Sightsavers set to promote crucial role of data at world-first forum

January 2017

Properly understood, reliable data is central to delivering equitable development.

This is core to the way Sightsavers tries to carry out its mission to eliminate avoidable blindness and support people with disabilities to be fully included within their communities and to equally benefit from their country’s national development process.

That is why Sightsavers is taking part in the world’s first ever United Nations global forum dedicated exclusively to data.

The World Data Forum will explore using statistics innovatively to measure global progress and drive decisions on the ground-breaking Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Governments, academics and civil society groups are among those taking part in the event in Cape Town, South Africa, from 15-18 January.

The forum includes a wide range of specific topics and themes, from the need for improved data through the practical realities of data collection and analysis, and discussions on particular thematic areas and SDGs.

Sightsavers’ Director of Policy and Programme Strategy, Dominic Haslam, will use an address during the event to stress the organisation’s conviction that data on disability, is central to delivering change, targeting resources effectively and ensuring that the promise of Agenda 2030 to “leave no one behind” is fulfilled.

“It’s hugely encouraging that disability has been so prominently included in the global 2030 agenda,” says Dominic. “Now it’s critical for people with disabilities themselves to be included in the implementation and monitoring of the SDGs. This forum is an important opportunity to make this a reality.”

The SDGs recommend that when countries collect data, they break it down to show how different population groups are faring. One such group is people with disabilities and there are specific targets within the SDGs which focus on disability.

Key questions

Sightsavers promotes the use of a simple series of questions known as the Washington Group short set of questions relating to disability. The questions (PDF) simply ask people to grade their ability to carry out everyday activities such as seeing, hearing, climbing steps, washing and dressing. The results obtained by asking these questions are startlingly different from those gained by simply asking people the question “Do you have a disability?” and represent a much truer picture, as they are less susceptible to issues of cultural stigma.

Data collected in this way, and broken down appropriately, is key to delivering not only the SDGs but also the rights set out in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).

“Disaggregated data tells us where particular population groups such as women and men, youth and older people, and people with disabilities are and whether or not they are benefiting from programmes,” says Dominic. “The ability to gather and utilise data is at the core of development progress and it’s exciting to see that importance reflected in this forum.

“At Sightsavers, we believe that everybody counts. If no one is specifically counting people with disabilities in official statistics or project monitoring, it is impossible to assess whether their needs are being met and to deliver the vision of the world foreseen by countries from across the world as they sign and ratify the CRPD, in which people with disabilities are fully included. In order to leave no one behind, in line with the SDGs’ core principle, you first have to understand whose needs are waiting to be met. Without the data, you simply can’t monitor the delivery of the 2030 Agenda to see if people with disabilities are continuing to be left behind.”

Learning lessons

Sightsavers has been running its own project, Everybody Counts, to test ways of compiling data on disability specifically in health projects, and has published valuable lessons on what works and what’s less effective, alongside videos, blog posts and presentations. The idea of this project is to openly share the successes and difficulties in undertaking the disaggregation of data by disability, to allow others to learn from our mistakes, repeat what works, and put our learning into practice in their own health projects but also in education, agriculture, WASH and other sectors.

The 17 SDGs commit countries to delivering dramatic improvements by 2030, including ending extreme poverty and hunger, reducing inequality, improving health access and delivering universal quality education, economic growth, employment. This simply will not happen without the inclusion of the estimated one billion people with disabilities living around the world, 800 million of whom live in developing countries. The only way to know if this inclusion is happening, is to measure it.

You can follow the forum discussions on Twitter using #UNDataForum, or follow Dominic Haslam on @domhaslam123 and @Sightsavers_Pol, or read the forum factsheet (PDF) to learn more about current gaps and challenges.

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