The Data Revolution: Our Recommendations

08 Jan 15

As we settle into 2015 - when the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will be finalised - the first session of intergovernmental negotiations is fast approaching, in just over a week.

The first session will be a time to take stock, prepare ourselves for the year ahead, and think about how to agree on the goals and targets we'll set ourselves as a global community. As this happens, it's essential that we continue to think ahead to how we'll implement and monitor the framework, and ensure accountability.

Key to this, and central to a lot of the exciting work we're doing at Restless Development is the "Data Revolution".

Here are our key recommendations for what the data revolution needs to deliver, how that can fit into the post-2015 development agenda, and how young women and men can and should play a vital role...


  • The world now has the largest generation aged 15-24 in history making up a quarter of the world’s population, and almost 90% of these young women and men live in developing countries.
  • Despite the fact that young people disproportionately face poverty and constitute a significant proportion of the population in low-income countries, 2 out of 3 countries do not consult young people when developing poverty reduction strategies or national development plans.
  • Young people are under-represented and excluded in decision-making processes: Fewer than 2% of parliamentarians around the world are in their 20s, and only 12% are in their 30s (UNDP and IPU, 2012; Global Parliamentary Report)
  • Official data-sets lack age disaggregation – for example demographic and health surveys (DHS) that collect 15-49 age range.

Restless Development is currently working on two projects focussed on the intersection of data, young people, accountability, and the post-2015 development framework. Firstly, we are testing a Big Idea: that if we mobilise young people, equip them with skills, knowledge and data, they can make a standout contribution to social accountability at a local, national and global level. We believe that if young people are equipped and empowered with the skills to use, analyse and generate data on key issues that affect their lives, they will take the lead in exercising accountability over their governments.

Secondly, we are working with a global Task Team of young women and men with experience in governance and accountability - from implementing local household surveys, to working on enhancing digital literacy and access to information for young people living in slum dwellings. We have worked with this Task Team to identify the key opportunities and challenges for young people engaging with duty bearers and holding their governments to account. This has fed into a report including recommendations based on their lived experiences and perspectives, alongside a literature review and primary research carried out by the Overseas Development Institute “Partners for change: Young people and governance in a Post-2015 world”.

The following recommendations for the ‘data revolution’ are based on our learnings so far:

Any set of standards of practice for the use of data must be matched by a concerted and comprehensive effort to build the capacity of the stakeholders who can generate and use this data. Civil society organisations, national and local governments and most importantly, citizens, are ill equipped to collect, analyse, interpret and manage data effectively. This impedes their ability to undertake evidence-based actions including policy development, advocacy, and decision-making. These standards should be relevant, fit for purpose, and translatable for the most basic community operations, such as small grassroots youth organisations, to ensure no one is left behind in the data revolution.

Young people, unlike any other demographic group, use technology for social critique, building new markets, self-organising and exhibiting new art forms - all of which creates new and exciting real time data. These data, and the means through which they are created, offer limitless opportunities for not only the data revolution, but also for how the development agenda more broadly is owned by the next generation. If the post-2015 framework is to be truly transformative, it must harness the unique ways young people are generating data, by investing in close collaborations between data specialists and young leaders, youth organisations and youth-led start-ups.

The imperative for better development data is driven at least in part by the need for a more accurate understanding of excluded communities. But reality cannot be constructed entirely through World Bank data or national household surveys, nor can it be fashioned from the Facebook posts or fan fiction of individuals. Meaning can and should however, be derived from the intersection of ‘official’ data and the lived experiences of citizens, particularly the most marginalised. Any centralised data audit agency or clearinghouse, must create mechanisms for civil society and citizen-generated qualitative and quantitative data to be fed into its operations, policies and practice and given the same weight as traditional data sources.

Small data is the data that matters to people. It is the community job boards, the clinic opening times, the local school rankings and the safe taxi drivers. Much of this data can and should be generated by citizens and civil society on an iterative basis because it is the data that best represents how we live our lives. But citizens are not encouraged or empowered to work with data, many do not feel they have a role to play in recording or collecting community data. A data revolution must foster a culture change not only among development specialists and statisticians, but also among citizens, through user-friendly tools for community reporting and citizen journalism, which in turn can foster active citizenship, supporting citizens to be more accountable to their communities.

Young leaders and youth organisations should be equipped and empowered to monitor and implement the Sustainable Development Goals, through access to good quality, open, timely data. The data revolution presents enormous opportunities for young people’s participation and greater involvement in governance and accountability, from the local to the global level, using different forms of ICTs. Evidence shows that generating real-time data that can contribute to young people’s ability to monitor implementation and communicate findings can be an effective and immediate method of promoting accountability.

Open Data is just one step in a series of human actions required to achieve mutual accountability. The other critical steps have yet to be agreed or defined, which is why the potential promised by Freedom of Information policies, among others, is yet to be realised. It is imperative that governments and civil society are supported with actionable models for using data to drive mutual accountability and sustainable development. Initiatives like Restless Development’s Big Idea are already piloting and testing these models, but technical and financial support is required to strengthen and scale these models so that there is clear road map for using open data in social accountability initiatives.

The need for disaggregated data is paramount. Today, 50% of the world‘s population is under 25; young people represent the largest generation in history; but many young people are experiencing challenges with finding decent and sustainable employment, and accessing resources to assist them with issues related to health, education, poverty and inequality. In order to address these global issues and the risks associated with them, policymakers, decision makers and civil society must be armed with good quality, readily accessible, timely and disaggregated data on youth. Currently this data is lacking globally, and there is inconsistency in how data is disaggregated, and how young people are defined. Investing in resources and capacity building for disaggregating data is essential to ensure we have the right data to make the right decisions for a sustainable future.

These recommendations were originally submitted to the UN Secretary General's Independent Expert Advisory Panel on a Data Revolution forSustainable Development, October 2014.