Tech for good governance key in attainment of UNSDGS

Daryl Bhana, Vice President of Sales and Strategy at Global Voice Group.

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDGs), when set out and adopted in 2015, were designed to be the blueprint for achieving development globally. While the SDGs recognised that economic prosperity for all could only be achieved if people and the planet were cared for in equal measure, what has transpired today, is that one of the key obstacles impeding progress toward the SDGs is insufficient actionable data. The Brookings Institution in its report titled Africa and the Sustainable Development Goals: A Long Way to Go, published in 2019, affirms precisely this, stating that minimal progress has been made towards the SDGs specifically due to a lack of actionable data.

The United Nations (UN) Deputy Secretary-General Amina J. Mohammed further reinforced the importance of data, stating that "data is a crucial element; data is the lifeblood of planning.”; with a UN survey having found that in Africa and Asia, on average, data for only 20 per cent of SDG indicators is currently available. The World Bank has found that only 35 per cent of the African continent has poverty data collected since 2015. Therefore, while the UNSDGs lay out a broad, ambitious vision for our world, without timely, accurate, relevant, and disaggregated data, policymakers and their development partners have little by way of data analytics to turn their promises into impactful actions for communities on our continent.

It should come as no surprise that technology is the key that unlocks access to this data. By extracting data from relevant sources and analysing this according to clear objectives and measurable processes, technology has the capability to turn raw data into actionable data; providing objective and reliable information that can be trusted to guide policy-making and decision-making toward the people and planet goals ensconced in the 17 SDGs.

Data analytics continue to grow in importance due to the increasing amount of data generated, and the ability to use cutting edge technologies to collect, process and analyse data at the source of both financial and human transactions, anonymising such data, and then presenting insights and advice to governments that allow them to implement action steps to promote good governance, enhances policy effectiveness and execution progress toward the SDGs.

Data plays a key role in effective decision-making, and it is important to continue designing and implementing data access and analytics platforms for governments across Africa, having seen more than USD300 million (Sh32.9 billion) invested in building government information systems over the past ten years.

But technology on its own is not the silver bullet that fast-tracks progress toward achieving the SDGs. Central to SDG advancement is a collaboration between the public and private sectors. Especially where data analysis pertains to citizen and sovereign-sensitive data, a collaboration between the public and private sectors is critical.

In fact, today, more than ever before, one of the most critical aspects of data analytics, is privacy. In this regard, in order to maintain the trust of citizens, it is imperative that governments are able to explain what data is collected, how it is used, and to what end. Privacy and ownership of data will always be fundamental in the respectful use of data, and technology toward good governance should always balance the elements of privacy and innovation.

Where there is no or little collaboration between the private and public sectors, and each of these attempt to go it alone (or are forced to go it alone), factors such as relevant technology to extract and analyse data, stretched finances, and questions of data ownership, privacy and regulation will remain constraining obstacles toward the gathering of a rich, robust, and relevant data set. With public-private partnerships, these obstacles are overcome, and progress toward the SDGs is accelerated.

The Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data (GPSDD) shares expertise in big data analysis and technology with national statistical offices across Africa, with the aim of increasing the availability, richness and relevance of data in order to better support sustainable development projects.

Data analysis has grown in importance across the continent over the last few years, with countries adopting an increasingly data-driven approach to their governance. With the implementation of the appropriate technologies, governments in Africa can increase data availability from the current low of 20 per cent against SDG metrics, to levels that enable them to engage in true data-driven decision making, and to this end also measure the effectiveness of their policies in achieving the SDGs.

As Africa continues to accelerate progress toward the achievement of the SDGs, and in seeking solutions that are Africa-centric and Africa-metric-relevant, the use of technologies and collaboration between the public and private sectors will become increasingly more important. We look forward to a future that indeed realises prosperity for all people while preserving and nurturing the environment that itself generates the growth opportunities that lead to socio-economic success; a future that foresees the true achievement of the UNSDGs.

The writer, Daryl Bhana, is the Vice President of Sales and Strategy at Global Voice Group (GVG).