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Visualizing Progress: Data Insights from the Atlas of Sustainable Development Goals

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The 2023 Atlas of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is a visual resource showcasing progress and setbacks in achieving the SDGs through interactive storytelling and data visualization. It provides decision-makers, the development community, academics, journalists, and the public with data insights for each of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals and introduces concepts about how some SDGs are measured.

At the midpoint of the 2030 Agenda, the insights of the Atlas reinforce the importance of strengthening global partnerships to tackle the formidable development challenges that lie ahead, and supplement efforts by partners.

00:00 Welcome: Umar Serajuddin, Manager in the Development Data Group at the World Bank

02:32 Video: Introducing the 2023 Atlas of Sustainable Development Goals

05:16 Opening Remarks by Indermit Gill, Senior Vice President and World Bank Group Chief Economist

08:17 Lightning Talk 1: We can end poverty without harming the environment.

11:37 Lightning Talk 2: Better access to freshwater can be a boon for gender equality

16:48 Panel discussion exploring innovative approaches advancing the goals, moderated by Haishan Fu, Chief Statistician of the World Bank, Director of the World Bank's Development Data Group, and Co-Chair of the Bank's Development Data Council

- Ola Awad, President, Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS)
- Alan AtKisson, Assistant Director-General and Director, Partnership and Innovation Department, Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA)
- Francesca Perucci, Assistant Director, UN Statistics Division (UNSD)
- Anna Rosling Rönnlund, Vice President and Head of Design & User Experience, Gapminder

1:05:44 Closure

[Umar Serajuddin]           

Welcome to this event and thank you everybody for joining. I am Umar Serajuddin. We have an exciting hour ahead of us. We'll get to know a little bit about the Atlas. Then we'll hear from the World Bank Group's Chief Economist, Indermit Gill, our Chief Statistician, Haishan Fu, then, will moderate a discussion with distinguished guests and I'll let her introduce them later. Finally, we will be joined by Axel van Trotsenburg, the Senior Managing Director of the World Bank, to offer some closing remarks.

Now, many of you probably have heard of Florence Nightingale. She tended to wounded soldiers during the Crimean War in the 1850s, and she came to be known as the Lady with the Lamp. She also became the founder of modern nursing. What you may not know about her is that she was an influential data visualizer. She analyzed the horrific living conditions in the hospitals, and concluded that it was in the battle wounds, more so diseases, which were killing many of the soldiers. She explained her findings through elaborate data visualizations. One of them was a pie chart, a variation of a pie chart called a rose chart. What she did was she used her charts to convince lawmakers, the general public and the medical profession, that sanitation saves lives. The nursing profession was never the same again. This was actually a case when data saves lives and visualizations became one of her preferred ways of communicating. She actually said this that, "Whenever I'm infuriated, I revenge myself with a new diagram."

Now compared to then, today we are inundated with data. While we must continue to work to fill data gaps, any remaining ones, we also need to do most with what we have.           

That is what we try to do in the Atlas, and it is grounded on the SDGs. Let's just get to know the Atlas a little bit. The video, please?

[Video Narrator]             

Where do we stand in our efforts to end poverty worldwide? How much progress have we made towards achieving affordable and clean energy? How can we respond to the human and economic costs of climate change?

The sustainable development goals or SDGs established by the United Nations in 2015 offer a framework of 17 global goals, which aim to end poverty, protect the environment, and ensure prosperity for all by 2030.            

2023 marks the midpoint for achieving these goals. The World Bank's Atlas of Sustainable Development Goals presents interactive storytelling and data visualizations, to describe progress towards each of the 17 SDGs. The first SDG calls for an end to extreme poverty in all its forms everywhere. That is also one of the World Bank's goals. The good news is since 1990, the world has made extraordinary progress in reducing extreme poverty.

You can see this in the Atlas. The number of extreme poor declined from about two billion people in 1990 to fewer than 700 million in 2019. COVID-19, however, eroded progress. In 2020, another 70 million people fell into extreme poverty. Current projections suggest that 574 million people, 7% of the global population, will still be living in extreme poverty by 2030. You can explore these issues and more in the Atlas.

Many of the stories highlight the impact of climate change on the SDGs, including on gender equality and transportation. The Atlas aims to be a reservoir of knowledge about the SDGs for policymakers, academics, journalists, and the public at large. We follow an open data, open code, open knowledge approach. In this spirit, anyone can download all its data, code and visualizations.

Check out the SDG Atlas stories with interactive maps and visuals. It can help us understand where we stand in our efforts to achieve sustainable development goals.

[Umar Serajuddin]           

Thank you. I hope you enjoyed the video. I will now pass it on to our Chief Economist, Indermit Gill. The Atlas is a product… Indermit is my boss's boss, but just like the Atlas, he is very approachable and transparent, kind of an open data, open-code type person. Indermit, passing it on to you.

[Indermit Gill]                  

Thank you very much, Umar. Thank you very much, panelists, and thank you, Haishan. It's a pleasure for me to join you today for the launch of the 2023 Atlas of Sustainable Development. We know that without accurate data, it is impossible to track progress and assess where the resources are being allocated effectively towards the achievement of these goals. We know that good data is critical to achieving them.        

