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Quest for a new Data Ecosystem: Monitoring Sustainable Development in Bangladesh

The writeup originally appeared on post2015datatest.com in September 2015.

Article: The quest for a new data ecosystem – Monitoring sustainable development in Bangladesh

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will be adopted at the 70th session of the United Nations General Assembly this week, and will be showcased at the UN Sustainable Development Summit on 25-27 September. In the lead up to the summit, issues related to generating data and information to monitor sustainable development progress has attracted much attention, with stakeholders calling for a Data Revolution. Governments, development partners, thought leaders and civil society organisations are exploring opportunities to ensure the availability of more and better data, necessary to establish baselines and measure SDG related progress both at country and global levels. Against this backdrop, as part of the Post-2015 Data Test initiative, the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), Bangladesh released a major report today.

The report, titled “Measuring for Monitoring: The State of Data for SDGs in Bangladesh,” offers important insights on the readiness of Bangladesh to monitor the SDGs. The report highlights key areas where technical and financial support will be needed to measure progress made and monitor the implementation of the SDGs and targets. The study benefits policymakers and stakeholders in Bangladesh by offering a deeper understanding of the challenges that will need to be addressed going forward. The report provides guidance to concerned stakeholders on potential corrective measures, and suggests take new initiatives to address deficits in the Bangladesh data ecosystem, including in terms of next steps to improve data generation for the SDGs. The Bangladesh case study presents an overall assessment of existing institutional statistical capacity in Bangladesh and provides recommendations to improve data availability, access, timeliness and quality. Feasibility of a selected set of candidate SDG targets and indicators is assessed from the perspective of data availability to monitor implementation of the SDGs.

We observe that global ambition to realize the envisaged Data Revolution has gained currency in the discourse on SDGs in Bangladesh. Relevant stakeholders are becoming increasingly aware of the emerging data demands. We also note that, over the last decade, Bangladesh has seen gradual improvements in data production, dissemination and use with regard to development issues. However, our study shows that in Bangladesh, at present data are not readily available for a number of candidate indicators for the SDGs. On a positive note, for many indicators, which are examined under the study, data can be estimated or calculated from existing administrative information and available surveys in Bangladesh. Nonetheless, dearth of the needed data will likely make it difficult to establish a baseline for measuring progress on SDGs in Bangladesh. Without baseline data, it will be difficult for Bangladesh to establish measurable SDG targets. In addition, data for several important indicators are not available at the level of disaggregation needed.

The study evinces that data in Bangladesh are of variable quality. Data often suffer from a lack of accuracy and reliability, timeliness and punctuality, accessibility and clarity, and coherence and comparability. Thus, there is an acute need to improve overall data quality. This is particularly true for a number of goal areas, including energy and infrastructure, environmental sustainability and disaster resilience, governance, and global partnership for sustainable development. There is a need to standardise and ensure coherence as regards relevant concepts and definitions of variables through wide-ranging consultations among major stakeholders.

Issues relating to the accessibility and affordability of data need to be urgently addressed. In connection with this, it is to be ensured that dissemination of disaggregated and unit-level data can be made available at a minimum cost. Promoting data dissemination digitally and in user-friendly formats (e.g., spreadsheets) and establishing interactive websites for data should be a priority.

Although efforts have been made to reform the statistical system in Bangladesh, they are inadequate to meet the growing demands for more and better data. The study emphasizes the role of Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) in generating adequate and high quality data to track development progress. BBS is currently implementing a National Strategy for the Development of Statistics (NSDS) for the 2013–2023 period. Implementation of the NSDS will definitely require an overhaul in view of SDGs, which will need to be supported by adequate human and financial resources. Coordination will also need to improve. Local Consultative Group may coordinate development partners’ initiatives, while the Ministry of Finance, including its Economic Relations Division, ought to coordinate financing needs. While formulating these plans, it is important that data producers recognise demands for more frequent, timely, disaggregated, quality data on the part of policymakers and non-governmental actors. The potential roles of the private sector and modern technology in the Data Revolution have yet to be adequately appreciated in Bangladesh. A big push is required for the advantages of information and communication technologies to be sufficiently recognised and appropriately leveraged.

As implementation of the SDGs begins in earnest from January 2016, it is hoped that the CPD study will provide important pointers to key stakeholders as regards data for establishing benchmarks and to measure and monitor progress in view of SDGs in the Bangladesh context.

The study urges policymakers to design and develop a comprehensive plan that articulates concrete tasks to be performed by specific institutions and particular stakeholder groups to improve data generation. Such a plan will enable Data Revolution to be actualized in Bangladesh. Going forward, CPD will continue to provide support to policy makers on SDG implementation and the data revolution going forward. In collaboration with Southern Voice, CPD has launched a follow-up study, to develop an ‘action plan’ to address the gaps identified through the Bangladesh country study. It is hoped that this action plan will guide policymakers with practical next steps going forward.

Towfiqul Islam Khan is Research Fellow at the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD). He can be contacted at: towfiq.khan(at)gmail.com

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