No data, no progress

Posted on 19/10/17 by Amy Keegan (WaterAid UK)

“If 142.6 billion USD falls in the forest of development and no one hears it, does it matter?”

The newly released Annual Development Co-operation report from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) opens with this question. If progress isn’t measured, how do we know if progress is happening at all? This year the OECD’s report focuses on the need for an increase in data within development. This focus reflects a wider call within the sector of the need to develop capacity for measuring progress.

Data in development

There are huge data gaps around the world. 44% of countries worldwide do not have comprehensive birth and death registration data. 87% of countries worldwide do not have a dedicated budget for gender statistics. Only 37 countries have statistical laws that meet UN standards. No data exists for two thirds of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) indicators. 

Figure 1: Number of countries with capacity to deliver fundamental statistics, 2016. (Source: Data for Development, Development Co-operation Report, OECD, 2017)

Why does data matter?

The impact of ODA is felt in many countries around the world and affects the lives of millions. However, a lack of comprehensive data is preventing an accurate picture of progress and stalling the achievements of the SDGs.  Without being able to measure impact, it is impossible to understand the needs of people, make accurate decisions and properly target ODA where it is most needed. If there is no measurement for how many people lack access to a service, it relinquishes the government of responsibilities to providing the service. The report highlights that countries lacking data disproportionately ignore the poorest in society. This leads this already ignored group to become further marginalised.


Figure 2: 2016 Open Data Inventory average scores on data coverage and openness, by country income groups. (Source: Data for Development, Development Co-operation Report, OECD, 2017)

With the developments in technology over the past decade, it is now easier, faster and cheaper to track progress than ever before. However, OECD shows that investment in this area is sorely lacking and its share of ODA must be increased. Between 2006 and 2015 on average 0.27% of ODA went to statistical support.


Figure 3: Number of countries with capacity to deliver fundamental statistics, 2016. (Source: Data for Development, Development Co-operation Report, OECD, 2017)

Data gaps in WASH

These gaps in data are apparent in the water, sanitation and hygiene sector. The recent release of the SDG baseline by WHO and UNICEF's Joint Monitoring Programme had substantive gaps in data. Only 96 countries (representing 35% of the global population,) can report on safely managed water, and only 84 countries (representing 48% of the global population,) have reported on safely managed sanitation. 70 countries had hygiene data, not enough to produce a global estimate. There was also a lack of disaggregated data on inequalities such as wealth quintiles, gender or age.  

Figure 4: Safely managed water figure. Grey countries indicate that there is no available data for that country. (Source: WASHwatch Global Water Map, 2017)

What needs to be done?

The OECD report gives six recommendations for actions that development partners and governments can make to increase the capacity for statistics at a national, regional and global level.

Figure 5: Six Data Actions. (Source: Data for Development, Development Co-operation Report, OECD, 2017)

Two years into the SDG era and we lack access to data that would allow us to monitor progress. More must be done by governments, donors and development partners to ensure that we leave no one behind. If there is no data, there will be no progress.  


Amy Keegan is a Policy Officer for Monitoring and Accountability at WaterAid UK. She tweets as @amy_keegan