This involved not just generating new data, but also maximizing the value of existing data and reaching a wider audience. While the World Bank has numerous publications, I think that the Atlas stands out for its ability to make this completely demystified. I think that it is really good in providing decision makers, the community that's actually working on these SDGs, as well as academics and journalists and the public with reliable, timely, and granular data.

It communicates progress and challenges through compelling visual narratives, and it makes data accessible and transparent. I think that it's a truly World Bank publication with input from our global practices, as well as our regional and country teams. It's truly an open data product, even more so than I am. It has open code, it's open access, it's free for you all to use, and it's truly cutting edge. Don't take my word for it. Take the word of what Neil Phantom, who was a former colleague of ours in the data group, and now is a statistics commissioner on Saint Helena Island. Here's what he wrote after looking at the Atlas. He wrote and I quote, "Even with the terrible internet we have here, it is absolutely phenomenal, incredible. I'm blown away. You've taken this to a completely new level. Really, really good. Probably the best statistical output I've ever seen."

I can't give you a better endorsement than that. With those words, I hand it back to Umar. Thank you very, very much for asking me to be part of this. Thank you.

[Umar Serajuddin]           

Thank you so much, Indermit, for your kind words. In the Atlas, we look at all 17 SDG goals. While looking at it, it's hard to miss the interconnectivity between them, how they complement each other and also where there are trade-offs. My two colleagues, Daniel Mahler and Anna Fruttero, will now present such themes. Video, please?

[Daniel Mahler]               

SDG Target 1.1 aims to reduce global extreme poverty, which is the share living on less than $2.15 per day, to less than 3%. Unfortunately, many countries are still far from achieving that target, and they'll need to grow their economies substantially in order to get there. Past economic growth has in part been achieved through the reliance on fossil fuels. If this trend continues, then achieving future growth could create attention between the poverty goal, SDG 1, and SDG 13 which calls for urgent actions to combat climate change.

This story will try to answer the big question. Can the world reach the 3% poverty target without significantly adding to global warming?

Take the case of Mali, a country with high levels of extreme poverty and low levels of greenhouse gas emissions. As its economy has grown, so have its emissions. It's estimated that Mali needs to quadruple its income in order for the country to reach the 3% poverty target.

If historical patterns continue, this means that Mali would also need to be quadrupling its energy emissions per capita, in order to reach the poverty target. Is it possible to make strides in poverty reduction while limiting the impact on the climate? SDG Target 7.3, which calls for countries to become more energy efficient, has a role to play. If Mali's energy efficiency gains are similar to the top 10% seen across countries over the past decade, then Mali would only need to increase its energy emissions by 33%, instead of quadrupling them to reach the poverty target, or if Mali experiences pro-poor growth in line with SDG Target 10.1, then less growth is needed to push the poorest above the poverty line. Concretely, if Mali reduces inequality at a rate seen among the top 10% best performers historically, then the economy would only need to double instead of quadruple in order for Mali to reach the poverty target. If Mali follows this path, then less growth and less emissions will be needed to reach the poverty target.

As the data and the Atlas less show, there are opportunities for easing the tension between poverty reduction and climate change, but it requires looking at the SDGs holistically and understanding where other goals, such as reducing inequality, could help on both fronts.

[Anna Fruttero]               

Over the past 20 years, global access to water has steadily increased. SDG 6 calls for ensuring availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for everyone. But the progress achieved in water access is threatened by increasing demand for fresh water and the impact of climate change on the water cycle. Fresh water represents only 2.5% of the total amount of water available on the planet.

In most countries, water resources have been steadily decreasing. Take Pakistan for example. Between 1964 and 2020, the availability of water resources per capita decreased by 80%. Adding to that, Pakistan has one of the highest water withdrawals in the world, meaning that less and less fresh water is available for general population to use.

Availability of water also impacts another SDG, SDG 5, which calls for achieving greater equality and empowering all women and girls. Globally, one in four households lacks access to safely manage drinking water within their homes. Often, within these homes, the burden of collecting water falls heaviest on women and girls. In approximately four out of five households without pipe water, it is women who are tasked with the collection, especially during crisis. In Uganda, under normal weather conditions, women and girls spent an average of four hours per week fetching water, while men spent one hour, and boys, 3.5 hours per week.

However, during drought, the time that women spent fetching water increased by 20%, and for girls, it increased by 40%. On the other hand, the time that boys and men spent fetching water remain unchanged. The water scarcity can have profound repercussions for women and girls, leading to limited time for income-generating activities and educational pursuits. Furthermore, the physical burden of carrying water can give rise to detrimental health effects, including chronic pain and disability.

Climate-related events, such as droughts, have a negative impact on women and girls in other ways too. A study conducted in Sub-Saharan Africa revealed that following a drought, child marriage increased by 3%, combined by a 3.5% to 4% increase in adolescent fertility rates.

As the data in the Atlas show, we can address gender equality, SDG 5, by looking at the SDGs holistically. Understanding where other goals, such as access to clean water, SDG 6, and climate action, SDG 13, can impact women and men differently.

[Umar Serajuddin]           

These were some snapshots from the Atlas. Please check it out and let us know what you think.

Florence Nightingale owned up to the mistakes she made. She would actually issue meticulous errata. We want to be like Florence. We want to be open about what we do and please help us with this.

I'll now introduce Haishan Fu, our Chief Statistician, and she'll moderate the panel discussion. Haishan?

