As Paragon is a member of the Global Partnership for Sustainable Data Development (GPSDD), and GSDPP was heavily involved in the organisation of the United Nations World Data Forum,  I was fortunate enough to represent us in two Panel Sessions held there, in Cape Town, January 15-18th 2017

So, what is the World Data Forum? It’s a huge meeting, organised by the United Nations, for National Statistics Offices, NGO’s, Donors, and the private sector – in fact anyone who is interested in helping achieve the UN’s 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) through better data.

Wu Hongbo, UN Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs (2nd left), addresses members of the media at the UN World Data Forum in Cape Town, South Africa. UN Photo/Mbongiseni Mndebele. Read more here.


The GPSDD was set up by the World Bank at the time that the SDG’s were launched – with the aim of making sure that there is good data available to help achieve the SDGs.

It’s recognised that there is actually a fundamental problem at the heart of the efforts to eradicate extreme poverty — a problem of unreliable or non-existent data.  Important decisions about how money and resources are allocated to helping the world’s poorest people are too often made based on data that is incomplete, inaccessible, or simply inaccurate — from health to gender equality, human rights to economics, and education to agriculture.

GPSDD is a global network of governments, NGOs, and businesses working together to bring everyone’s resources to bear on the world’s development data poverty.

And of course, as Paragon, we are ideally positioned to help – since our specific contribution can be to bring the voice of the consumer to the debate – perhaps the most important element of all?!!

What were the 2 panel sessions that were organised by the GPSDD that we participated in, as Paragon?

The Missing Millions

The first was concerned with ‘The Missing Millions’ – addressing the UN directive to ‘leave no-one behind’. The issue is that key populations are being left behind, including children and adults in institutions, children and young people in orphanages, girls and boys living and working on the street, people living in remote rural areas, and homeless populations, including nomads and people displaced by conflict and climate change. Even more at risk are the populations with disabilities within each population.  These groups are left behind because they are simply not counted in the traditional Censuses and Household surveys, as done by National Statistical Offices, and there is very  limited investment and commitment to testing the innovative methods which are required to measure them.

In the Panel discussion we argued that practical changes are needed to address the data gap. Specifically:

  • proper estimation of the resources needed to achieve the necessary changes;
  • collaboration on using new technologies and methods to identify, track, and provide targeted services for these vulnerable groups; and
  • willingness by donors and governments to invest in solutions to the problems

The Panelists and their points of view were as follows:

  • Jenna Slotin, Senior Director for Policy and Strategy, GPSDD, who spoke about mobilizing a data revolution for the Missing Millions.
  • Merel Krediet, LUMOS, who spoke about Vulnerable Children as part of the Missing Millions population.

LUMOS’ objective is to end the institutionalisation of children, by providing family-based alternatives. There are an estimated 8m children in Institutions in in total, and 80% have at least one living parent – a parent who could potentially look after them, given the right support. LUMOS were the driver of the letter: ‘All Children Count, but Not All Children are Counted’ , which has been signed by 250 Civil Society Organisations.

  • Rick Rinehart, Global Alliance for Children, who spoke about some of the major challenges to capturing and acting upon information about vulnerable children, and where they have been successful eg  in Cambodia, to close data gaps and ensure that children are counted.
  • Davis Adieno, CIVICUS, talked about how the missing millions themselves can be part of the solution to closing the data gap. They are not sitting there waiting to be helped – we can  use mobile phones to capture their voice!
  • Rebecca Firth, of Humanitarian Open Street Map,  talked about the unintended downsides for the missing millions  – for example in some countries the indigenous populations are systematically victimised –  and how governments and organizations can proactively mitigate the risks.
  • myself, representing Paragon Partnership  and ESOMAR Foundation, spoke about how Market Research could help and how qualitative and ethnographic practice is necessary to take what people actually think and feel into the equation.  In general the data needs to be more people focussed. Also the public sector can learn from the commercial sector on how to combine data sources.

Additionally there is real  need to spend money on changing public perception of, for example, the Homeless and Street Children. The Missing Millions are not only invisible to NSO’s – they also invisible to most of the general public – there is a need to use more qualitative and ethnographic data to understand their needs, and design solutions that they will adopt.

Questions from the audience mainly focussed on 3 areas: 1) How can you actually count the Missing Millions? 2) Is the Political will really there to do it – what do you do if Governments don’t want to do it? 3) Where is the funding going to come from?

We had an interesting debate! – the most interesting part perhaps being about the funding:

Samantha’s view was that there are cheap things we can do – we should do that and then go for validation. And, when you talk about funding , remember that the cost to the people is actually very high

Jenna recommended that the NSO’s could reduce spending on some of the ‘heavier’ traditional methods, this would release resource to devote to the more complex challenges. The sector needs to open it’s minds to questions of trade-off

Rick commented that there are lots of Donors interested in the issue – some are coming at this from a different direction

Davis said that it was a pity that decision makers are not here – they need to understand that to ‘Leave no one behind’ they need data

Rachel also commented that  she  is seeing different types of Donors. By itself what she does (Mapping)  doesn’t give an answer to an SGD – but you can do a lot with it. Also she recommended harnessing the Volunteers – there are lots of them, and they can achieve a great deal.

I thought that much more use could be made of the Private sector – much can be learnt from them – especially about cost effective methods of data collection, and pragmatic approaches.

