Building a GPS for the SDGs: The OECD’s data response to the SDGs

By Martine Durand, Chief Statistician, Director, Statistics Directorate, OECD

World leaders have endorsed 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These comprise some 169 targets in fields ranging from poverty and hunger to equality and climate action to peace and justice. To know where we are starting from, whether we’re making progress, and what we need to improve, we will need good data for governments to make evidence-based decisions and for citizens to hold them to account. In other words, what we need is a global positioning system, or a GPS, for the SDGs. We need a data-driven GPS to help map out the best route to arrive at the successful implementation of the SDGs.

Data have been recognised as central to achieving the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda. The UN Statistical Commission recently endorsed an official set of SDG indicators as the basis for follow-up and review at the global level in the years ahead.

Implementing and monitoring progress towards the SDGs will be very challenging. The new targets are universal – applying to all countries – and they focus on more than development problems. Many of the targets are complex, interlinked and multifaceted, requiring new concepts and measures. The SDGs’ emphasis on leaving no one behind also will require disaggregated data across multiple dimensions, such as gender, age and socio-economic status.

Yet, good reasons exist to be confident. More data are available today than ever, and technological breakthroughs and improved methods now provide more detailed and granular information. New partnerships also are being set up to harness this data revolution.

This progress must continue if we are to meet the data challenges posed by the SDGs. Even in this era of “big data,” no country, including OECD members, has all the data it needs to monitor the SDGs. New sources must be tapped to fill the gaps, and an unprecedented and sustained international effort will be needed to develop the new information required.

The OECD will take part in this effort fully. We are already renowned for our statistics and have been at the forefront of global innovations in statistical methods, systems and dissemination for over half a century. We are a recognised authority on a vast array of economic, social, environmental and development-related statistics. Consider the fact that we have been leading the search for new statistical measures of progress that go beyond GDP by building indicators for well-being and measuring them consistently across OECD countries. On the education front, the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), already the world’s most widely used gauge of educational outcomes, is being adapted for use in more countries. And we have pioneered other useful tools and concepts to measure progress in areas as diverse as science and technology, income distribution, health, labour, international investment and regional analysis.

But the SDGs require measuring how actions taken in one country affect other countries’ performance. Through our world input-output tables, we track the trans-boundary impacts of production and consumption in OECD countries on CO2 emissions and critical natural resources for example. Our data on Official Development Assistance provide information on country efforts to meet aid targets, and we are developing new metrics, such as Total Official Support for Sustainable Development (TOSSD), to give a more comprehensive view of resource flows. Similarly, our Revenue Statistics provide unique information on the capacity of developing countries’ tax systems to raise domestic resources.

The OECD has been a key contributor to setting global goals for decades. Our 1996 development co-operation strategy, Shaping the 21st Century, was a step towards formulating the Millennium Development Goals, and we have played a vital role in monitoring them over the past 15 years. Now, building a statistical system capable of monitoring the SDGs will demand even greater investment in capacity and skills across the entire spectrum, from conceiving and collecting data to interpreting and communicating them clearly to making them open and accessible to all.

We will do all we can to build the GPS that will help member and partner countries and the whole international community rise to the even greater measurement challenges presented by the SDGs. Building better data for better policies to improve people’s lives today and tomorrow is one goal we are determined to achieve.


 

This article should not be reported as representing the official views of the OECD, the OECD Development Centre or of their member countries. The opinions expressed and arguments employed are those of the author.

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