[Haishan Fu]                     

Thank you, Umar, and thank you, Indermit. Actually, thank you all for joining us today to release this beautiful, new SDG Atlas together. As acknowledged by Indermit, three things about the Atlas make me particularly proud. One, the Atlas is truly the pinnacle of our effort at the Bank, to harness the enormous potential of data to inform policymakers and the public on development.

We strive to do so with this publication through insightful and interactive storytelling, and creative and immersive visualization. Two, the Atlas is the epitome of our commitment to open data, open code, and open knowledge, through which we aim to build trust in what we do and enable others to pursue similar endeavors.

Third, the Atlas is really representing the best of collaboration among partners. It really would not be possible without the invaluable contribution of many colleagues across the Bank, as well as our partners around the world.

With that pride, it's really a great pleasure for me to join our four panelists, who are prominent experts in sustainable development and developed data. We have Dr. Ola Awad, the President of the Palestine Central Bureau of Statistics and the Co-Chair of the United Nations High-Level Group for Partnership Coordination and Capacity Building for Statistics for the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda. We also have Mr. Alan AtKisson, Assistant Director-General and Director for Partnership and Innovation at the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency known as SIDA. He has been working to promote sustainable development for over three decades. We also have Mrs. Francesca Perucci, Assistant Director of the United Nations Statistical Division, who has been overseeing the preparation of the United Nations annual global progress report on SDGs. We also have Ms. Anna Rosling Rönnlund, Vice President and head of Design and User Experience at Gapminder, a non-profit venture that promotes sustainable, global development by fostering public understanding of development through increased use of data.

What a great pleasure to join you all. We will have a couple rounds of discussions, and I will also want to hear some of your reflections on what you want to take away from the new Atlas.

We will start with Ola. Ola, as you know, the Atlas aims to make the best use of available data to highlight progress and challenges towards achieving the SDGs. How do you think the global public goods as SDGs, can help National Statistical Offices better respond to data needs and unlock as much value from data as possible? How can a product like this help guide national policymakers in prioritizing their policy choices? I think, Ola, are we still connected with you?

[Umar Serajuddin]           

Looks like she dropped off, Haishan, so maybe we will move on.

[Haishan Fu]                     

All right. We'll wait for Ola to come back. I'll turn to my friend, Francesca. Francesca, as you know, one of the purposes of the Atlas is to complement UN's Global Monitoring Report, including going beyond the official SDG indicators to illustrate specific progress and pressing challenges. We have done so since 2017. If you reflect on this process, at this midpoint of our respective global efforts, where do you think we have done well through the SDG Atlas? Also, what will the upcoming UN SDG Progress Report say about the opportunities offered by existing and new data, in our effort to track progress and motivate acceleration?

[Francesca Perucci]        

Thank you, Haishan. Hello and hi to everybody. Thanks for giving me this opportunity to be with you today, and with my dear friends at the World Bank Development Data Group.

Well, first of course, huge congratulations to all of you, to the whole team. I think I couldn't agree more with our friend Neil on his comments. This is a fantastic product. I think it goes well beyond the fact that you have very beautiful visualizations and interactive tools in the Atlas. That really allows the users, I think, to get a deeper understanding of the goals and the targets, going well beyond the simple presentation of the indicator. I think what the Atlas does is it offers something that none of the other products. As you all know, there are multiple products, visualization tools, dashboards on SDGs at global level, regional level, on the thematic side. But none of the tools that I've seen does what the Atlas offers, which is understanding the interlinkages across the goals and targets, understanding and offering really good stories around the possible synergies and trade-offs across the different targets and goals. We've seen that in the presentation just now, on the example on how you can reduce poverty without allowing energy emissions to skyrocket and how that can be achieved, giving really clear visualization of the possible scenarios of what countries can do. We've seen that across the whole goals, like on goal 11, for instance, there is a clear link between how you can achieve the targets on goal 11. Looking at what happens in goal two, in goal 13 on food security, food loss, food waste, how that impacts cities, and goal 13 on climate change. Throughout the Atlas, I think you offer that and again, I think it's done really well. It's done in a very, very powerful way, so congratulations.

I think as you say, Haishan, this complements what the other products like our report can offer to users.

Our report, which is the official where we say the official SDG report that is produced annually, has a little bit more constraints, I would say, in the sense that it is produced based on the official indicator framework, following what member states agree within the mechanism of the interagency and expert group on SDG indicators. It's a lot more formal in a sense, and it's what goes to the high-level political forum every year and informs the political discussion. There are agreements around the key messages.

But again, our report tries to offer data too in a way that really can point, especially in this landscape of data scarcity, we have to make the best use of the data that we do have and really use the data in the most impactful way to raise awareness on key policy shortcomings, and also areas where the most urgent actions are needed. Also, it's important to provide a good understanding to the public of the fact that data is central to the implementation of the SDGs, and the lack of data is a cause of concern, also raising awareness on the importance of improving our data statistical systems around the world. But I don't want to be all negative. Probably the data statistical systems we have today are not where we would want them to be in all countries, but we've made some good progress. If you look back at when we proposed the SDG indicator framework in 2016, we only had data for 115 indicators of the whole framework. Now, we have data for 225, almost doubling the coverage for the overall SDG framework, which is composed of 231 unique indicators.

