By Anastasia Valeeva and Anna Coco

On October 16-17, 2017 the kick-off workshop for the cross-regional Data Innovation Project “Measuring the Unmeasured” was held in Istanbul, Turkey. The overall goal of the two day event has been to identify the ways to measure those indicators of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Tier III where no established methodology exists yet. Specifically, the participants worked on formulating their research questions, mapping the  challenges and ways forward in order to develop concrete action plans for its implementation in the following 6 months, while also being exposed to some of the cutting-edge thinking.

The event has brought together 13 countries participants – Albania, Macedonia, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Botswana, Egypt, Tunisia, Sudan, Maldives, Pakistan, Armenia, Mongolia and India, and 7 mentors from the leading institutions working on data innovation for development: Oxford Internet Institute, Data Pop Alliance / University of Trento, Qatar Computing Research Institute, UN Oslo Governance Center, Open Data Lab Jakarta, UN Development Operations Cooperation Office, and Flowminder.   

Photo: Jennifer Colville, Team Leader for Innovation, Arab States, kicks-off the event with an opening speech

Participating countries have selected the areas – from satisfaction with public services to water efficiency, diving into the area of SDG Tier III indicators. At the same time they have committed to testing out alternative sources of data and new technologies: like phone, geo-spatial, social media and sensor data, since the gap in official data prevents designing evidence-based policies and understanding the state of SDGs in high priority areas of  developing countries.

From inspiration to perspiration: the event combined talks on the latest trends and examples of data innovation for development with speed-mentoring and ideation sessions where the teams had to come up with the sources and methodologies they can use to measure SDG Tier III indicators, the political and institutional implications, and how systems thinking can be applied.

Photo: Participants from Macedonia, India and Mongolia brainstorming together on data innovation

The ideations session got everyone in the room think broader on what data innovation is, and brainstorm in mixed teams on the following questions:

  1. Can new actors (ex. private sector) contribute with data? Which and how?
  2. What are the challenges in obtaining the data and making it open?
  3. What are the impediments in drawing action from the new data sources?
  4. What are the resource, capacity and skills gaps in country office & national partner?
  5. Three main steps for piloting your project?
  6. How to scale your project?

Photo: wisdom of the crowd: how to get access to the data?

The speed-mentoring sessions let the teams to be exposed to different types of thinking, getting feedback from an expert in artificial intelligence or a UN innovation expert, or even a peer country office. This was a reality check for many teams, since some realized they need a scope study; some need a working contact with a custodian agency; and some lack technical capacities. It also gave a direct insight on how best to partner teams and mentors for the second day. After all, speed-mentoring works very much like speed-dating: if you like someone, you arrange a second date!

Photo: Macedonian team works with an expert in telecom data Didem Gündoğdu

And this is exactly what they did on the second day of the workshop. Several teams and experts joined their forces to pursue the methodology on SDG16 which is dedicated to the promotion of peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, the provision of access to justice for all, and building effective, accountable institutions at all levels. The others worked with different experts depending on their chosen methodologies. The milestones for the day we set by the guide to data innovation for development, where the teams used the problem definition tool, the data gaps tool and the stakeholder mapping tool to come up with one research question and an action plan.

Photo: round table ‘SDG16’ with teams from Sudan, Moldova and Kyrgyzstan, Andreas Pawelke and Alexandra Wilde 

Dozen of country actions plans – and  a strong wish to exchange existing skills, building the institution capacity – this is what the teams left with back to their home countries to pursue the work on the ground. Stay tuned for further updates!

This initiative is designed to focus on i) testing different methodologies for measuring Tier III indicators of high SDGs priorities for twelve countries in Arab States, Europe & Central Asia, and Asia Pacific & feeding this information into policy responses, ii) providing input into global discussions on SDG measurement, and iii) developing guidance for other Country Offices interested in exploring alternative measurement methodologies.