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Putting rights at the centre of 'data revolution'

31 January 2014

CESR's Allison Corkery has put human rights squarely on the agenda of the conference on 'Data and Accountability for the Post-2015 Development Framework' organized by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in New York on 29-31 January. 

The conference brought together data experts, statisticians and civil society groups from around the world to discuss how to bring about the 'data revolution' called for last year by the UN Secretary-General's High-level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda. The Panel concluded that the purpose of the data revolution was to promote trust between states and citizens by promoting transparency and accountability. While there is broad agreement that new digital technologies and the greater use of "big" and open data can have a potentially transformative impact on accountability in development, few have explored the implications of the "data revolution" from a human rights perspective.

As part of a panel on international frameworks for accountability in development, Allison's presentation Human Rights and the Data Revolution: Catalyst or Casualty? explored the central role of human rights in the post-2015 sustainable development agenda and the critical need for better data to secure greater human rights accountability in this context. The human rights framework can contribute to a genuinely transformative data revolution by offering guidance on what data should be prioritized: how data should be collected, analyzed and disseminated; for what purpose; and who the ultimate users of data are.

Individuals and communities facing poverty and deprivation must be enabled to meaningfully participate in data collection initiatives, opening up official statistics and harnessing big data. Real change can only come about if such data serves to empower those affected to claim their rights through effective mechanisms of accountability. It is also critical to strengthen the capacity of human rights accountability mechanisms at the local, national and international levels to use and interpret such data.

"There are high expectations around the post-2015 framework", said Allison, who leads CESR's program on monitoring and accountability. "Its accountability infrastructure must be more than a weak system of voluntary monitoring and crowd-sourced opinion polls, but must serve to reinforce a web of robust accountability mechanisms. A real power shift comes from recognizing people as citizens and rights-holders, not as mere users and consumers of data."

The event took place just before the final session of the Open Working Group on the Sustainable Development Goals, the inter-governmental forum tasked with drawing up the framework to succeed the Millennium Development Goals when these expire in 2015. According to UNDP, the outcomes of the meeting will "lead to a common roadmap for coherent follow-up actions and advocacy to integrate data and accountability in the Post-2015 development agenda."