UN World Data Forum 2021

Highlights and images of main proceedings for 5 October 2021

The UN World Data Forum continued for its third day.

The UN World Data Forum continued for its third day.

Claire Doole, Doole Communications, moderated a high-level panel on counting on data and statistics during pandemics and other disasters. Manja Kargbo, Freetown City Council, Sierra Leone, said social distancing and lockdowns are not always enforceable, noting her city adopted locally-suited approaches, such as restructuring markets to streamline visitor flow.

Manja Kargbo, Freetown City Council, Sierra Leone

Aidan Eyakuze, Executive Director, Twaweza East Africa, said his organization conducted phone-based polls to assess how communities are responding to the pandemic, noting this helped governments tailor their crisis communication. Carol Coy, Director General, Statistical Institute of Jamaica, underscored the challenge to adapt data collection methods where face-to-face approaches were not possible. Neal Myrick, Global Head, Tableau Foundation, noted disaggregated data is key to risk messaging to individuals, for example to address myths on mask use. Oliver Morgan, World Health Organization (WHO), highlighted challenges in navigating geopolitical tensions and dealing with diverse national reporting standards. 

Oliver Morgan, WHO

On building trust, Kargbo said fake news can be overcome by embedding community structures for data exchange, highlighting data collectors who understand community nuances. Morgan noted that embracing different data sources helps move out of information bubbles. Eyakuze suggested “making uncertainty our ally,” sharing innovative approaches, such as satire, to help connect people to the data. Myrick underscored that the power of data is to use it to tell stories. Coy reflected on the need to hire communication specialists to help disseminate data effectively.

Responding to questions, panelists explored how to center data communication on people, highlighting innovative ways such as engaging “infomediaries,” including influencers and healthcare workers. Eyakuze described a television programme that used data to confirm or contradict people's beliefs about COVID-19. Kargbo shared a successful intervention using informative jingles in public transport. 

Moderator Arthur Honegger introduced the high-level plenary on trust in data. James Lowry, City University of New York, outlined methods for fostering data trustworthiness, including assigning custodians and designing audit systems. He cautioned against conflating participation and trust.

Julia Lane, New York University, called for a “democratization” of data, noting new technology supports accessing data in a confidential manner and suggesting tiered approaches for data access. Anirudh Burman, Carnegie India, noted the challenge in India is less about “building” trust, born out of necessity, and more about “maintaining” trust.

Anirudh Burman, Carnegie India

Pam Dixon, Founder and Executive Director, World Privacy Forum, identified emerging social norms around data that call for establishing modern data governance. She lauded the forthcoming Indian data law which criminalizes re-identification of anonymized data, noting this is key to increasing public trust.

Pam Dixon, Founder and Executive Director, World Privacy Forum

Mulenga Musepa, Interim Statistician General, Zambia Statistics Agency (ZamStats), said the national strategy for development of statistics included apps to integrate and coordinate statistics in Zambia.

Drudeisha Madhub, Data Protection Commissioner, Mauritius, called for a citizen-centric approach to data protection, noting citizens and economic actors have different views on where the problems with “trusting data” lie.

In discussions, panelists addressed, among others: the use of aggregated telecommunications data in crisis response; governments relying on private sector actors rather than building in-house capacity; and uncovering biases in technology development.

Selected Videos from the Parallel Sessions

Annie Namala, Wada Na Todo Abhiyan

Jennifer Madans, Washington Group on Disability Statistics

Bapu Vaitla, Data2X

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