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1st UN World Data Forum

15-18 January 2017 | Cape Town, South Africa

Summary Highlights, 15 - 18 January 2017

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A view of Cape Town (photo courtesy of the Cape Town International Convention Center (CTICC), venue of the 1st UN World Data Forum)

The UN World Data Forum drum is handed over to representatives of the UAE, who will host the second Forum

Marrakech Climate Change Conference - November 2016

Participants during plenary


Wednesday, 18 January 2017

UN Data Forum On Wednesday, participants at the first UN World Data Forum engaged in discussions during 20 parallel panels, addressing topics such as the future of data production, means of implementation, national experiences with establishment of a mechanism for national reporting, and data journalism.

During the closing plenary session, John Pullinger, Chief Executive, UK Statistics Authority, invited panelists to provide final thoughts on the way forward and urged participants to “step up” as the custodians of one of the planet’s most precious assets: statistics. On partnerships and collaborations, Lisa Bersales, National Statistician, the Philippines, suggested that, traditionally, statisticians have used very clear ingredients and the usual recipes, but now, after discovering colleagues from different spheres at the Forum, they need to learn how to use new partnerships and tools to “cook more nutritious and delicious food.”

Gabriella Vukovich, President, Hungarian Central Statistical Office, noted that national statistical offices, as central managers of information in countries, need to use their best qualities and assets, such as structured thinking and preference for standards, and make others use them as well. Nnenna Nwakanma, Africa Regional Coordinator, World Wide Web Foundation, stressed the importance of partnerships at all levels and underscored the need to communicate with everyone, including those not digitally enabled, and break down scientific knowledge in a manner easy to understand by all.

To close the Forum, Stefan Schweinfest, Director, Statistics Division, UNDESA, emphasized its success in bringing people together and generating new thinking, interactions, partnerships, ideas and actions. He said the Global Action Plan is only the beginning, and there is work to do in order to achieve results on the Plan before the second Forum, in two years’ time. Pali Lehohla, Statistician General, Statistics South Africa, expressed thanks to all involved in organizing the Forum and to all participants for attending. Schweinfest closed the first UN World Data Forum at 5:30 pm.

IISD Reporting Services, through its ENB+ Meeting Coverage, provided daily web coverage and a summary report from the 1st UN World Data Forum. Our summary report is available in HTML and PDF format.
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View of the panel during the morning plenary


Stefan Schweinfest, Director, Statistics Division, UNDESA

Craig Mills, CEO, Vizzuality


Gabriella Vukovich, President, Hungarian Central Statistical Office

Nnenna Nwakanma, World Wide Web Foundation


Pali Lehohla, Statistician-General, Statistics South Africa


Tuesday, 17 January 2017

The third day of the first UN World Data Forum opened on Tuesday morning, 17 January, with the plenary session on “Capturing the 21st Century through Data and Algorithms.” Speakers emphasized that the public’s world view and knowledge do not mirror reality, and suggested that schools are better places to create a more fact-based world view than the media; emphasized the value of building narratives from data to steer the narrative to implement the SDGs; and highlighted that, while data can be used to achieve the SDGs, the benefits will be greatest if people participate and are involved in designing, collecting and using that data. On questions of trust, panelists emphasized effectively communicating progress that has been made in development, building a more fact-based society, and making data and statistics more open to contributions and to interrogation by society.

A number of resources and projects were announced or demonstrated throughout the day, including: the Open Algorithm project (OPAL), which serves as a forum through which open algorithms can extract key development data; the Joined-up Data Alliance, which is a coalition of open data standards setters, users and advocates collaborating on the development and usage of data standards; data.world, which is a social network for “data people”; “Dollar Street"”, which is the largest systematic image bank to document home life for people with different income levels around the world; and the Global Reporting Initiative’s sdgcompass.org, which helps companies measure their contributions to the SDGs. In addition, the International Roadmap on Open Data, which summarizes the proceedings of the International Open Data Conference 2016 and includes an action plan, was launched.

Participants attended a gala dinner in the evening, sponsored by MTN South Africa.

