Recap of the UN World Data Forum 2018 and TReNDS’ Biannual Meeting, October 2018

October 29, 2018
Written by Jay Neuner with Jessica Espey

TReNDS joined partners new and old in Dubai October 21-26 to attend the second UN World Data Forum (WDF) and host its own biannual meeting. Read on for the highlights of our activities.


WDF panel on the current and future states of population monitoring, from post-enumeration surveys to commercial data

  L to R: Jessica Espey (TReNDS), Bob Chen (CIESIN), Thomas Kemper (European Commission), Sabrina Juran (UNFPA), Tom Moultrie (University of Cape Town), and Andy Tatem (University of Southampton). Source: Jay Neuner for TReNDS

L to R: Jessica Espey (TReNDS), Bob Chen (CIESIN), Thomas Kemper (European Commission), Sabrina Juran (UNFPA), Tom Moultrie (University of Cape Town), and Andy Tatem (University of Southampton). Source: Jay Neuner for TReNDS

Director Jessica Espey hosted a panel conversation on approaches new and old to population monitoring. The panelists were Robert Chen (Center for International Earth Science Information Network or CIESIN and TReNDS co-chair), Thomas Kemper (European Commission’s Joint Research Centre), Sabrina Juran (United Nations Population Fund or UNFPA), Tom Moultrie (University of Cape Town), and Andy Tatem (University of Southampton, WorldPop, Flowminder)

In part, the session profiled current examples of modernized statistical systems for understanding data on populations; UAE Federal Competitiveness and Statistics Authority (FCSA) Director-General His Excellency Abdulla Lootah provided opening remarks detailing the UAE’s advancements in this realm, including the launch of a data innovation department, use of geospatial and telecommunications data, and analysis of millions of anonymous data records to examine population movement.

Is the census the backbone of population monitoring for most countries? Yes!
— Sabrina Juran, UNFPA
  Sabrina Juran (UNFPA) speaks on the Population Monitoring Continuum panel at the UN World Data Forum, October 22, 2018. Source: Jay Neuner for TReNDS

Sabrina Juran (UNFPA) speaks on the Population Monitoring Continuum panel at the UN World Data Forum, October 22, 2018. Source: Jay Neuner for TReNDS

The assembled panelists also discussed the importance of various methods to consider and account for the “uncounted,” such as disaggregation of data (e.g. from the census) and the use of post-enumeration surveys. Notably, much of the data being analyzed–including sources such as civil registration and vital statistics (CRVS) and administrative data, telecommunications and geospatial data, and similar–have existed for decades. Setting apart the modern age of population monitoring is the fact that new tools exist to incorporate these various sources into analyses–such as combining estimates of residents in a particular type of home and satellite imagery counting the number of homes in a particular region.

Statistics are not gathered in apolitical or ‘atheoretical’ vacuums.
— Tom Moultrie, University of Cape Town

The pros and cons of the various data sources were also addressed, notably in the context of private sector data versus what is publicly gathered and/or available. The panelists noted that the costs and privacy concerns associated with commercial data mean free and open data remain the drivers of new processes. To take advantage of the breadth and depth of private data, it will be partnerships enabling free and open data, as well as joint expertise from the private and public sectors on new types of analyses, that will empower more effective and detailed population monitoring.


Co-chairs and members speak at WDF plenaries, panels, and with partners

TReNDS co-chairs and members also spoke in a variety of plenary and panel sessions. Among these were Open Data Watch’s Shaida Badiee, who drove home the need for better and more financing for data, while CIESIN’s Robert Chen detailed how current earth observation data projects can be further scaled to support the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).


SDSN Association and FCSA sign memorandum of understanding

  Jessica Espey (TReNDS) and His Excellency Abdulla Lootah (FCSA) at the signing ceremony. Source: Jay Neuner for TReNDS

Jessica Espey (TReNDS) and His Excellency Abdulla Lootah (FCSA) at the signing ceremony. Source: Jay Neuner for TReNDS

On the sidelines of the forum, TReNDS (on behalf of SDSN Association) signed a memorandum of understanding with FCSA for future collaboration on the use of data in support of the SDGs. Read more on the new partnership here.


TReNDS expert group and observers assemble for biannual meeting

  TReNDS experts and observers at the biannual TReNDS meeting, Oct. 26, 2018. Source: Jay Neuner for TReNDS

TReNDS experts and observers at the biannual TReNDS meeting, Oct. 26, 2018. Source: Jay Neuner for TReNDS

TReNDS members from around the world came together in Dubai after the UN World Data Forum for a biannual, two-day meeting reviewing current and proposed programs and strategies. Guests from the Community Systems Foundation, FCSA, the Hewlett Foundation, and IIASA also attended and provided their feedback as other civil society organizations, national statistics offices, and funders.

TReNDS members kicked off the meeting with a roundtable discussion on new data technologies and their global uptake. They considered advances in earth observation, big data, and artificial intelligence. They also reflected upon the barriers to widespread use of these technologies, including legal and institutional constraints (such as the mandate of national statistics offices) and capacity.

This session provided a perfect introduction to TReNDS’ latest project, POPGRID, which is being done in collaboration with CIESIN and the Global Partnership on Sustainable Development Data (GPSDD). After a presentation on POPGRID by Robert Chen (CIESIN), the group discussed the format that this project will take and the considerations underway to shift a beta platform (which presents geospatial data overlaid with census data) into a fully functional research platform for data users across sectors. Learn more at sdsntrends.org/popgrid.

Other sessions included:

A recap of the data reconciliation pilot in Colombia, presented by Fredy Rodriguez and Philipp Schonrock (Cepei). More information on this program can be found at sdsntrends.org/data-reconciliation.

The proposal of a new project gathering and analyzing legal agreements in data sharing, presented by Hayden Dahmm (TReNDS), Scott David (University of Washington), and Bill Hoffman (World Economic Forum). The planned output of this project is a library of agreements, which will be supplemented on an ongoing basis; furthermore, each project partner will develop its own outputs based on the repository (e.g. case studies).

How TReNDS can contribute to existing research on financing the data revolution. Shaida Badiee and Eric Swanson (Open Data Watch) reviewed currently available estimates and forthcoming projections. It was agreed that the role of TReNDS will be to advise on these new estimates and to continue documenting the return on investment in data (including the Value of Data case study series).

An overview of the Local Data Action Solutions Initiative (LDA-SI), with contributions from two of our grant programs: guests Jon Kapp and Ruchi Varma from the Community Systems Foundation’s OpenCities Institute, reflecting on their project in India, and TReNDS member Jeanne Holm from the City of Los Angeles, reflecting on that program’s progress in the US. More on the LDA-SI here.


And to balance out this incredible work…

TReNDS staff members and network were honored by the kindness and generosity of the FCSA team throughout the week, including the special treat of a traditional regional meal. Thank you, FCSA!

  TReNDS and FCSA enjoy a traditional regional meal in Dubai.

TReNDS and FCSA enjoy a traditional regional meal in Dubai.