Bridging the Data Divide for Development


Remarks by Angel Gurría,

OECD Secretary-General

17 October 2017, London, UK

(As prepared for delivery)



Minister Patel, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a pleasure to be in London today, which happens to be the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. We are here to launch the latest OECD Development Co-operation Report, focusing on bridging the “data divide” to deliver on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

I just met with the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I congratulated him on the UK’s continued commitment to tackling extreme poverty, and to delivering on the Sustainable Development Goals. Minister Patel: thank you for your leadership and for your close partnership in this endeavour.

The UK is a well-chosen launchpad for this report. DFID is a leader in the push for development results, and solid evidence and data play a key part in this effort. The UK’s official development assistance (ODA) plays a crucial role in lifting some of the world’s poorest people out of poverty, while delivering value for money for the British taxpayer. 

We cannot deliver on the SDG with the current data gaps and weak statistical capacity

Globally, we cannot expect to deliver on the SDGs with gaps in basic data and weak statistical systems in developing countries. Let’s take a look at the scale of the problem.

This year’s Development Co-operation Report assesses the statistical capacity of 131 low- and middle- income countries and finds that less than one-third of these countries have functioning birth and civil statistics systems.

There is no data yet for two-thirds of the 232 SDG indicators, and 88 indicators have neither an agreed methodology nor data for measuring them. Even when data is available, it is often insufficiently disaggregated, making it difficult for policy makers to track or compare different population groups or communities.

Too often, governments in developing countries lack the resources to develop sound statistical systems, or this investment is not always prioritised. The amounts of aid committed by donors for building statistical systems in developing countries has stagnated at about 0.3% of total ODA over the past three years.

Despite this challenge, I should mention that the UK is one of the top five donors when it comes to investing in statistics, providing USD 87 million for statistical capacity building between 2013 and 2015.

As well as supporting statistical capacity, the development community also needs to better harness new technologies to deliver on the SDG Agenda.

Big data has the potential to transform international sustainable development

The report captures how technology is changing the way we understand development challenges. New tools, and the so-called “data revolution” make it easier, faster and cheaper to produce and analyse data from a wide range of sources.

For example, we look at how DFID trained local “Girl Ambassadors” to use mobile technology to gather data on the quality of life of young people in Nigeria. This kind of information is rarely available in government databases.

A number of developing countries are already using technology in innovative ways to capture data with positive results. For example, Ethiopia, South Africa, Sri Lanka and Uganda have improved the efficiency and accuracy of census and survey data collection by using computer tablets or other handheld devices. In Brazil, the UN and Facebook used anonymised big data to fight the Zika health crisis.

However, governments must be better equipped to manage this new data. Firstly, they need to invest in the right digital infrastructure to seize the opportunities presented by the data revolution. Secondly, legal, ethical and quality standards need to be enforced to foster trust and protect people’s rights.

Making data work for development is a task for all

I have often said that when it comes to the SDGs, the international community needs a “GPS”. We need to know where we are, where we are going, and what the best route to get there is. This is the power of good data. Data provision and analysis is in the OECD’s DNA. It goes to the heart of all the areas in which we work, including development.

The OECD’s development “cluster” – which includes our Development Co-operation Directorate, our Development Centre, and our Sahel and West Africa Club – is playing its part to help translate the ever-accelerating progress in data into tangible support for results on the ground, especially in Least Developed Countries.

The OECD works closely with developing countries to help strengthen their statistical capacities, including through the PARIS21 initiative, which supported 91 countries last year.

When it comes to tackling gender equality, our Social Institutions and Gender Index (SIGI) shows how discriminatory laws and social institutions can interlock and bind women into cycles of poverty and disempowerment.

In the area of education, we are working in close partnership with DFID to adapt the OECD’s methodology for PISA – the Programme for International Student Assessment – so that it meets the needs of developing countries, and helps them to achieve SDG 4. We call this “PISA for Development”.

And just last week, we released our second edition of Revenue Statistics in Africa, which provides African policymakers with a unique basis for benchmarking when it comes to raising domestic revenue.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I hope this report will encourage and inspire all of us – bilateral donors, international organisations, national statistical offices, business, civil society and philanthropy – to work together.

Let’s join forces to deliver better data that will enable us to design, develop and deliver Better Policies for Better Lives.



See also

OECD work on development

OECD Data Portal


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