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View of the panel during the plenary


Shaida Badiee, Co-Founder and Managing Director, Open Data Watch

Barbara Ryan, Secretariat Director, Group on Earth Observations (GEO)

Fernando Perini, International Development Research Centre (IDRC), Canada


Yusuf Murangwa, Director General, National Institute of Statistics, Rwanda

Haishan Fu, Development Data Group, World Bank

John Pullinger, Chief Executive, UK Statistics Authority


Session on 'Empowering people with data: tips and tools for creative data literacy'


Monday, 16 January 2017

Opening the first panel of the UN World Data Forum on Monday morning, 16 January 2017, Wu Hongbo, Under-Secretary-General, UN DESA, said the Forum provides a space to create mechanisms that will intensify cooperation on data and statistics across the different spheres where it is generated and used. Amb. Macharia Kamau, Special Envoy for the President of the UN General Assembly (UNGA), on behalf of UNGA President Peter Thomson, underlined the need to: deliver data for sustainable actions to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs); engage reliable providers and producers of data on SDG implementation; and use disaggregated data to address inequalities and ensure no one is left behind.

Other speakers during the morning session shared experiences from South Africa, China and Hungary, and discussed how geographical information systems (GIS) can provide a framework for organizing SDG data. Enrico Giovannini, Co-Chair, Independent Expert Advisory Group on the Data Revolution for Sustainable Development, urged participants to increase the pace of collecting and analyzing data, as the current pace is not sufficient to address the SDGs and lags behind the work being done by private sector institutions. Stefan Schweinfest, Director, Statistics Division, UN DESA, underscored the need for rules and principles in this new “national data architecture” to support national-level decision making. Pali Lehohla, Statistician-General, South Africa, stressed that data are a public good and called for: coordination through standardization; the separation of property interests from data manipulation; and legislative reform that takes into account the SDGs.

Participants proceeded to engage in 26 parallel panels throughout the day, as well as a panel during which the Forum theme of “New approaches to capacity development for better data” was introduced. The Forum’s other themes are: Innovations and synergies across different data ecosystems; Leaving no one behind; Understanding the world through data; Data principles and governance; and The way forward: a Global Action Plan for data.

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Panel speakers during the opening plenary


Macharia Kamau, Special Envoy for the President of the UN General Assembly (UNGA), on behalf of UNGA President Peter Thomson

Clint Brown, Esri


Daniel Runde, Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS)

Mallory Solder, Advanced Analytics Manager, United Parcel Service (UPS)

Juan Murillo Arias, Territorial Analysis Manager, BBVA Data and Analytics


Session on 'Data ecosystems, coordination and stakeholder engagement'


Sunday, 15 January 2017

On Sunday, 15 January 2017, Risenga Maluleke, Statistics South Africa, moderated the opening session of the first UN World Data Forum. Local children and a student choir opened the Forum by singing the South African national anthem, following which speakers offered opening remarks highlighting the objectives of the event.

Calling for the strengthening of ties, Xanthea Limberg, Cape Town Mayoral Committee, underlined the goal of the Forum to intensify cooperation among statisticians, policymakers, civil society actors, the private sector, academia and other stakeholders to harness the power of data for sustainable development.

Pali Lehohla, Statistician-General, Statistics South Africa, called for thought leadership within the data community to fearlessly eradicate inaccurate or false statistics, and emphasized the role of data and statistics in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030.

Stefan Schweinfest, Director, UN Statistics Division, expressed the desire to bring more people into the data family and said that the UN, which brings people together, is proud to sponsor the UN World Data Forum.

Wu Hongbo, UN Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, said the first UN World Data Forum is an important milestone towards ensuring the full implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. He also highlighted the launch of the Global Action Plan for Sustainable Development Data as a key outcome of the Forum.

Jeff Radebe, Minister in the Presidency for Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation, and Chairperson of the National Planning Commission of South Africa, said open government cannot succeed without open data that is freely accessible to all citizens, and that “numbers will form the bedrock of a better life for all.”

Lehohla and Radebe then presented lifetime achievement in statistics awards to: Katherine Wallman, former Chief US Statistician; Amina J. Mohammed, UN Deputy Secretary-General; Hans Rosling, Co-Founder and Chair, Gapminder Foundation; and Enrico Giovannini, Co-Chair of the Secretary-General’s Independent Expert Advisory Group on the Data Revolution for Sustainable Development.

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The Cape Malay Men's Choir performs a traditional song during the opening ceremony


Xanthea Limberg, Cape Town Mayoral Committee

Risenga Maluleke, Statistics South Africa


Pali Lehohla, Statistician-General, Statistics South Africa

Stefan Schweinfest, Director,  Statistics Division, UNDESA

Jeff Radebe, Minister in the Presidency for Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation, South Africa


Wu Hongbo, Under-Secretary-General, UNDESA


Specific funding for coverage of the 1st UN World Data Forum has been provided by the
Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC)
SDC