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5 take-aways from the Data for Development Festival

This post comes from Alexis Le Nestour and Oliver Fiala in our Research and Policy team.

Last week, we were at the Data for Development Festival in Bristol, organised by the Global Partnership for Development Data.

It was a gathering for policy-makers, academics, civil society representatives and governmental officials – and frankly anybody interested – to exchange ideas about generating, analysing and communicating data for international development. We had a chance to learn about trends in the global data community, gathered ideas to improve our GRID database and exchanged ideas to advance our advocacy for better monitoring of progress towards the SDGs for the world’s most marginalised children.

Here are five main take-aways from the event:

  1. There has never been so much data in the world, but it became clear again how little we know about millions of the most marginalised people. For instance, very little is known about the experiences of people affected by humanitarian crises, particularly internally displaced people. And millions of adults and children are excluded by traditional methods of data collection – for instance, people missed by surveys because they don’t live in households (for example, street children, and children and adults in institutions).
  2. Lack of trust of data collection or lack of knowledge of the local landscape are often mentioned as two reasons why people are not counted, particularly in household surveys. Citizen-led surveys are one solution to overcome this problem and have gained a lot of popularity as a way to give ownership of data to citizens. The Open Institute supported such a survey in one community in Kenya. They found that a population of 50,000 people lived in the community, in contrast with the 29,000 that was officially estimated. This survey was also an opportunity for the community to learn more about the SDGs, collect data for relevant indicators and identify their specific needs. They used the data to advocate for the construction of a new hospital, demonstrating the power and influence that accurate data can wield.
  3. There are more and more researchers and data scientists using new innovative methods, including satellite imagery and mobile phone data, to estimate poverty, levels of vulnerability, migration, and other issues. In Afghanistan, the last census dates from 1979, which creates challenges for the government about where to provide public services. Flowminder filled this gap and estimated the population of Afghanistan by district using satellite images and data from mobile phones. Their estimates are now being taking up as official estimates by the government of Afghanistan.
  4. Data need to be collected, analysed and published, but powerful narratives and compelling stories are essential to achieve impact. There were numerous examples where data presented in an attractive and user-centric way was key to influencing decision-makers and advocating for change successfully. One moving example was the story by a journalist in Ghana, who used existing data on mortality of babies and mothers in a local hospital to show the devastating results of inadequate health services. His documentary shocked the country and led to a fundraising campaign and to the construction of a new maternity ward. The data had existed for a long time and the situation was known by the civil service, but as the story was not told in an engaging way no action had been taken.
  5. Although the pledge to Leave No One Behind – the SDG promise to reach the furthest behind first – was often mentioned in presentations and speeches, it often felt rhetorical, and was in most cases not followed by concrete ideas to improve data collection and presentation specifically for the most marginalised communities and groups of children. This is a very important agenda for Save the Children, which we will continue to push hard on over the course of the year.  If the data revolution is to help deliver on the real promise of the SDGs, it must focus on improving measurement of progress for the world’s most deprived and marginalised children.

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