Data has immense potential to help drive poverty eradication and international development, but it remains incredibly difficult to join up data on resources, people and results because it is published in different formats and to different standards. Overcoming this challenge requires both technical solutions and political will. The challenge facing governments, international institutions, civil society, academics and the private sector alike is how to make sense of the vast quantities of data now being generated in order to create a coherent, holistic picture.
The aims of the Joined-up Data Standards project are to: explore the problems caused by incompatible data in international development; work with partners to find common solutions to these problems; and to build international consensus that all data should be joined up. We have to date produced four discussion papers that cumulatively explore: the way in which global institutions define and classify geographic, sectoral and results data; the overlaps that occur between competing standards; and the policy landscape that governs international data standard setting.
This paper aims to start a discussion on what practical solutions to joining up data standards could look like.
We have reached the following preliminary conclusions.
- 1The policy environment is conducive to joining up data
Global and regional institutions are recognising the value of joined-up data and interoperability is now an internationally accepted principle. Official statistics bodies increasingly recognise the importance of embracing all producers and users of data as partners in their work.
- 2Turning new principles into practice is a challenge
While international commitments on interoperability are now a given, standard-setting work still takes place in highly specialised forums and data silos persist, limiting the comparability of data.
- 3Solutions are demonstrably achievable
Technologies are allowing machines to speak more easily to each other, to understand different languages and to translate between them.
We suggest three preliminary recommendations that form the starting point of our consultation.
- 1New standards must be joined up
There is no longer any reason why new standards that duplicate existing standards should be developed. All standard-setting bodies must commit to making new standards and their components fully compatible with existing standards and build interoperability into their architecture from the outset.
- 2We need joined-up leadership
We need united and integrated leadership, structures and mechanisms to drive the Data Revolution and the Transformative Agenda for Official Statistics forward at speeds commensurate with both the aspirations and urgency of current global ambitions.
- 3Translation services are urgently needed
In the immediate future, the many disparate standards that relate to the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) goals, targets and indicators need to be mapped and compared to enable data from different standards to be ‘cross-walked’ through a translating machine. This is the responsibility of all standard-setting bodies.
We are inviting responses to a number of questions outlined below and will also be holding a series of events to consult on the paper in the coming months.