Background

Of the many initiatives emerging from the January 2013 HLCM retreat, the Committee agreed to include in its Strategic Plan 2013-2016, as a priority, the improvement of the UN system’s capacity and ability to present UN system data, as well as its implementation of standards for data presentation.

At its 25th session in March, the Committee agreed to create a working group that would explore this area further and propose common. Responding to the need to develop a common approach, the CEB Secretariat drafted a paper, in close consultation with several agencies, which defines a visualization platform for the presentation of high-level programme and management statistics.

Discussion

The CEB Secretariat introduced the project as an opportunity to visualize key issues facing organizations, to report on the deployment of its resources, and to promote collective achievements. The HLCM Secretary explained that what is being proposed is a communication platform which would use visualization to communicate high-level stories and to provide a snapshot of both what and how the UN system is – collectively - doing in some selected and cross-sectorial domains of activity, based on a number of chosen criteria, such as “country” or others, and views over time.

The Committee received a presentation from UNHCR on how visualization can provide management and organizations at large with an important strategic tool, with which to realise a variety of communication goals. Emphasis was placed on target audience, the definition of clear goals, design, measurements of success and entry barriers. Challenges included the growing need for expertise in marketing, data science and journalism. Next steps for the UN system were defined in terms of data access, definition and comparability. The Committee heard that through tools such as the Humanitarian Exchange Language, standards are already being applied to humanitarian data. However, an effective definition of the bigger picture and of the achievements of the UN system, it was argued, would remain challenging as long as emphasis is placed on the delivery of data as opposed to the message. In this regard, the UN system has significant ground to cover while the need to change the perceptions of stakeholders remains.

Further detail provided by CEB Secretariat positioned the proposed platform as a storytelling tool, and one which will direct visitors to more granular data, hosted on any of the many thematic data driven platforms. In this way the project was presented as a response to Priority E of the HLCM Strategic Plan (measuring and communicating results) and one which would leverage related initiatives in Big Data and Open Data standard harmonization.

In the long run, this project aims to combine and present statistics of three basic types: CEB Data, Country Indicators and Programme Statistics. The platform aims to publish statistics, not data per se. This project must build on related initiatives currently on-going in the UN system, ranging from those supporting the efficiency and results based agenda, to the provision of Open Data, since the platform will link out to more granular resources including visualizations, APIs, databases and data catalogues maintained by organizations, in order to provide a transparent view of organizations’ activities. This is not a project to establish a “one size fits all” visualization solution for the UN system.

The discussion that ensued recognized the benefits of a collective visualization of UN system interests, activities and achievements. Members voiced the experiences within their own organizations in this domain and the absolute need to leverage available expertise, knowledge and related undertakings was regarded as a critical requirement of the project.

Action

The committee:

  • Invited the Committee to consider information sources, expertise and initiatives that speak to this need. As a next step members were asked to provide CEB Secretariat with focal points, who may be contacted to advance this project. The immediate need is to establish a Steering Group of interested organizations, who will help oversee the project and facilitate next steps, which includes a business analysis.
  • Requested the CEB Secretariat to report back at the next HLCM session on progress made towards the formation of a Steering Group and the definition of a project proposal.