Making Data Work for US(A)

The latest frontiers in data have given us more information than ever before, but haven’t made us more informed. While traditional statistics can give us a frozen picture of how things are in a given moment, dynamic data has the potential to track our world like a real-time movie. To realize this future, however, we need to significantly invest in collective action for data reform. This potential drew the United States and over 200 other UN member nations together to the first World Data Forum for Sustainable Development, hosted in Cape Town, South Africa. Leaders in data across the world came together and collaborated to identify what the current state of data means to us all, and the biggest barriers to data reform. The overarching question of the Forum was how to make data work to help nations pursue the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). If you’re unfamiliar, check out our blog by CollaborateUp CEO Richard Crespin on how the United States can take the SDGs and turn them into a tool to unleash American excellence.


The short version: we can take existing government work like the U.S. National Statistics for the SDGs and the DATA Act of 2014, to give our lawmakers at every level a potent tool – a Return on Investment (ROI) calculator to assess the effectiveness of new laws, regulations, and policies. With the Trump Administration and new Congress looking to bring manufacturing jobs back to the US, data on SDG 9.2.2 (manufacturing employment as a proportion of total employment) could be linked to DATA Act spending data on the policies they propose to promote manufacturing jobs. This would allow policy makers to calculate the ROI by dividing the number of manufacturing jobs created (from SDG 9.2.2) by the amount of money spent on these policies (from information gathered through the DATA Act).


While collecting data on performance and dividing it by spending to efficacy-test policy may seem like common sense, these two initiatives are not even close to linked today. SDG driven data can enable better decision making at all levels of government, from states, counties, to even cities. Take, for example, the World Council on City Data’s ISO 37120 indicators. This kind of common voluntary data reporting can create a transparent marketplace of ideas and innovation that can enable individuals to improve their communities effectively. Right now, this kind of data is significantly undervalued, and as a result is doing us little to no good. Closing data gaps – the non-reporting or under-reporting of SDG data – should be a priority at all levels of government. While this is a fine idea for the public sector, we at CollaborateUp attended the Forum to find out how data reform could benefit all sectors – public, private, and civil – and how collaboration fits into the picture.


We helped to bring together two panels for the World Data Forum to tackle two subjects deeply intertwined with collaboration – titled “Data for Collective Action” and “New Data Frontiers”. We were honored to have panelists representing private enterprise, NGOs, local government, and international organizations discussing what barriers kept them from collectively acting on data, and the value that cutting-edge data could offer multi-sector partnerships. Together, their insights helped create recommendations and policies to address those challenges, which you can find here.


At the World Data Forum leaders from around the world issued repeated calls for standardization and data sharing, but until we change the policies and practices that make data sharing risky today only a few organizations will get on board. Repeated calls for data to “leave no one behind” are meaningless if we don’t create an enabling environment for open data in the United States. Together we possess an abundance of data resources, talent, and potential. We must use partnership as a powerful tool, and we must make it a priority in any national data reform. Enabling greater data accessibility, responsibility, literacy, usability, and philanthropy is in the best interests of the United States – but our organizations and institutions must show that, through collective action.

By Marcos Da Silva, Associate at CollaborateUp

Extremely practical and extremely easy to implement once you have an understanding of the steps and the formula and the requirements of the prcoess. - CollaborateUp Academy Participant
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