The task of measuring the SDG targets is daunting. In 2017, the UN General Assembly agreed on no fewer than 247 statistical indicators to measure SDG progress. What’s more, every single indicator is an aggregate of thousands of individual data points. Citizens who want to know how well their country is developing can easily get lost in this ocean of information.
For policy makers, experts and activists, statistical data are an essential resource. However, statistics often end up sitting idly on the hard drives of whichever institution happened to collect them. So here is challenge for SDG communicators: how do we get scattered SDG data to the people who need it in a form they can digest?
The Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) has the answer: a one-stop online digital data resource. The SDG Tracker consists of a website and two smartphone apps, all powered by a digital data repository that gathers data on Bangladesh’s SDG progress.
With data on the 17 SDGs and all of their targets, the SDG Tracker is open to everybody and updated regularly. Users can access the data they need in the format of their choice. With visually appealing, pictures, graphics and videos, the tracker had, until 2019, attracted more than 100,000 visitors from around the world.
Different Entry Points for Different Users
The Tracker allows users to approach the data in different ways. They can search by SDG or by indicator. They can also choose to focus on the 39 indicators (among the total of 247) that the Government has identified as being particularly important for the country. Alternatively, they can find data grouped into 12 relatable and easily understood “Thematic Areas” like education, nutrition or the environment, bypassing more bureaucratic language around goals, targets, and indexes.
But users who want more can have it all: a click on the “Explore” button will lead them right into the heart of the database. From here, users can navigate to all indexes and choose between many different views. Typically, the charts show how an index has evolved over time, and whether Bangladesh is on track in relation to the 2030 deadline for the SDGs. Users can choose between various chart formats and decide whether a graph, a diagram or a table suits them best. They can also customize, export, and download data sheets. For analysts and activists, the SDG Tracker includes detailed source references and assessments of validity, helping them assess whether the data meets appropriate standards.
The database software can also disaggregate the data by region in Bangladesh. This has opened the door to innovations, such as a new smartphone app specifically designed for members of parliament and their staff. The “My Constituency” app allows them to view latest data on SDG progress in their constituencies. Another smartphone app (SDG BD) reproduces the entire SDG Tracker website for mobile devices, allowing users to access the data on the go.
The government of Bangladesh attaches great importance to monitoring SDG progress. Its 2020 SDG Progress Report states that: “In order to translate the SDGs and related quantitative targets into concrete policies and actions, progress must be regularly tracked through appropriate monitoring, reporting and verification system.” Alongside the SDG Tracker, the Government also operates a platform with structured data on the impact of COVID-19 on Bangladesh.
Nevertheless, the country’s 2020 Voluntary National Review identifies a lack of data as a problem in various policy areas. Indeed, in the SDG Tracker’s data repository there are quite a number of indicators or policy topics for which no data are available so far. This can inconvenience users with links leading nowhere or to empty data sheets. Yet, the lack of data on a given topic is revealing in itself, showing which people and issues may be being left behind in pursuit of the SDGs. The SDG Tracker thus provides an impetus to train government ministries and agencies in collecting better data.
Sharing insights with other countries
Working with large quantities of data is always a challenging task and the SDG Tracker is mainly an exercise in government-to-expert communication. However, it must also be acknowledged as a strong effort to help achieve SDG 16.10 -“Ensure public access to information”. After all, sharing data is recognised as a way to improve public trust in institutions.
The official project launch video culminates with an appeal to citizens to “Use it!” The website shows that the presentation of data has come a long way from academic journals and hefty books with long columns of numbers. With further communications and training efforts, the Trackers contents could become even more accessible to users who are not versed in economics or social science.
Efforts like Bangladesh’s have generated recognition and interest in other countries too. Peru, for example, has decided to co-operate with Bangladesh to create a platform of its own, in a strong example of South-South Co-operation.
So, if you have data sitting unseen in your office and think the data could be put to better use, then, based on the SDG Tracker, consider the following recommendations:
- Work closely with data providers to make databases as easy to update as possible.
- Systematically arrange your data in accordance with the needs of your users.
- Offer data on different levels of comprehensiveness for different groups of users.
- Visualise your data.
- Let your users customise the data they are interested in.
This post is published in partnership with Engagement Global, a German service agency working on behalf of the Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) to engage civil society on issues of development co-operation.