Data revolution: an opportunity to achieve sustainable development

June 11, 2021

In an increasingly digital world and the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the data revolution emphazices on the need to reconceptualize data as an essential tool to understand the rate in which a society evolves; who is part and who is not of the new social dynamics; and how we can give data a better use for evidence-based decision-making and to achieve the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals.


What is the data revolution?

Data is constantly generated through the interactions we carry out on a daily basis: financial transactions, trips and related activities,  calls and text messages, clicks on ads, reactions on social networks, content generation, among others. According to the eighth edition of Data Never Sleeps, as of April 2020, the internet reached 59% of the world’s population, equivalent to 4.57 million people. This is reflected in the use of different platforms for multiple purposes; for example, in one minute 69,444 users applied for job offers through LinkedIn; while consumers spend $ 1,000,000 USD online, and Facebook users upload 147,000 photos in the same period (Domo, 2020).

It is estimated that in 2020, for each person in the world 1.7 MB of data will be produced every second.

In this sense, the data revolution is “a term to refer to the growth of the amount of data that is generated, the speed with which it is produced, the plurality of sources with which it is obtained, the breadth of its origins and to the immediacy in which we are capable of disseminating and using them ”(Cepei, nd).

The data revolution has promoted the use of non-traditional data sources such as big data —data from mobile devices, the internet of things, satellite images, social networks, among others—, or citizen generated data (CGD), which represents large volumes and new types of data, complements official statistics for decision-making, and allows to target resources both in critical areas and in the most vulnerable population groups at the national and territorial levels. 


The data revolution for sustainable development

The data revolution for sustainable development refers to the opportunity to take advantage of these new possibilities, adopting data-based policies —considered essential for good decision making—, accountability and problem solving (Cepei, nd).

Data analysis based on non-traditional data sources allows better monitoring of social problems, difficult to monitor with traditional data sources, as they require a high level of disaggregation, real time response, and data collection through non-traditional media such as social networks.

An example of this is the collaborative data exchange platform ‘Magicbox’ created by UNICEF, with the support of partners from the private sector such as Telefónica, Google, IBM, Amadeus and Red Hat, who share their data and experience for the public good. From the data reported in real time, UNICEF can identify the needs of the most vulnerable populations to build strategic solutions to various challenges such as connectivity in schools through a mapping of institutions in real time complemented by the crossing of different data sources [See School Mapping in Kyrgyzstan].

Similarly, the Sentiment Analysis on Twitter carried out by the Cepei Data team to identify the perception of the Colombian and Costa Rica citizens regarding the migratory crisis experienced in their territories from Venezuela and Nicaragua, respectively, in line with the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). The analysis made evident that the most urgent problems faced by immigrants in Colombia and Costa Rica include the violation of human rights, security and poverty problems, and the lack of employment for both immigrants and citizens.

Cepei also works to create multi-stakeholder partnerships at a global, regional and national level to strengthen the capacities of both data producers and users in the Latin America and the Caribbean region. Cepei also promotes debate and peer-to-peer exchanges on the use of non-traditional data sources to measure the SDGs.


Challenges of using data to measure progress of the 2030 Agenda

The data revolution presents a wide range of possibilities to face the challenges and opportunities presented by the 2030 Agenda in Latin America and the Caribbean, and throughout the world. However, it is necessary to have a greater variety of data for the construction of robust disaggregated statistics that represent the reality of the various population groups, as well as encourage the use of new tools and methodologies to obtain geographic information.

The data revolution is based both on a technical component and a political component that support the conditions for its application and the generation of inter-institutional agreements.

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