There is an increasing recognition that to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), action-oriented data that can be implemented and measured at the local and regional level is needed. Ultimately the purpose of localizing data, is to ensure a greater respect and recognition of local knowledge, which is crucial to designing policy responses that are effective, equitable, contextually, and culturally appropriate. A greater emphasis on local knowledge is also important to question the design of indicators against global standards, which risk overshadowing the contextual and complex nature of sustainable development.
A workshop hosted by the SDG Lab on 26 June, with the title "Contextualising Sustainability through Data Governance at the Local Level" explored the importance of local data in understanding and addressing the specific challenges related to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at the regional, city, and community levels. Stronger recognition and use of local data is closely related to the SDG Lab’s work to introduce new lenses to sustainability including by bringing marginal concepts, local expertise, and lived experiences to the center of the development agenda.
To set a shared frame for the discussion, Johannes Jütting, Head PARIS21, provided an overview of trends and challenges on localization of data, with an offset in the PARIS21 Spring Meetings, which delved into this topic. He highlighted the benefits of local data, amongst which their ability to provide insights into local challenges, support transparency and accountability, enable informed policymaking and measure policy impact at the community local level. However, effective localization of national indicators remains a challenge.
To tackle such challenges Shantosh Thapa, from VSO Nepal, discussed the role of citizens-generated data (CGD) for SDG implementation. Collaboration with civil society organizations on CGD can improve data-sharing practices, incentivize collaboration, close data gaps, and enhance data quality and standards compliance. Thapa offered a concrete examples of these efforts, presenting the toolkit created by VSO to facilitate the production of quality CGD by civil society organizations, enabling cross-checking with government-collected data and supporting its recognition in public policy.
In discussion with participants, a few key takeaways stood out:
- To ensure transparency and foster trust in local authorities, stronger ownership and governance of data at the local level is needed.
- Promoting local data literacy and building trust across communities is key to bridging data gaps.
- It’s necessary to embrace complementary alternative data sources, such as citizen-generated data, and to promote peer learning networks for a more comprehensive understanding of local realities and sustainable development challenges.
- Multi-stakeholder collaboration, across sectors and SDG data communities, is necessary to effectively use data at the local level to accelerate action on SDG implementation.
In addition, a couple questions for further reflections also emerged:
- Getting local data doesn’t necessarily ensure the change you want to see in the world. What’s the relation between having accurate data at the local level and increasing the impact of our interventions?
- Can we justify the resources that goes into capacity building of data systems, if they do not adequately capture local realities and knowledge, is it worth it?
- How can we use storytelling in the absence of locally relevant data? For example, through trusted networks for knowledge sharing.
The workshop was part of the Geneva SDG Data Forum, convened by the SDG Lab in collaboration with the Geneva Graduate Institute and Deloitte Switzerland, which promotes dialogue between diverse stakeholders from the UN, Civil Society, Academia, and private sector on SDG data challenges.