Southern Voice on Post-MDG International Development Goals (Southern Voice) organised a session at the first-ever UN World Data Forum to explore the significant potentials and possibilities of the think tanks to contribute to addressing the formidable challenges in view of the data revolution in the context of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The session’s point of departure was that think tanks will be key players in tracking the implementation of SDGs through generating reliable data, measuring results and monitoring various measures taken as part of the implementation process.

The session, which was held on 17 January 2017 at the Cape Town International Convention Centre, brought together distinguished data and development experts both from the think tank members of the Southern Voice network and beyond, who participated in a lively debate and discussion around how the think tanks could best contribute to realising the envisaged data revolution as generators and users of evidence-based information and also by providing innovative solutions.

The introductory presentation was delivered by Mustafizur Rahman, Executive Director, Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), Bangladesh. The discussants of the session included Johannes Jûtting, Manager, PARIS21, France; Sarah Lucas, Programme Officer, Hewlett Foundation, USA; Francesca Perucci, Assistant Director, United Nations Statistics Division (UNSD), USA and Saadiya Razzaq, Senior Research Associate, Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI), Pakistan. The session was moderated by Debapriya Bhattacharya, Chair, Southern Voice and Distinguished Fellow, CPD.

The panel delved into modalities of collaboration between think tanks, national statistical offices and the wider data ecosystem. These ranged from consultation and concordance as regards sampling techniques for data collection, methodologies and analytical tools to be used in the interpretation of data.

The key messages which emerged from the session include:

  • National statistical offices can see think tanks as their potential allies for implementing the data revolution in the national context.
  • Think tanks can play an important role in arriving at common methodologies for generating data and commonly accepted definitions, particularly for those indicators that are not clearly defined as yet (the so-called Tier III indicators).
  • Think tanks are uniquely positioned to interpret the data that are generated, and for leveraging those data to draw policy recommendations for SDG implementation.
  • Members of the data community, including national statistical offices and think tanks, will need to work towards developing a relationship of trust through closer interaction and collaboration.
  • Think tanks should be strong advocates for transparency and accountability with regard to data and evidence to monitor SDG implementation.

Think tanks in the Global South have the experience, knowledge and motivation necessary to overcome data challenges in the national and global contexts. Southern Voice, with its strong representation of Southern think tanks in the country and global contexts, should remain proactively involved in generating the data, evidence and knowledge to push forward the data revolution.