Using Data to Understand People’s Values, Priorities and Desires

The second session was about Using Data to Understand People’s Values, Priorities and Desires:

The reasoning behind this session was that most of the people at WDF are focused on data which gives governments, international organisations, NGOs and others information about how people are living their lives: household surveys which record people’s income, the food they eat, how healthy or well educated they are; how data from mobile phones can identify movements of people after disasters or around a city as they go to work each day; how governments are using the new opportunities to increase their knowledge of the populations they serve and, in doing so, serve them better.

But we hear much less about how data can shed light on how people feel, and what they want.  This session was designed to fill that gap.    Governments around the world are investing in surveys to understand what their citizens want and need.  This session was intended to bring together people and organisations with different perspectives to discuss how understanding people’s values, priorities and desires through data can lead to better policy and better outcomes.

Claire Melamed, Executive Director, GPSDD, Chaired the session – which was very well attended by over 200 delegates

The panelists comprised:

  • Nozipho Shabalala, Statistics South Africa – who described how a weighting scheme similar to the CPI basket can be derived from perception surveys of service delivery and preferences to show the science behind multidimensionality in poverty – the novelty is probably having a Citizen Satisfaction Survey in the first place!
  • Jonathan Glennie, IPSOS Sustainable Development Research Center – spoke about how opinion surveys can help governments make better policy.

Jonathan started with a quiz: How many SDG’s? – 17. How many Goals? – 160. How many Indicators? – 230. How many Indicators are perception based? – 4(!). These numbers show that the UN Statistics community are still focussed on hard quantitative measures. We should all read ‘Time to listen’ – published by CDA Collaborative Learning Projects in 2012 – the opinions of 60K people on the receiving end of Aid projects – describing the many well intended interventions which didn’t work long term. Governments don’t listen – there is always perceptual evidence of what is happening available from opinion research eg Gallup/Arab Spring, Brexit, US election – but it needs to be looked at and listened to

  • Boniface Dulani, Afrobarometer – talked about how perceptions data can tell us what people want from governments.

Boniface emphasised the benefit of data from ordinary citizens. Areas benefit: Afrobarometer  have a ‘Lived Poverty Index’ asking people their own experiences – shows that incomes may go up but poverty can still be worsening. Their Governance data is very good. The most important lessons: people want a ‘hand up’ rather than a ‘hand out’ – they want job creation, better education and health systems and better infrastructure. Government can’t know what ordinary people want if they don’t talk to them.

  • myself, ESOMAR Foundation and Paragon Partners – covered why private companies invest in market research and how it can help governments too.

I described how Paragon is making MR data and skills available from the private sector, and made a plea, not only for perception data, but real qualitative and ethnographic data. Researchers are skilled at reaching hard-to-reach groups, and identifying their needs and aspirations. Solutions must be people focused if they are to be effective and change behaviour. We’ve heard a lot about how data must be disaggregated to be useful – but it must be focused on people’s needs to be really useful. Example: lack of availability of reliable sanitary protection leads to girls falling behind and consequently dropping out of school.

  • Molly Jackman, Research Manager, Public Policy, Facebook.

Molly described how  FB helped UNICEF understand what people think. Typically this would be done via F2F interviews and Focus Groups, and be relatively slow.  FB has 108m users in Brazil. 90% of the Brazilian population is online. They saw a huge spike in conversations about Zika. Some data was as expected – but the unexpected aspect was that men were talking more about it – and not just about Zika but also Yellow Fever and other mosquito borne illnesses.

UNICEF launched a data-driven campaign – which reached 4m (would be normally 60K on social media). 80% who saw it said they would take action.

FB can really help during Health crises – identify data gaps – what people need – what people care about. Speed is the essence.

Molly also noted that it is difficult to work with bodies such as the OECD and World Bank – they definitely speak a different language! But the Global Partnership (GPSDD) is making cooperation/collaboration much easier.

During the ensuing discussion many excellent questions were asked and responded to – the one’s that caught my imagination were:

  • The observation that Perceptions are not always right – the current situation can become the new norm. Jonathan commented  – yes, we do need to understand that. IPSOS has just published the Perils of Perception. For example, generally, in Europe, public perceptions of proportion of % of national population which is Muslim is overstated by 5 – 10 times. This is not helpful to the debate.
  • The comment that we need to promote the value of perception and qual/ethnographic data to donors. I said that one of EF’s plans is to put together a training programme for donors and policy makers, and we are working with StreetInvest (Street Children’s charity) to promote the value of all their qualitative data
  • We need to work with good communicators – most people’s perceptions of the data revolution come from films like the new Jason Bourne!
  • Where is perception data most  useful – at technocratic or political level? The answer is both – but it is definitely most appropriate to Policy makers.

Overall, there was a lot of enthusiasm and support for this session – but mainly from the non NSO community. The National Statistical Offices in general still prefer hard data.

We were preaching to the converted – but nevertheless – the converted are numerous, and it is acknowledged that the NSO’s must work with/collaborate the NGO’s and private sector, if the SDG’s are to be achieved.   There is good and encouraging evidence that government and policy makers are beginning to understand that they must listen to the people.

In summary, it was a truly inspiring Conference – everyone there really wanted to make the world a better place, and I came away with many ideas as to how Paragon can help.

But we do need concrete projects to demonstrate our value – definitely a subject for our next meeting…..!


Phyllis Macfarlane
Global Training, GfK, UK, and Treasurer, ESOMAR Foundation

Phyllis has spent the last five years working on the GfK Verein’s University Programme in Africa, now expanding that education work through the ESOMAR Foundation, which also supports the non-profit-sector to use research more. Hence her huge affinity with Paragon – the Industry’s initiative to support the UN’s development goals!