“Towards Data that Empowers our World” is the theme of the Fourth UN World Data Forum (UNWDF 2023), which kicked off on Monday morning with a curtain raiser press conference. This was followed by a formal opening ceremony in the afternoon, during which a diverse range of professionals, including information technology specialists, geospatial information managers, data scientists, civil society stakeholders and media, heard statements on the meeting’s expectations. High-level representatives of Hangzhou City and Zhejiang Province also presented experiences with and achievements in digital transformation.
During the press conference, Li Junhua, Under-Secretary-General, UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA), drew attention to the forthcoming Hangzhou Declaration, which is expected to accelerate actions of the international data community.
Mao Shengyong, National Bureau of Statistics, China, reported that more than 4,000 people are expected to attend UNWDF 2023 in person representing academia, civil society, and other stakeholders. He reported that 40% of registered participants are women and 34% of participants are under the age of 45.
Xu Wenguang, First Vice Governor, Zhejiang Province, noted that digital transformation is the main engine of Zhejiang’s economy, and highlighted plans to further strengthen digital innovation to generate a world-class information technology industry.
Yao Gaoyuan, Mayor of Hangzhou, mentioned that the city is the headquarters of digital companies such as Alibaba and H3C, which provide digital payment solutions for consumers and businesses.
Stefan Schweinfest, Director, UN Statistics Division (UNSD), noted that most of the new data capture technologies and solutions to be presented at the 2023 Forum are enabled by geospatial information systems, highlighting the significance for the upcoming 2023 Geospatial World Forum (GWF).
Francesca Perucci, UNSD, stressed that inclusive data requires increased efforts from all stakeholders to capture data from and represent those who are invisible in the current data ecosystem.
Shaida Badiee, Managing Director, Open Data Watch, said the Forum’s outcomes should include modalities for: filling data gaps required to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs); building capacity across the world, for both data production and data literacy; and increasing national investment in data and information systems.
The Official Opening Ceremony, featuring high profile dignitaries, was moderated by Kang Yi, Commissioner of the National Bureau of Statistics, China.
Ding Xuexiang, Vice Premier of the State Council, China, on behalf of President Xi Jinping, said China is improving its digital infrastructure, establishing sound data systems and sharing experiences to support SDG implementation. Ding, speaking in his own capacity, highlighted the importance of a fair and just digital environment to promote poverty reduction and narrow the digital divide between the global North and the global South.
In a video message, António Guterres, UN Secretary-General, stated that data, when applied to progress and development, represents in the 21st century what oil did in the 20th century. Noting that progress on the SDGs has stalled and even reversed, he stressed the importance of turbocharging the transformative power of data to achieve the SDGs.
Li Junhua, Under-Secretary-General, UN DESA, stressed that inequality with respect to the availability of data between countries is generating a divide with implications for development policy.
Ola Awad, President, Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS), remarked on the rapid response by the global data community to the COVID-19 pandemic and stressed the opportunity that the Forum provides in the global recovery phase of the pandemic.
Yi Lianhong, Party Secretary for Zhejiang Province, said Hangzhou City deploys mega-city digital governance solutions to improve efficiency in service provision, this being part of President Xi Jinping's vision for a digital Zhejiang.
Following the high-level speakers, participants enjoyed a colorful presentation of Hangzhou’s main cultural, historic, and gastronomic highlights. These included the main scenic spots in Hangzhou City, a selection of world-famous culinary specialities, and nearby natural sights, including the Xixi National Wetland Park, the Qiandao Thousand Island Lake, and the Tangqi Water Town.
As delegates gathered for the opening, their eagerness to delve into substantive discussions on data was palpable as they greeted each other in the corridors, and shared business cards and updates on their current projects. Several expressed hope that the Forum would accelerate the momentum built in digital transformation to build back better following the COVID-19 pandemic.