SDG ACCELERATION ROADMAP
The Power of Public-Private Data Initiatives
The SDG Acceleration Roadmap is an initiative where companies, governments, and civil society collaborate to strengthen the use and governance of data in the global south with the goal of accelerating the achievement of the SDGs.
Why are we exploring the role of business in supporting public sector data use?
The shift in how companies do business, with far more focus on their work’s environmental and social impacts, is driving closer public-private collaboration within the data revolution community –private and public sector organizations committed to sustainable development.
Companies are helping to fill public data gaps, transfer knowledge and expertise, and support data use for decision-making. This is critical given the limited time to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.
What is needed to accelerate progress toward the SDGs
Data: Public-private data partnerships that improve their potential to help the world meet the urgency of the moment and achieve the SDGs.
Policy: Reactivate a global discussion and provide actionable recommendations to strengthen public-private data partnerships for sustainable development.
What is a data action?
The different ways companies are supporting public sector data use and governance.
Data actions companies are implementing that contribute to sustainable development.
Primary or secondary data that is collected and stored in a database
Moving data from one (virtual) location to another
Generating insights from raw data
Collecting and formatting raw data and translating it into visually appealing formats
Recommendations for stakeholders
Partners in public-private data initiatives (public authorities and companies)
- While, overall, there are few differences in the opportunities and challenges facing public-private data initiatives across regions, regional contexts and nuances are still vitally important factors to consider when designing new partnerships. It is no surprise that different countries and regions in the world have different public policy priorities, and approaches to public-private partnerships generally. These differences are forged by local needs, levels of economic development, political prioritization of data and digital opportunities, cultural and social norms, and other factors. Our mapping exercise and case studies have shown that while by-and-large the challenges that stakeholders face across the board are similar, entities seeking to forge new public-private data initiatives should ensure that they consider the following issues within the local context that they wish to operate:
1. How mature is the local data ecosystem?
a. How accessible or complex are local laws, policies and conventions relating to data sharing, protection, accessibility and (re)use?
b. Are there local multi-stakeholder networks/alliances/consortia that already include public and private stakeholders engaged in data-related initiatives?
c. Are there any local, regional or international partnership convenors active in the country/region who could provide advice and support to a nascent initiative?
2. What are the main public policy priority areas and what local data sources are available?
a. What are the data action-related needs of the government?
b. Are the public policy priority areas linked at all to global frameworks like the SDGs or Paris Agreement?
c. What are the main local data sources and how could they be improved/supplemented by privately held data, infrastructure, support or expertise?
3. What is the general level of digital and data literacy within public institutions and also within the general public?
a. What capacities exist to use non-traditional data sources within governments and what are the gaps?
b. What types of data action would it be realistic to provide given the level of data and digital literacy observed?
c. What is the general state of data and digital literacy in the context you want to operate; for instance, how serious an issue is public trust in official data, support or mistrust for the private sector, etc. in the country/region?
4. What are the prospects for the longer-term sustainability of any public-private data initiative given the local economic and political context?
a. Is your proposed public-private data initiative politically contentious in any way? If so, what could be done to make it less political?
b. What are the sources of funding that your partnership is relying on and what will happen to your initiative when that funding is extinguished?
c. Do you have a plan in place to close/transition your initiative once its main objectives have been met and do the resources, capacities and infrastructure exist to do so?
- Our research has found that the majority of public-private data initiatives are bilateral in terms of their composition – i.e. one government department partners with one private sector provider. There are often legitimate incentives and reasons for this approach, including the ability of specific companies to fill particular data gaps, and the desire of companies to build relationships with potential government clients. However, we would urge stakeholders engaging in public-private data initiatives to consider the benefits of more open, ecosystem-based approaches to partnership initiatives too where they are feasible. In many instances, collective data sharing can provide benefits for all stakeholders involved. For instance, The Singapore Tourism Board established an analytics platform (the Singapore Tourism Analytics Network (STAN)) that aggregates traffic flow data from multiple private sector providers to establish a more complete picture of transport and mobility in the country
- Data are a valuable asset that drive successful decision-making – whether corporate or in policymaking. We believe that there is an argument to be made for governments to provide more incentives for the greater sharing of privately-produced and held data that is of public interest. As it stands, companies with a wealth of administrative, consumer research, environmental impact, and other types of data often feel inhibited from sharing their data assets due to concerns around commercial confidentiality. However, if there were explicit incentives in place that recognised the inherent value of private sector data to public life, this could potentially lead to far more access to privately held data by public authorities. We recommend that this be an area for future research and exploration.
- Governments should consider working with their local Chambers of Commerce, National Statistics Offices and/or SDG focal points, and business leaders to establish national, open registries of public-private initiatives relating to public policy priorities, including those relating to data initiatives. This will help track and monitor the proliferation and progress of initiatives designed to help meet the SDGs, including public-private data initiatives, while also raising the profile of such initiatives.