I will congratulate our community here. We've all worked very closely together, including with you, the development data group, to advance the data and statistical systems in countries. Also, the unprecedented data demand for the 2030 agenda, I think has really been a catalyst for innovation. We've seen increased use of non-traditional data sources like administrative data, satellite imagery, mobile phones, and more recently, cities and generated data. Even the traditional data sources, such as house surveys and censuses, have become a lot more efficient through new approaches, new tools, like web data collection, for instance.

But more importantly, there have been efforts to make them a lot more inclusive and to allow for better data integration across different data sources, through new data interoperability tools and approaches. Our report also shows that the data at the national level SDG data and indicators, have really helped improve the relevance of SDGs in overall policymaking, in the overall development of national plans.

Also, stronger and more inclusive data systems where there've been efforts toward that have also helped SDG policymaking, especially getting closer to fulfilling the ambition of leaving no one behind. Finally, I'd like to say the SDG indicators, although we do not love them all, some are very complex and difficult for countries to produce, but those indicators and the platforms that countries have been able to produce, have really facilitated the alignment of the SDGs to national policies. But I will stop here and be happy to hear from the other colleagues their views. Back to you, Haishan.

[Haishan Fu]                     

Thank you. Yes. No, thank you so much, Francesca. Thank you for being such a strong, close partner in all what we're doing. Also, for your leadership through this whole SDG monitoring framework development, and the implementations of the framework and the global monitoring effort. Thank you so much. I'll come back to you later.

Now, let's turn to Anna. Anna, it's such a pleasure to have you here. We've known each other for so long and I've followed your work for so many years. You can see that our product is influenced, actually inspired, by your impressive work on how to tell the best stories about development. Gapminder has always been pushing the frontier of creative use of data, to portray development trends and counter misconceptions among the general public. I really love your book “Factfulness” and thank you for the copy. In this day and age, when misinformation and fake news ever more pervasive, how can we effectively use data for the purpose of actual truth telling? How do you see data communication, visualization, storytelling must further evolve, to motivate fact-based through this course around progress towards SDGs?

[Anna Rosling Rönnlund]

Well, so start by saying thanks for having me. I am so happy to see what you have achieved because when you look at the amazing storytelling on top of still interactive data, what I think you are actually doing is that you're finally relieving us from some heavy work we have been doing. I'm really grateful and I'm looking forward to continuing doing things together in the future as well and trying to get the data more in the hands of the users because I do think that is the big shift.

When we started 20 years ago, the data existed but it was hard to find for people, and hard to use for people and organizations and so on. Now the data is available, you can find it online. Now, I think, we're at the point when it's a question about how people should be data literate enough to use it. How we can help by meeting halfway, by making data presentations that make sense to people, without having to invest years and years in statistical training.

I think I would say, I think we have a huge task ahead of us, but I do see that now we are becoming more people doing it. I'm actually pretty confident that we will take it away. I think you've done an amazing job doing that.

One of the biggest things that we are struggling with at Gapminder at this point, I would say, is that even though the data exists, and it is findable, we still see that people seem to have a worldview that is not totally relying on the data that is actually available for them to upgrade the worldview.

I think part of it is about storytelling on top of data to tell relevant, important data stories, and help them choose the most relevant indicators so they are not drowning in data. Because as you might know, people are usually not very interested in statistics, not as much as you would hope. We cannot hope for them to spend days and days and days. We need to cut through telling a few relevant stories, and hope for the best and then continue and push for that data.

I think then the important part is not only to tell the stories, but also make sure that people can find the data behind the stories. So that they can go back, and they can check for themselves, and they can pick and choose in the material and do things with it. I honestly think we, as a group working on this, are actually on the right path. I think it has been a long bumpy ride, but I do think we are seeing the way forward. One thing is to get it in the hands of decision makers because they need to understand it. Maybe they need even more easy, understandable data than all the rest, because they have so limited time. We need to make sure that they have good data at hand to make good data-based decisions.

But then, we also will need to think about how we can make sure that the media in the news reports are actually integrating data of big, global trends and proportions. The kind of data that is usually forgotten. You hear about extreme happenings in the moment, but you seldom get the integrated data that you would need.

Maybe with a tool like the one you have provided now, maybe they can actually start integrating at a better speed. I'm actually very optimistic, but it's probably a long ride ahead of us, but I am optimistic honestly.

[Haishan Fu]                     

Yes. Thank you so much, Anna. I really must take this opportunity to acknowledge how you and our beloved late Hans Rosling and Ola worked together many years ago, to push for the open data agenda. I could still remember how you guys came to us and showed us what can be done with data, but also the potential of making data openly available. Thank you very much for that.

[Anna Rosling Rönnlund]

Well, thank you for doing it. Thanks.

[Haishan Fu]                     

Yes, that's why we continue to push for this open data, open code and open source, and open knowledge agenda.

Now, let me quickly turn to Alan. Alan, SIDA has been such a critical partner in our collective effort to support countries to make progress towards achieving the SDGs, including through your significant contributions to the SDG fund hosted by the Bank. You also generously supported us in preparing or producing the Atlas over the past number of years.

I would imagine as a development agency, where and how to allocate your funding for the most impact must be a priority. Given that, it would be great to hear from you, what value did you see in the Atlas that convinced you that you should fund it? How do you see this particular Atlas would influence your organization's policy prioritization decision?

