most of the surveyed countries had set up a reporting platform or were publishing SDG data online, the data was often outdated, hard to reuse, or not sufficiently disaggregated. On average, only 57% of the data was available.

On 23 June 2020, Access Info organised a webinar on “The Sustainable Development Goals: Increasing Access to Open SDG Data” to discuss these concerning findings. During the webinar, EU and national statisticians and open data experts shared best practices on SDG data collection and publication and talked about the challenges that they face.

These were the four best practices shared by the experts:

1. Publish data as open data

If the data that governments are collecting on the 231 SDG indicators is to serve both for government monitoring of progress towards the SDGs and for civil society, academics, and the public to follow and debate that progress, it is preferable that the data is published in the most accessible and comprehensive manner. It is important to make data available in open formats so it can be reused by both government departments and the public.

As Natalia Carfi, Deputy Director at Open Data Charter, explained, open data means “making data free, publicly available, and machine-readable for anyone to access and use, without restrictions”. In order to evaluate the level of openness, SDG data portals can be ranked following the 5 Stars model designed by Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web.

“After all, publication of data is not only about putting it online, but making it accessible and understandable to the members of the public,” affirmed Helen Darbishire, Executive Director of Access Info.

2. Dissagregation to “leave no one behind”

Disaggregated data, for example by age, gender, or ethnicity, can reveal a lot more than data for the overall population. Disaggregation helps to understand better the real needs of smaller, and often marginalised, groups within a larger population.

Ann Corp, Head of SDG Data Website Development at the UK Office for National Statistics (ONS), emphasized that disaggregation is the key to truly “leave no one behind”. She shared the story behind the indicator 3.1.1 on maternal mortality ratio. When data was disaggregated by ethnicity, it revealed black women in the UK suffered a much higher maternal mortality rate than any other ethnicity. Knowing this data is very important for effective and coherent policy making.

3. Invest in user-centered design

Natalia Carfi of the Open Data Charter recommended taking time to understand users’ needs before creating a portal and publishing data. Ann Corp and Joanne Evans, from the UK ONS, shared their experience of setting up an open-source reporting platform called Open SDG which has the users’ needs at the centre of its design. This platform is customisable, multilingual, and accessible, among other characteristics. It allows for data visualisations and disaggregation and it includes a Reporting Status page which allows users to see which data is available and which is still missing.

This reporting platform is already being used by countries all over the world, such as Germany, Rwanda, or the United States. Miriam Blumers, from the German Federal Statistics Office, also spoke at the webinar and explained how they replicated the UK platform and adapted it to their specific needs, and how they worked closely with UK ONS and provided feedback which helped to improve the site. If any government is interested in installing this platform, they can contact the UK ONS, with contact details available from Marta Morcuende at Access Info.

4. Collaborations for complete data collection

As the Access Info research found, there are still many SDG data gaps to be filled and, therefore, governments must increase data-collection efforts. But how to do this? One problem in many countries, even in the EU, is that not all data is being collected, due to a lack of legislation requiring data collection and/or lack of resources to do so. That means that statistics offices, the leading national institutions collecting SDG data, simply don’t have full data sets for all the 231 SDG indicators, and need to find new approaches to fill the gaps.

As Ann Corp and Joanne Evans of the UK ONS explained, it is necessary to work with other organisations and institutions to get the necessary details and sufficiently disaggregated data. Sometimes they need to find innovative solutions to report on the data gaps, such as using data science techniques or collecting data from businesses or non-profit organisations. “If you see a problem and you find the solution, share it, so it only needs to be solved once,” defended Joanne Evans.

During the webinar, Anton Steurer, Head of Environmental Statistics and Accounts and Sustainable Development Unit at Eurostat, the EU’s statistics agency, presented the 2020 “Monitoring report on progress towards the SDGS in an EU context”. Some key findings include a concerning regression with respect to SDG 5 on gender equality, which is expected only to worsen due to the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic. As discussed on a previous webinar organised by Access Info on “Opening Up SDG 5:  How much data is available on Gender Equality?”, having access to full, disaggregated data is crucial for measuring progress towards gender equality and for an evidence-debate about how to ensure progress.

Watch the full webinar “Sustainable Development Goals: Increasing Access to Open SDG Data” here.

Download speakers’ presentations:

  • Anton Steurer, Head of Unit of E.2 – Environmental Statistics and Accounts; Sustainable Development at Eurostat file_pdf
  • Ann Corp, Head of SDG Data Website Development and Joanne Evans, Head of International Collaboration at the ONS SDG team, at UK Office for National Statistics  file_pdf
  • Miriam Blumers, Assistant Head of Section Sustainable Development Reporting at German Federal Statistics Office  file_pdf
  • Natalia Carfi, Deputy Director at Open Data Charter  file_pdf

For more information, please contact:

Marta Morcuende, Researcher and Campaigner | Access Info Europe