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UL Participates in the First United Nations World Data Forum

Reprinted: UN Sustainable Development

February 21, 2017

The inaugural UN World Data Forum, held January 15-18 in Cape Town, South Africa, was sponsored by the UN Statistics Division and hosted by Statistics South Africa. The focus of the meeting was to improve the ability of the world’s nations to measure progress and achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which contain 17 objectives to transform our world by the year 2030. The countries of the United Nations adopted these goals in 2015 to seek an end to poverty, improve global health, fight inequalities and combat climate change. While the SDGs are not legally binding, national governments are expected to establish plans and drive the achievement of the goals.

UL became involved in the UN World Data Forum through its work on the UL Safety IndexTM, a data-science initiative that has engaged global players in health, demographics and policy. UL’s participation in the Forum was designed to identify the role that the UL Safety Index may play in assessing and measuring progress toward the SDGs; to develop important data sources and techniques for analyzing that data; and to cultivate partnerships to extend and improve the Index.

The 17 global goals are supported by 230 indicators that measure specific aspects and quantify progress toward achieving the outcomes. With more than 200 countries committed to this process, participants may begin to address the magnitude of the data challenge into more manageable concepts. Low-income countries are particularly challenged to produce quality data on a national level, so the Forum was designed to promote collaboration on data, statistics and analysis between all UN members.

The UN World Data Forum helped UL clarify how it can share safety information and build partnerships to gather additional safety data.

The UN Statistics Division (and most national statistical offices) encourages public-private partnership approaches that share business and government data prompting effective decision-making to achieve the SDGs. Most people are aware of the explosion of data that is collected by multinational corporations and nongovernmental organizations. Harnessing this data will provide a robust source of information that will reduce the overall burden of collection by national statistical offices. Furthermore, the overall data ecosystem is woefully incomplete, so it is necessary to tap into the sources that are evolving more quickly than statistical systems.

Improving safety, specifically reducing injury and certain chronic diseases, is an important element of the SDGs, yet there are relatively few organizations focusing on these topics. With the exception of road safety, which has a Global Action Plan, most topics are left to individual governments to solve. Based on the attendance at the Forum, only a few NGOs and private organizations are focused on safety issues.

Citizen-generated or crowdsourced data are becoming increasingly important. Several sessions at the meeting highlighted successful case studies about the use of mobile phone platforms, apps, and other grassroots methods to capture the “ground-truth” about people throughout the world. Some of the more innovative solutions included the use of Twitter in Kenya to gather information on gender inequality issues; the use of sensors on surfboards to capture water temperature and chemistry in vulnerable habitats; and broad-based survey approaches to understand economic and environmental data in remote locations.

Disaggregated data was consistently discussed across all Forum sessions. The SDGs represent a comprehensive program theme of “leave no one behind.” Insights about where populations need to improve outcomes leads to understanding data at a detailed level and recognizing the specific challenges they face. Researchers must simultaneously understand the big picture with national level programs and tailor interventions to address specific challenges to achieve goals.

UL’s mission, which is to improve safe living and working environments for people, directly supports a number of the SDGs. Broadly, UL’s expertise and services support the UN’s global goals through:

  1. Reducing injury, disability and death due to safety hazards, including several chronic diseases, particularly in young people. (SDG 3)
    1. Reducing road traffic injuries and death.
    2. Reducing the number of deaths and illnesses due to hazardous chemicals.
  2. Promoting safe and secure work environments. (SDG 8)
  3. Improving the resilience of global infrastructure to withstand and recover from extreme events. (SDGs 1 and 11)
  4. Promoting reliable and sustainable energy. (SDGs 7 and 13)
  5. Assisting companies to adopt sustainable business practices and report on sustainability initiatives. (SDGs 12 and 13)

The UL Safety Index is an algorithm-based data science initiative that provides individuals and organizations relevant data to explore safety, inform policy and investment choices, and make science-based decisions for a more secure, healthier and safer world. The information, dialog and feedback received at the first UN World Data Forum will be used to enhance the UL Safety Index’s strategic plan to improve, expand and communicate its findings. The Forum was an important step toward meeting the Sustainable Development Goals, and it enabled UL to form a better sense of how it can assist countries in achieving the SDGs through the success of UL’s mission of “working for a safer world since 1894.”


Article graphic posted from UN Sustainable Development Goals.