COVID-19 has tested and proved that timely and reliable data are critical for saving lives and fighting a global health pandemic. Once the data were available, policymakers could then take informed and calculated decisions about the response, researchers could get to work on medical treatments and vaccines, and citizens could make informed decisions on which precautions to take.

But COVID-19 has also revealed global divergences in the capacity of data and statistical systems to meet the demands of a global health crisis. In OECD countries, policy makers are just clicks away from robust evidence and user-friendly data and statistics to guide fast-paced decision-making. They are also equipped with the budgets, regulations and capacity to innovate and use new technologies to collect and analyse more real-time and granular data which guide and shape economic stimulus packages and measures to ensure policies and services like social protection benefits everyone, especially the most vulnerable people in society.

The reality in many developing countries is radically different. According to World Bank data, for instance, 93 low- and middle-income countries (out of 135) do not have complete data on vital events such as births and deaths, making it impossible to know what the impact of COVID-19 on mortality was with any certainty. Twenty developing countries have not conducted a population census in over a decade and 21 countries have not conducted a poverty survey in the past five years, which hampers targeting public policies such as social protection to the neediest and most vulnerable populations.

The COVID-19 crisis has made it clear that having quality data and statistics on all populations is a global concern. Just like climate change mitigation, research and financial stability, data are a global public good requiring adequate investment and governance. As we set new priorities and mobilise resources to “build back better,” we must step-up collective commitments and investments to meet countries’ needs and demand for modern, capable and more resilient data and statistical systems to ensure that everyone counts and is counted.

The OECD’s Data for Development Profiles show that members of the OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC) have long been engaged in improving the availability of key data and statistics in low- and middle-income countries. But supporting national statistical capacity and systems poses significant challenges. While DAC members have long recognised the principle of country ownership for sustainable results, support has at times led to fragmented or duplicative efforts that have failed to gather sufficient local buy-in. In addition, development co-operation providers find themselves faced with trade-offs between short-term data collection for project design, monitoring and evaluation and long-term, strategic investments in data and statistical systems that inform countries national development strategies. Innovations in sourcing and using data thanks to digitalisation hold great potential for guiding SDG plans and investments with greater public accountability. However, harnessing the data revolution requires capacity to engage in new partnerships and design governance frameworks to ensure data are trustworthy and privacy rights protected.

Responding effectively to these multifaceted challenges calls for more deliberate and systematic alignment and co-ordination of international co-operation for data to local needs and priorities and finding synergies for greater impact and less waste due to duplication. Effective support must build on a deep understanding of country contexts to enable the right targeting of capacity building, technical assistance and more sustainable investments. The lessons shared in this publication show that international development actors can best champion the effective role and contribution of national data and statistical systems for sustainable development by investing over the long-term in national priorities and capacity gaps, identifying and upholding good practices and sharing evidence and insights from evaluation and research on what works and why.

The OECD is committed to supporting its members’ and partners’ ambition to be strong and reliable partners for evidence-minded policymakers and official statisticians. These Data for Development Profiles are a first and constructive step in the journey to realise this ambition: they provide rich and unique insights into how DAC members use development co-operation to strengthen data and statistical systems in low- and middle-income countries. This wealth of knowledge should be used to identify good practices, to ensure more co-ordinated, more effective support, and to help put data and statistics to work for all.


Jorge Moreira da Silva


Development Co-operation Directorate

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