How the Data Revolution Can Change the World


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By Nicol Perez

The monumental launch of the global goals have caused a huge buzz in the global community. However, with so many goals and even more targets, how can global leaders of countries, let alone individuals like you and me get a better understanding of the goals?  

During the Social Good Summit, UNA bloggers got a chance to speak to people that were in the room during the negotiations for the Global Goals! Mara van Loggerenberg, Manager for Policy Initiatives at the UN Foundation, talked about an easy way to look at the global goals. She broke down the goals into 2 parts.

The first is by looking at the first 15 goals. These are the goals that need to be accomplished in the next 15 years.The last two goals are the means through which we will accomplish the first 15 goals.



Sometimes looking at all of these goals can be overwhelming! However, every single goal is crucial to making sure that we have a better, more sustainable future for generations to come. Not every country will focus on every goal. Leaders will have to heavily focus on a few goals that are most relevant for their countries. Therefore, not every individual will be involved in every goal. Thinking about it in this way really resonated with me because it made these goals seem more accessible.

One of the goals that most resonated with me is goal #17. A few days ago I read that the price tag for these global goals to be accomplished was an estimated $3 trillion!  Coming from the private sector, that number got me thinking a lot! If the world is going to invest that much money, how will we measure our return on investment (ROI)?!

Global Goal #17 is to strengthen the means of implementation for these global goals and to revitalize global partnerships for sustainable development. Part of this goal includes data, monitoring, and accountability for all goals in order to accurately capture the success and progress of them. Global goal #17 can help us measure the ROI of that investment!

The Global Goals are placing a huge emphasis on the role of high quality, timely, and reliable data more than ever before. Our success is contingent upon the data that we can capture for all communities in every country. If we are investing $3 trillion, we want to make sure that every single person, even those in the most rural communities, are accounted for and can benefit from these efforts. For example, when we talk about eradicating polio, that means that we need to access the 1% of people that still suffer from a preventable disease. So, how do we get access to these people? Do we know which communities they’re in? Do we know how many vaccines need to be distributed still? These questions are ones that can be answered only with concrete data on populations.

The world of data is an extremely intricate world. You and I can turn on our computers and ask google, “How many people in the world still live in extreme poverty?” and we will get 1.3 billion people still live on less than $1.25 a day. Do you know where this number comes from? How much work is behind all the numbers we quickly read over whenever we skim an article?

Here are few questions and considerations that go behind the numbers that we see every day.

1. Data collection:


  1. In every country, and every community
  2. Collecting data on age, gender, ethnicity/race
  3. Collecting data on incomes, education, presence of children
  4. Collecting data on how many people have access to an education, access to technology
  5. Best practices for collecting data:


Who is collecting this data?

How are they collecting it? Paper and Pencil?

 How are you surveying people?

How are people that are collecting this data being protected when they collect data from dangerous communities?

How are we protecting people’s privacy?

2. Data Sorting:


  1. Where is all this data being input?
  2. If data is collected via paper and pen, who is putting it online?
  3. Where is all this data being housed?
  4. How are we doing quality checks to make sure the data we have is accurate?  

3. Data Visualization:

  1. Once we have all this data, what does it mean?
  2. How do we turn numbers into stories?
  3. How do set up norms in order to be able to identify whether a number is good or bad?
  4. How do we manipulate the data in order to make sense of it?

4. Decision Making: 

  1. How do we take a number and use it to make a decision about a community?
  2. Which numbers are more important than others?


This list can go on forever! This is just a very small list of questions and processes that go behind the very numbers that Google shoots out to us in a matter of milliseconds!

The Social Good Summit highlighted the important role that technology plays in helping us with data collection. Mobile phones are changing the way we get access to people from around the world. Whether it’s enabling entrepreneurs to use financial services on their phones, enabling a student to get access to their education, or enabling a mother to get access to healthcare when they’re far from a clinic or hospital—technology is revolutionizing the way people around the world live. So, what’s the role of data in all of this? Well, technology can help us collect and disseminate information! Written surveys or voice surveys can be sent to mobile phones to ask people questions and collect information. Technology can help us collect information faster, at a lower cost, and it is also more secure than collecting it on papers that can be lost or stolen.

We know that data is a critical part of the Global Goals. The United Nations is partnering with many companies and organizations in both the public sector and the private sector to enhance capacity-building support to developing countries to significantly increase the quality of the data for each country. We want to make sure that we are quantifying as many goals and targets as possible.

Numbers often have much more power than words. In the next 15 years we want to be able to gather the largest amount of information in order to make concrete, data-driven decisions about the future of society and our planet at large. But, where do we get this data?

The UN Foundation and the Demand Institute along with other collaborators have brought data together in one online community that allows experts all over the world to both contribute to and access essential knowledge and drive collaboration around this data. This is called Project 8. Project 8 catalogs existing human needs data and metadata from many sectors in one place and allows users to easily visualize and interact with data. The goal is to empower the public and the private sector to help meet the needs of 8 billion people around the world and to drive collaboration of both sectors in a way that’s never been done before! 

The world needs more data scientists! We can all be more connected to the data that we are exposed to every single day simply by being more CURIOUS. Question where numbers and facts come from. Don’t take facts and figures at face value. Think about where your information comes from, how it was collected, and the context that it’s put in. The data revolution can guide us to make more accurate decisions and, ultimately, to change the world!

For more information on Project 8 visit:

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