Background

During its 2nd regular session for 2014, CEB discussed the Data Revolution and called upon HLCM, HLCP and UNDG, through a coordinated effort to develop a coherent programme of work focusing on carrying forward a data revolution. The Board also agreed that a working group of representatives from UNESCO, the World Bank Group, UNDP, UNICEF, UNFPA, the Regional Commissions, and UN/DESA should carry out the work, ready for presentation at its 1st regular session for 2015. The working group prepared a draft programme of work using the report of the Independent Expert Advisory Group (IEAG) on the Data Revolution, titled "A World that Counts", as its basis.

UNICEF introduced the topic by reference to the work-plan drafted by the CEB working group and placed emphasis on two key messages. First, it stressed that the data revolution, as a concept articulated in the “A World That Counts” report, highlights the fundamental global shifts already happening because of new technology and the data generated or enabled by this technology. The international system faces a huge challenge in adapting to this new reality. By harnessing the data revolution there is great potential for the UN system to deliver better results at lower cost. Secondly, within this broader frame, there are steps that can be pursued already, classified as quick wins, such as the four included in the proposed work-plan.

Discussion

The Committee noted that some areas needed further discussion, including Standards and Principles, such as protection, privacy, rights, governance and issues of human rights. All of these could benefit from a common UN position on public access to data, leveraging technology, support to governments, and funding/financing, among others.

HLCM members noted that some mechanisms already exist to coordinate actions that the UN system can take in this area, including the UN statistical commission, the CCSA - the Committee for the Coordination of Statistical Activities, and others. In this respect, the UN Statistical Commission just concluded its latest session, with outcomes that also address the Data Revolution.

The Committee agreed that necessary for the success of the UN system’s role in the Data Revolution is the establishment of strategic partnerships, within the public and private sector. The Committee received a presentation on areas of possible collaboration and support to the UN System in carrying forward a Data Revolution, by CERN's ICT Head (Mr. Frederic Hemmer) and the Advisor to the Director-General, in charge of relations with international Organizations (Dr. Maurizio Bona).

As an inter-governmental scientific research organization, data and its supporting infrastructure play an essential role to the work of CERN. Globally, its data centre ranks fifth in size in the world and its ICT department is recognized as a centre of excellence. Parts of CERN’s ICT systems are custom built and maintained in-house. Innovation is a cultural norm and openness is the mainstay: all experimental data is made available to the public. CERN has ongoing collaborations with UN system organizations, including UNOSAT, WMO, WIPO and more. The knowledge, expertise and ICT infrastructure of CERN speak with direct relevance to UN priorities as they turn to the Data Revolution. CERN's ICT infrastructure was presented as a cost effective means to support the delivery of short-term solutions for time sensitive initiatives. CERN's expertise could be an asset when addressing Big Data and related ICT challenges, as many of these have been innovatively addressed, leading to cost savings.

In summary, the Committee noted that one day the UN system will have to face technical, cost, and time challenges for its implementation of Data Revolution initiatives. As a strategic partner, CERN could bring innovation, knowledge, capacity and cost-effectiveness to this effort.

In the ensuing discussion, interventions voiced agreement and appreciation for the inspiring presentation of CERN and looked forward to working on defining collaboration. The Data Revolution was defined as a subject whose time has come. HLCM members voiced their support for the initiatives and appreciation for the CEB working group. The Committee recognized the complex and multifaceted nature of this topic and that the proposed work-plan represented just a start, not an end of the process. The rationalization and sequencing of different projects in the broader digital domain was considered necessary in order to maximise synergies and interoperability.

It was recognized that, at present, much information remains in silos and that the value attached to data revolution initiatives depends also upon their linkages. In response, members requested detail on resourcing and costing of each initiative and on the linkages between them.

It was generally understood that, if pursued, initiative three would need to be done in a broader, multi stakeholder forum. Some members noted the urgency for UN system’s organizations to seize the opportunity to leverage their sources and position themselves as a central source of data for the world at large. Also, the World Forum on Data could be a major branding opportunity.

A digital strategy was postulated by the Committee as one that breaks down barriers to information, engages stakeholders in each step of the process and facilitates decision making. Several members underlined the relevance of the Data Revolution to both development and humanitarian mandates, as well as that the outside world should contribute to, benefit directly from and be ensured access to UN system-led initiatives in this area.

The Chair recognized the need for a multi-stakeholder approach and placed an emphasis on the importance of data disaggregation for an evidence-based support to the implementation of the future SDGs at country level; on promoting an agenda that is both people and data-driven; and, on capacity building in the production and management of data. Without disaggregated data and capacity building, countries will not be in a position to gather, evaluate, monitor and gain value from data.

The Chair called for the UN organizations to drive this process for the benefit of sustainable development and peace. Post 2015 sustainable development monitoring and evaluation of performance will be more thematically driven rather than project, programme or organization driven. This in turn requires granular, interoperable and comparable data to be shared with member states. Seen essentially as a knowledge management problem, the Chair emphasised that this is an area where UN system organizations can act as one and contribute to much needed change.

Action

The Committee:

  • Thanked the lead agencies for preparing the draft programme of work for the data revolution,  as presented in CEB/2015/HLCM-HLCP/1, supported the four initiatives contained therein, and suggested further elaboration of the initiatives based on the input received from individual agencies and the CEB pillars, with a particular focus on timelines, responsibilities and resourcing for each initiative.
  • Requested HLCM members to nominate focal point(s) for each organization to participate in this work and through which specific requests will be channelled.
  • Noted the importance of integrating the call for a data revolution with a more comprehensive Digital Strategy for the UN system.
  • Thanked CERN for its informative presentation and welcomed its willingness to collaborate with the UN system through the relevant inter-agency mechanisms.