- Our research has highlighted that when designing public-private data initiatives it is crucial to consider all capacity, data and digital skill needs, and knowledge gaps at the outset and map out how potential solutions can meet those needs. If the actors involved in a particular partnership are unable to meet all the needs from the outset, they could consider approaching public-private data initiative intermediaries such as Pulse Lab Jakarta, the Trust for the Americas or Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data, among others for potential support. Partnerships such as the UN Global Compact may also be able to offer guidance and support to help frame and design your initiative.
- Companies that are working on public-private data initiatives should contribute to, and participate in, initiatives such as the UN Global Compact to enhance the visibility of their work and contributions to the SDGs. While this may seem obvious, our mapping work uncovered hundreds of examples of public-private data initiatives that are not registered within the UN Global Pulse library, indicating that there is substantial and valuable activity that is not being documented or monitored at a global level.
- At a practical level, government and private sector stakeholders engaged in public-private data initiatives should strive to develop standard operating procedures (SOPs) for how these initiatives are conducted to facilitate their monitoring and knowledge generation functions. Steps that should be considered as part of any SOP should include:
Designating an easily discernible contact point for researchers, media and other interested parties to establish communication with if and when needed;
Committing to the production and publication of periodic updates on the progress being achieved through the public-private partnership, including a final report;
Ensuring that the resources needed to effect the above provisions and any other public interest requirements are included in plans at the design phase of a new partnership; and
Fostering an interactive and dynamic public-private data ecosystem to promote synergy and reduce duplication of effort.
Multilateral bodies and the UN
The UN’s Global Compact initiative, which describes itself as the “world’s largest corporate sustainability initiative” provides a solid foundation for capturing and documenting SDG related initiatives, including public-private data initiatives. However, given the multiplicity of these types of initiatives – from grass-roots to global in scale – we would urge that an “initiative tracker” be developed to further entrench the monitoring function of the Global Compact and provide more comprehensive coverage of the numbers and types of public-private initiatives, including data initiatives, being undertaken globally. To this end, we urge the UN Global Compact to work with the UN Statistics Division to explore the feasibility of establishing a global standardized statistical module on public-private initiatives for the SDGs (structured around the language of SDG 17) to be incorporated into Member States’ routine business surveys. Such an approach would enable more comprehensive and standardized collection of data on the breadth and scope of public-private initiatives globally.
We would further urge the UN Global Compact and UN Statistics Division to coordinate with the UN Secretary-General’s Envoy on Technology, and with the emerging UN Digital Compact process to ensure that appropriate tools for capturing data on the breadth and scope of public-private data and digital initiatives forms part of the eventual Digital Compact too, and are available to the public.
Funders and donors
- Donors and funders that support the data revolution for sustainable development have a challenging balancing act to perform between supporting successful public-private data initiative models that can scale, and making riskier investments in pilot studies and newer, innovative approaches. In our view, based on our research, there is often perhaps too much of a bias in resourcing going to support new innovative projects, rather than scaling successful examples. For instance, INE’s use of barcode data to support CPI and inflation calculations is well proved, but remains an underfunded area. We would urge funders and donors to ensure that there is balanced investment in approaches with a proven track record of success and newer, innovative approaches that involve experimentation with the use of emerging tech to help achieve and monitor the SDGs.
- Our research has shown just how valuable intermediary entities are at brokering and supporting public-private data initiatives. Entities such as Pulse Lab Jakarta and Trust for the Americas have had a real catalytic effect in South Asia and the Caribbean respectively in fostering not only specific initiatives, but also helping to establish regional-level data ecosystems. In our view, there is a strong case for intermediary entities such as these to be further supported given the outsized role they play within the Data Revolution for Sustainable Development Data in fostering an ecosystem approach.
- Our research has shown that it is crucial that funders and donors consider the costs of participation in public-private data partnerships for small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) that have valuable access to local markets and knowledge, but find the costs of participating in voluntary public-private data initiatives at scale. Pooled funds of resources to support SMEs may be an option for donors and funders to consider.
Think tanks and civil society
Civil society, think tanks and researchers engaged in the data revolution for sustainable development have an important role to play in undertaking research to fill knowledge gaps, helping develop training materials and open-source guidance that can help to improve the design and implementation of public-private data initiatives. Research initiatives such as our own here play an important role in independently documenting progress, identifying trends, and areas for further investigation and improvement.
Our Work by Region
A Map of Private Sector Data Actions
Explore where and how companies support public sector data use and governance.
Center for Continuing Education
Former Strategic Partnerships Advisor
Former Data Researcher
Centre for IT-enabled Innovation
Mona School of Business & Management
Former Senior Data Policy Advisor
In partnership with
This work is supported by a grant from the International Development Research Center (IDRC), Ottawa, Canada. However, the views expressed herein do not represent those of IDRC or its Board of Governors.
With the support of
Our research partners are the Mona School of Business & Management at the University of the West Indies in Jamaica, Local Development Research Institute (LDRI) in Kenya, and the Center for Continuing Education (CCE) at Birzeit University in Palestine.