At its first regular session for 2015, the CEB approved “The UN system Approach to the Data Revolution”, which included, as one of its four initiatives, an HLCM project to establish a Data Datalog for the UN system.
The HLCM Chair introduced this agenda item by referring to the report of the United Nations Secretary-General’s Independent Expert Advisory Group on a Data Revolution for Sustainable Development (IEAG), which highlighted the need for a “data revolution” that improves analytical systems and strengthens the ability of all stakeholders to respond to the demands of the sustainable development goals.
Recalling that the Data Catalog project was led by the UN Secretariat (OICT) and the CEB Secretariat, the Chair noted the project’s highly collaborative nature, and informed the Committee that the initial version of the Catalog would be released on 31 March, 2016 and would include the first inventory of open data throughout the UN system accompanied by an intuitive and user friendly interface. The Chair emphasized that the Catalog only aggregates metadata published by multiple sources. It was explained that a disaggregated definition of datasets, combined with flexible searching and sorting tools, allowed for new relationships to be defined. The introduction of navigation by SDGs, targets and indicators would drive the project further in its approach to data disaggregation and discovery.
The Chair called all organizations to remain involved in this project, to contribute towards the inventory, its automation and the introduction of new and useful features for the benefit of all stakeholders, and invited the UN Secretariat Chief Information Technology Officer (CITO) to introduce the details behind the Catalog.
In her remarks, the CITO echoed the Chair’s satisfaction with the upcoming launch of the Data Catalog and emphasized that access to reliable and timely data enhanced understanding and enabled better decisions. She stressed that predictive modelling, which required access to data, offered organizations of the UN system an additional mechanism to deliver on their mandates. The CITO noted that with the UN General Assembly’s endorsement of the UN Secretariat ICT strategy, the Organization had introduced a new way of working in the area of ICT that transforms ICT structures in a way that allows the institution to deliver better, and which provides its workforce with the right technology, tools and ability to operate in a more modern, innovative way. The CITO further noted that a focus on traditional ICT platforms and tools had proven restrictive as the ICT community addresses the need to innovate and align analytics with the substantive work of the UN system. She noted the value of including social data as part of any analysis and providing centralized access to existing silos of data that are often highly fragmented. It was explained that these capabilities facilitate organizations’ movement from crisis reaction towards crisis prevention, using predictive modelling in areas where data is scarce. While much data remains closed, the goal of the Data Catalog project was to make open data more accessible, allowing stakeholders to “connect the dots”.
The CEB Secretariat presented the Catalog to the Committee, demonstrating the simplicity of the navigation across datasets using simple criteria, such as organizational source, project location and standard used by the data source. The scenarios presented showed the ease of discovery of data, and it was pointed out that, with the automation of updates now possible, data sources were more likely to be up-to-date. During the demonstration, it was noted that the platform would continue to grow as the inventory increases, becoming potentially much more granular (for more refined searches).
The demonstration also noted that since the Catalog contained existing data sources, as it grew with the inclusion of more data sets, a clearly defined and agreed governance framework would be required to avoid the potential for discrepancies between the data. The demonstration concluded by noting that the Data Catalog, as a “living” facility, would benefit from enhanced awareness in order to ensure that the momentum gained through the project’s development is maintained. A number of agencies requested that the issue of data privacy be addressed. It was proposed that eventually all data that agencies produce should be as open as possible, noting that policies governing the data and privacy issues will provide organizations an opportunity to establish a legal framework for data philanthropy that advances the work of the UN system.
In the discussion that followed, members expressed appreciation for the open data inventory and platform, and it was emphasized that the Catalog integrated well with existing initiatives, such as IATI, and that it included the capability of automating data updates in order to ensure its continued relevance. During the exchange, several organizations stressed that the Catalog allowed the UN system to leverage existing investments, facilitated the identification of new linkages, and supported openness, innovation and story-telling through visualization. Within the context of the UN system digital agenda, it was recognized that the Catalog presented a unique opportunity to incorporate SDGs and to complement the other Data Revolution initiatives. Several members noted further developments related to the data revolution, in particular the Data Innovation Lab and individual agency open data initiatives, which could also link to the Catalog.
The Chair thanked the UN Secretariat and the CEB Secretariat for the successful completion of the Data Catalog. Committee members were also recognized for their contribution towards this work, their consensus in approving its launch and their commitment towards its continued improvement.
The Committee: Approved the launch of the UN Data Catalog on 31 March, 2016; took note of progress made and priorities as set for further development; and, committed to the collaborative process of improving its content, governance and service offering.