[Alan AtKisson]                

Well, thank you so much, Haishan, for that. First, a warm expression of thanks from our side for this event and for the product that your team has produced. It's spectacular in its quality, both visually and technically. Also, hello to colleagues old and new. I'm glad to see folks on the screen that I haven't seen for some years, for example. We at SIDA are so happy about the SDG Atlas. You were right, Haishan, this is something that we've supported through the SDG fund.

I looked into our databases here at SIDA earlier today. I discovered that the very first document that started the process of considering whether to help start the SDG fund with the Bank, was in fact opened on June 20th. That is to say exactly five years and one day ago, so this is something like a five-year celebration also. With the SDG Atlas being a particularly beautiful flower in a bouquet of initiatives that have emerged from the SDG fund.

It's probably good to know that from a systems perspective how we see the SDG Atlas. We didn't choose to fund the Atlas, we chose to fund the communities. The Bank and its partnerships' ability to take forward small but innovative projects that had catalytic potential. Also, had the potential to create new partnerships across the entire Bank and UN family, as well as external partners, which you spoke to earlier, Haishan. This is a prime example of that kind of work.

Other projects that have come out of that fund, for example, have included programs that have created thousands of new jobs for women or helped refugees start new businesses. The bouquet runs from this kind of product, which is an information product, to boots on the ground kinds of processes. But all of them have in common with this project, the potential for significant, catalytic impact, where a small investment from all of us together, has the potential to reach many people and stimulate new information.

The SDG Atlas has made me personally happy. I've been working on these issues for a long time as my friends, Anna and Francesca, who I haven't seen for a while, know. I should note that I see enormous potential here. On the one hand, I'm grateful with what you've already done. That is to say the systemic perspective that the SDG Atlas supports, the SDGs themselves are systemic but the storytelling around the data, which was exemplified in the excellent videos we just watched has the potential to really make that fluffy concept of systemic interaction very real, and make it real through clear narratives based in the hard data that's behind those stories, so that's wonderful.

Transparency, the open source model. We also greatly appreciate that. The creation of a true, global, public good with a capital “G” on good.

Then what I'm interested in, beyond the beautiful visualizations, et cetera, will be the next steps in the storytelling processes, as Anna was into. You, sitting at the Bank, can do things, as Francesca was talking about earlier, things that the UN system in its more formal sense probably can't do. For example, I used to argue against super aggregated indicators for all kinds of reasons. I'm sure Francesca would not like them, but it is a way of getting attention.

Wouldn't it be interesting to, as a next step in the Atlas, produce some estimation from a data perspective, how far along are we? Are we one-third of the way to the goals? Are we two-thirds of the way to the goals? These can, of course, open tremendous, statistical arguments, but they also attract policymakers because users, at the end of the day, include everything from school children to prime ministers.

I'm reminded of a wonderful story from the earlier days of sustainable development indicators, where the Finnish person who had responsibility for producing the report every year for the Finnish government, managed to get in, well, it wasn't a break-in situation, she was invited to do this, but she placed brochures with the most recent indicators in front of every minister's seat at the meeting where they were going to discuss sustainable development policy. It was an enormous success because they could not resist looking at the data and referring to it in the policy discussion. I'm looking forward to similar stories coming out of this fantastic product. Whether it's iPads around a particular discussion table or not, I leave it over to you to figure out what the best way is to move that agenda forward. But moving this beautiful data to the next step of use and decision-making processes, all the way from the classroom to the boardroom, is something that we look very much forward to.

In closing, because I'm eager to hear the other speaker on our panel and to have some discussion, let me just note that the challenge of bringing data to this conversation is not small. But it's truly important through visualization, through access, to put the awareness into the space, not just the numbers themselves, but the idea that the numbers exist. Even that requires a certain amount of salespersonship, shall we say, and alerting people that they may not even be perfect but don't let the perfect be the enemy of good policymaking based on the evidence that we have because the evidence gets better all the time, as we heard from Francesca in terms of the accumulation of data. I always used to say, if you don't have the number, put a question mark in the report. Within a year or two you'll have the data, because some graduate student will want to produce it.

I end by saying thank you so much for this product. We warmly congratulate you from SIDA, the Swedish National Development Cooperation Agency, and I look forward to continuing the journey together.

[Haishan Fu]                     

Thank you so much, Alan, both for your support for this product, and also for the insight you just shared.

I now notice that Ola is back. Ola, just very quickly turn to you. How do you see the Atlas as global public goods, could help support you at National Statistical Office, unlock the data or the value of the data that you have and also to meet the demand from policymakers? Do you see a product like this Atlas has a value in guiding national policymakers in prioritizing their policy choices?

[Ola Awad]                        

Thank you, Haishan, and apologies for the interruption I had. First, I want to congratulate you on this great achievement, which will be of great help for us as National Statistical Offices. Now, we are in the era how we can work, how data can make a change, how data can be really utilized by everyone, by policymakers. How it can be a kind of, actually, monitoring tool. The Atlas for us is one of the best examples that we can really benefit from.

I remember our experience with you in 2017, we did our poverty Atlas in Palestine with your help from the World Bank, and it was such a great tool for more data access and more data utilization. That's what we're looking for as National Statistical Offices and how data can make a change. Now with this Atlas, which brings all countries all together, can really bring tagging these different indicators, disaggregated by gender, by income. This is so important for data accessibility, for more even detail utilization, for more progress and monitoring, this is on one hand.

