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Data for Development

The data revolution is rapidly transforming every part of society. With a bit of investment and foresight, spelled out in a new UN report, it can also drive a sustainable development revolution, and accelerate progress toward ending poverty, promoting social inclusion, and protecting the environment.

NEW YORK – The data revolution is rapidly transforming every part of society. Elections are managed with biometrics, forests are monitored by satellite imagery, banking has migrated from branch offices to smartphones, and medical x-rays are examined halfway around the world. With a bit of investment and foresight, spelled out in a new report, prepared by the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), on Data for Development, the data revolution can drive a sustainable development revolution, and accelerate progress toward ending poverty, promoting social inclusion, and protecting the environment.

The world’s governments will adopt the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at a special United Nations summit on September 25. The occasion will likely be the largest gathering of world leaders in history, as some 170 heads of state and government adopt shared goals that will guide global development efforts until 2030. Of course, goals are easier to adopt than to achieve. So we will need new tools, including new data systems, to turn the SDGs into reality by 2030. In developing these new data systems, governments, businesses, and civil-society groups should promote four distinct purposes.

The first, and most important, is data for service delivery. The data revolution gives governments and businesses new and greatly improved ways to deliver services, fight corruption, cut red tape, and guarantee access in previously isolated places. Information technology is already revolutionizing the delivery of health care, education, governance, infrastructure (for example, prepaid electricity), banking, emergency response, and much more.

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