On the national level, it would be such a great tool to customize it at the national level. We don't take it maybe as each country has its own maybe priorities, which can be a bit different from the others. This can be really customized to our needs at the national level, and this is really so important.

I may also add for us, it is also more how we can really enhance our partnership, how we can really focus on the partnership, and be more engaged with different sources and different partners in that perspective. Every time, it's not a matter of how to bring in new data, it's also about how we can utilize the existing data. This is where we can bring the Atlas on board.

We know that we can really talk about a bit from the challenges' perspective, especially at the national level when it comes to financing. This could also be another opportunity to be helped by the different international partners at the national level, and also on the global effort. Thank you.

[Haishan Fu]                     

Thank you so much, Ola. I'm so glad you're back because your voice is so critical in this discussion, so thank you so much.

Now, let's just change gears a little bit. We've been talking about how to make use of and maximize the value of existing data.

Now, I want to turn to the issue of data gaps and data availability, and how we best invest in getting the best data to support our development decision-making and tracking progress.

As you all know, among the SDG indicators framework, for eight of the 17 SDGs, fewer than half of the 193 countries or economies have internationally covered data from 2015 onwards. That's a huge gap. We have been able to do some, but there's many that we were not able to really look upon. At the same time, we also know investing in low and middle-income countries data and statistics are not only necessary, but also smart. There was a recent study of past data investment in selected areas, which showed that an average return of 32 US dollars for every dollar invested. It makes good sense, but why is it not happening enough?

This is where I have questions for each of you. For Ola, I'd love you to share some thoughts on how we help our partners, international organizations and donors. What do you expect from us to help break those barriers in countries so that we can really invest properly in data and statistical systems in your country?

For Francesca, I would like you to also share some thoughts on how do we make the best case to convince donors and governments to invest in the data system necessary for us to support the achievement of SDGs?

For Anna, perhaps around building capacity of broader users of data and where we should focus on, what approach will be best for us at the level of the capacity in using data to communicate best, and to promote truth and the right understanding?

For Alan, of course, as a development agency, I'd love to hear how your organization is prioritizing investment in data systems and better statistics to support SDGs.

In that order, I'll start with Ola.

[Ola Awad]                        

Thank you so much. As I just mentioned previously, started talking about the challenges that we are encountering here as National Statistical Offices. The first one we're talking about all the time... I'm sorry, let me just turn it off. I'm talking about the financial challenges that the National Statistical Offices all the time are facing. Mainly, in our countries, especially the developing countries, with all the challenges that the developing countries encounter when it comes to data, when it comes to the National Statistical Offices, we don't have this kind of priority at the national level. This is one of the main challenges that we are encountering. Within the development of the work that we are encountering, this is a new development area on working on SDGs with more demand for new data with different data sources. It becomes more and more challenging.

The other challenge that we are encountering is the development of our IT technology because within this huge demand on data, also we started to face a challenge on the development of the IT infrastructure part of the modernization of the work that we are encountering.

There are some other challenges when we talk about the political barriers. For us, the Atlas could be really of great help in different perspectives. The first one, we can have more partnerships with you as World Bank with different international organizations, to help us on the financial perspective on covering more data sources. It can also be on providing more technical assistance and capacity development to the National Statistical organizations. The other thing that can help us is, as I said, how we can bring data and how data can make a change in our country at the national level and at the global level. It can be actually an advocacy and awareness tool for promoting data driven for decision making.

I may say also from our perspective as National Statistical organization is how we can build more partnership at the national level and at the international level, in order to have more engagement with the local and global stakeholders, as an expanding available resources in achieving the SDGs. I may also say the Atlas can help us in developing the statistical performance indicators as a framework for the five pillars and the 22 dimensions to assist the maturity of the National Statistical system.

There's really a need for more efforts in promoting great data used and availability to prevent data from remaining unused.

[Haishan Fu]

Thank you so much. I'll turn to Francesca and then Anna and Alan, in that order. Just brief answers.

[Francesca Perucci]        

Okay. I'll try to be brief, Haishan. The question to me, it's not an easy one. How do we make the best case? We're in a time of multiple crisis. We have only a few years to rescue the SDGs and we see how difficult that is. We know data is central to addressing all that, but we also deal with shrinking budgets. Donors don't have enough money. It's a question of how we prioritize from their side when we look at the overall landscape of international, global support.

Where do data fit into the list of priorities? We see that a lot of other things, emergency relief and the work, and there are so many other areas, and COVID took up a big chunk of the ODA. Where do the data fit into all that? I think the data and statistical community have a responsibility to show what can be done with the limited resources. How we can be more effective with the way we spend the money, but also where we channel those funds. There's a lot of fragmentation let's say from the community, the way we cooperate with countries, the way we offer our support. We have to work on that front, but also how we channel those resources, what really needs to be strengthened.

I think the case we should make is that what needs to be done, is really to work with a holistic approach in building this overall data and statistical systems within. I stress the word inclusive again. Those have to be inclusive systems.

We need to reprioritize where we put the money, building systems that are really mainly geared at understanding where the vulnerabilities are. How you make sure that you capture all those parts of society, the ones who most urgently need those actions to accelerate the SDGs to address the crisis, etcetera.

But then we also need to demonstrate the impact of data and that we are not very good at doing. We should improve that and make a strong case on how data really makes the huge difference in increasing the effectiveness of programs in health, in education, the environment. In showing what we saw with the Atlas, the interlinkages across the different policies. That's again why it's important to take this holistic approach, look at data integration, look at interoperability. Establish that data coherence that brings the policy coherence. I think that's my pitch, let's say. That's where I would focus. Back to you, Haishan. I hope I wasn't too long.

[Haishan Fu]                     

No, thank you so much. Yes, now Anna.

[Anna Rosling Rönnlund]              

Thank you. Yes. I will try to be brief and I'm not sure if I'm going to be the most relevant in my brief.

I do think that the big portion is already done. As long as you have data production going on, but it's too little and too small volumes. As long as no one sees the data or uses the data, you can keep doing it that way. It will continue to be a low priority in the systems because no one could claim it would matter, because no one had seen the data or even the reason why they should be done.

I think by making the data visible, making it comparable between countries, making it obvious when countries lack data because when you look at the SDG indicators, there are so many indicators that are actually having either basically no data or very scarce data, or for extremely few countries. I think it's important to make that whole area visible, because then people will start looking at their neighbors and see, "My neighbor has this number, but we don't, why don't we?" You will start getting that internal debate.

On one hand, it's a question about making sure that people have a technological system to report data that is a standard way of reporting. Making the data free, making it less problematic for them to actually add the data. Lower the burden they have to do to actually produce and give away the data, and also make sure that everyone else can see the data. I think that is a starting point.

Maybe, we should also say maybe the SDGs have too many indicators. Maybe, it could also be done the other way around, saying that having all these 200-ish indicators. Maybe, we should actually internally at the top cut a few and say, "These ones were on our wish list, but we haven't managed to get enough data quality and it wasn't realistic. It's in the dreams for the future." Maybe, even going from top-down and actually admitting that the result might have been too expensive of an approach.

That might be something as well, because I think one of the hardest communication pieces is just getting the public to understand 17 goals is a lot, but when you tell them about the targets and the indicators, and then when you look at them and they basically lack data, it's not a very sexy thing. Maybe, it has to go the other way around too.

[Haishan Fu]                     

Yes. Thank you for that. Now, Alan, you are muted.

[Alan AtKisson]                

What a rookie mistake, sorry. I strongly agree with what Anna about the need to get data into use. I'm going to give a very disappointing answer to the question you posed, Haishan, how we are prioritizing. We at SIDA, like the rest of our partners, our Ministry of Foreign Affairs has announced that it's going to be announcing a reform agenda for our development aid policy and that will affect how we prioritize.

I can't tell you how we're going to prioritize data going forward until we get new instructions from our government. But I can say that we have invested quite a lot in data, and we have high expectations that it'll continue to reap benefits and pay dividends from this project, for example, from other investments that we've made for many years, such as Paris 21, where I know that Ola, for example, serves on the board. That's a very important partnership, that SIDA is also supported. We will continue to be supportive of and speak out about the need for data, but I can't give you any kind of a decision about how we're going to prioritize till I get directions from my government.

[Haishan Fu]                     

Yes, no problem. I'm not forcing an announcement. I'm just really glad to see the longstanding position to support the investment in data and development of SIDA, so thank you very much.

Now, since I have Anna with us, I cannot do what she used to do, is to give a little bit of a quiz to our panelists. I'd love to know from each of you very briefly, maybe 30 seconds or one minute is that for example, Ola, what are the findings from the Atlas that you believe would surprise the public in your country the most? Or from Francesca, which finding in Atlas impacted you the most in relation to the SDGs that you have been helping to monitor? Or Anna, do you find any findings in the Atlas that go against people's most common misconceptions, as you have been observing throughout the year? Also, for Alan, what is the one finding from Atlas that resonates with you that you like everyone to take away from? Maybe, this time, I'll go from a reverse order. I'll ask Alan first.

[Alan AtKisson]

Goodness, you've definitely caught us all, Haishan, I'm sure.

Now, I'll just speak from you asked what I personally reacted to. What I like about the SDGs and about the Atlas, is that in addition to being systemic, they're democratic and they put all the needs on the same page, you might say.

While there are many other indicators that I thought were important, I thought the indicator set around goal 14 was particularly enlightening because that is a goal that you can measure how little attention that goal gets, and yet it has to do with two-thirds of the earth's surface.

The nutritional needs, 15% of the protein that particularly people in lower-income countries rely on, I was very happy to see the way that that was visualized, but there were many other things that I was excited about.

[Haishan Fu]                     

Thank you. Now maybe Anna.

[Alan AtKisson]

Now Anna is muted.

[Anna Rosling Rönnlund]              

Yes. Okay. For the last three, four years, we have been testing the general public about what they really know about the SDGs, so I think I am a little bit colored by that when I answer but actually, I think what people will be most surprised by is when you see the overall patterns, when you see all countries come together in all the overviews, and can see the global pattern and see that there are huge differences between different places on earth when it comes to these indicators. It's more on a general face. But from what we have experienced in the past years, is that people are truly, truly wrong about everything being human development moving forwards. I think that might be one of the biggest problems to communicate. Part of it is better than they think, but we're still far from reaching the goals and keeping both of those thoughts in the mind at the same time, it's a pretty tricky thing to communicate.

I think there you will have the biggest surprises for others. I'm not sure where mine is at this moment, but along that.

[Haishan Fu]                     

Great. Francesca?

[Francesca Perucci]        

Yes. Thank you, Haishan. I don't know if I can be surprised by the SDG data because I see them for lunch and dinner. I would say the thing that attracted me the most was the scenarios that you present in the Atlas because I think that's a very powerful, interesting way of looking at what can be achieved. You can use that to talk to countries and say, "Look, this is what you could do. You could really grow by reducing inequality. You could reduce poverty without having high energy emissions, etcetera."

You were asking me what impacted me, I think what really made me very depressed at the end, I scrolled down all the goals, and it was very interesting and all that. Then you look at goal 17 in the chart, and it almost made me cry thinking, "how are we going to achieve the SDGs if the aid for what really needs to be done, the development side, is not increasing or actually going down?" Of course, that's because you have other emergencies that donors are dealing with. That was a little bit of the sad story that made me even more depressed after having read my own report on the lack of progress. Back to you.

[Haishan Fu]                     

Yes. Thank you so much. Now, last but not least is Ola.

[Ola Awad]                        

Thank you. I'm so happy as a chief statistician because for us the Atlas, for the SDGs, it's really a good tool for us for data accessibility and data utilization. It is really so important when I talk about a comprehensive overview of SDG progress, emphasizing on the regional disparities and gender inequalities, climate change impact, and so forth. This is also so important for the decision makers.

Also, the Atlas reveals significant advancement in some areas and also highlighted challenges in some other areas and that's also important. Also, looking at the country, in the different regions on the global overall is so important. Also, the Atlas for us is really good when it provides interesting data breakdowns, as I mentioned before, by gender, by income, by age, offering really valuable insights into different dimensions of development, progress and challenges. Thank you.

[Haishan Fu]                     

Thank you. Thank you, all the panelists, so very much for this fantastic discussion. Really, I'm just really thrilled and grateful to all the thoughts and insights you shared and the recommendations that we'll take forward. Thank you for your recognition of our effort to really push the frontier to be more effective in communicating about development through the effective use of data.

As Umar mentioned earlier, that not only our World Bank Group’s Chief Economists really recognized the importance of such a product, and also the World Bank’s Senior Managing Director, Axel, also committed himself to come to help offering some closing remarks. The thing is that he is stuck in a high-level summit in Paris on debt issues and he really tried to come, but the discussion was still going on there.

If you would allow me, I'd like to share some of the remarks that he has stressed that he would like to convey to all the participants here. As Axel stressed, the Bank fully recognizes that achieving the SDGs will require a collective effort from governments, international organizations, civil societies, and the private sector.

Collaboration enables us to leverage each other's strengths and expertise, and allows us to pool resources, share data, knowledge and best practices, and coordinate efforts to maximize impact. We at the World Bank are fully committed to working with the United Nations and other partners to make progress on sustainable development goals, despite the enormous challenges we're all facing today.

Achieving the SDGs will require significant investments in infrastructure, education, health and other areas. This is where the Bank's financial assistance and technical expertise have and will continue to drive meaningful and lasting results, but it's not only about financing. The availability of timely and reliable data is critical to achieve SDGs.

Data helps to measure progress, identify gaps, and inform decision-making. Without accurate data, it is impossible to track progress and ensure that resources are being allocated effectively. The World Bank is not only a development and knowledge bank, our goal is to also become a data bank. This involves not only generating more data, but also maximizing the value of existing data and reaching a wider audience.

While the Bank has numerous publications, the Atlas stands out for its ability to demystify development. It provides decision makers, the development community, academics, journalists, and the public with timely, reliable and granular data and informative storytelling. It communicates progress and challenge through compelling visual narratives, making data accessible and transparent.

We want this free resource to help guide decisions on what policy choices to make, especially now as we cross the midpoint in the implementation of the SDGs. We also hope that others will follow our lead in explaining development through innovative approaches like the Atlas.

As we approach the half point, we must accelerate progress so countries can regain lost ground due to COVID, food and other crises.

We really want to work with all of you and I, on behalf of our Senior Managing Director, thank you all for joining us. A special thanks to our panelists.

From me, a really heartfelt thanks to the team, who worked tirelessly with all our partners to make this product possible. Now, today it's out in the world. Thank you all very much. Now, I give Umar the floor.

[Umar Serajuddin]           

Thank you all for joining. Just a few words before we go. Development is about partnerships, and you can tell the Atlas was one heck of a partnership.

One of our partners over the years has been our panelist, Francesca Perucci. Francesca, after decades of service, she'll be retiring next month, and she has just done so much. There is SDG monitoring, she is at the heart of it. Francesca, to us, you have been a giant, and thank you for letting us stand on your shoulders. We will miss you.

Speaking of people who stood on your shoulders, I want to introduce my colleagues, Florina Pirlea and Divyanshi Wadhwa, without whom the SDG Atlas would not be possible. The philosopher, Martha Nussbaum, talks about practical hope, like hope you actually do something to achieve, rather than idle hope, and you two and the SDG team are practical hopers.

Thank you so much and thank you everybody for joining.


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