United Nations World Data Forum 2021

Bern 03/10/2021 06/10/2021

The UN World Data Forum 2021 is designed to bring together representatives, users and producers, from various sectors working with data to support the implementation of Agenda 2030.

Date from: 03/10/2021
Date to: 06/10/2021
Venue: Bern
Country: Switzerland
Target audience:
External link:
Related information:

The United Nations World Data Forum 2021 will be held on 3 – 6 October 2021 in Bern, Switzerland in a hybrid format.

The World Data Forum brings together data leaders from national and international statistical systems, academia, business community and civil society, among other stakeholder groups, to foster exchange of ideas, showcase innovations, identify solutions, discuss future strategies, and provide mutual learning opportunities. Both the virtual and in person versions of the third World Data Forum will be organized around six thematic areas.

The Forum will be hosted by Swiss Confederation and Federal Statistical Office of Switzerland, with support from the Statistics Division of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, under the guidance of the UN Statistical Commission and the High-level Group for Partnership, Coordination and Capacity-Building for Statistics for the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

This 2021 edition is expected to have several key outcomes, such as:

  • Showcasing progress made in implementing the data revolution and the Cape Town Global Action Plan for Sustainable Development Data.

  • Demonstrating the value of data and how it can be utilized to improve lives of people.

  • Providing contextual information that helps make sense of today’s abundance of data by strengthening data and statistical literacy and promoting best practices for data in journalism.

  • Drawing attention to data privacy and security challenges and identifying areas where data standards and data governance mechanisms need to be updated to remain effective.

 To register to access the online event platform, please click on the link here. To access the full programme, click here.



Monday, October 4th, 3:00 PM-4:00 PM
Positioning Household Surveys in the Next Decade
Organiser(s): Inter-Secretariat Working Group on Household Surveys (ISWGHS)

Household surveys are a vital component of national statistical systems and a key source of social and economic statistics. They provide data for a wide range of research efforts that inform the design and evaluation of development policies. They are critical for tracking progress towards national and international goals. In the context of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), household surveys are the source of one-third (80) of all (232) indicators, cutting across 13 out of 17 SDGs. Furthermore, household surveys are critical for validating and calibrating machine learning models that combine household surveys with alternative data sources, providing insights with accuracy and precision that otherwise cannot be achieved by using these data sources alone. The need for household surveys is now greater than ever, given the widespread economic and health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic that have resulted in an increase in global poverty for the first time in two decades.

Despite their importance for development, weaknesses persist regarding the availability, coverage, accuracy, timeliness, cost-effectiveness, and policy-relevance of household surveys, particularly in the low-income countries that stand to benefit most from survey data. Household surveys also face challenges such as diminishing response rates brought on by urbanization and higher income levels; coordination failures within overburdened statistical systems; and lengthy questionnaires that can trigger respondent fatigue with negative consequences for data quality. 

In this context ISWGHS has prepared a position paper that covers discussion on the future of household surveys and priority areas for countries to take to build a household survey system that is efficient, cost effective and resilient to shocks such as COVID-19.

The session provides a platform for ISWGHS to present its position paper and showcase innovative approaches taken by its members; and discuss plans to help countries in adopting those new approaches.


Wednesday, October 6th, 8:30 AM-9:30 AM
Microdata Use, Dissemination, and Emerging Issues
Organiser(s): Open Data Watch (ODW); United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF); United Nations Statistics Division (UNSD-DESA); Food and Agriculture Organization of United Nations (FAO)

Microdata from censuses and surveys provide disaggregated data for addressing critical development challenges such as poverty, gender inequality, and food insecurity. Because microdata records contain information about individuals that is lost in the process of creating aggregate indicators, they provide a more nuanced, multidimensional view of the needs of vulnerable people that is essential for validating previous analyses, testing new hypotheses, and designing programs. Without microdata we cannot keep the promise of the Sustainable Development Goals to leave no one behind. The Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics provide that official statistical agencies should be disseminated “to honour citizens’ entitlement to public information” while the data they collect “are to be strictly confidential and used exclusively for statistical purposes.” Like other data, microdata are a public good: virtually costless to disseminate once they have been collected and not diminished by use. As a public good they can be used and reused many times, each time increasing the social and economic benefits from new products and services created or, more indirectly, from efficiency gains and the reduction of transaction costs. Despite the importance of microdata for informing policies and monitoring outcomes, they have remained orphans at the door of the open data movement. Because microdata may include personal or confidential information whose disclosure may cause harm to individuals or establishments, it may be necessary to prevent certain uses or deny access to some kinds of data. Faced with conflicting advice on what can be safely disseminated, governments hesitate to give access to detailed census or survey data, even as private companies collect, share, and sell vast quantities of personal data. This session will explore the ways that microdata are critical to assessing development issues and the challenges of microdata dissemination for both users and data producers. It will present the experience of national and international statistical offices in disseminating survey and census files and examples from data users of the benefits obtained from public access to microdata. As the data ecosystem is changing, this session will also address emerging issues around microdata: how non-official data sources affect the use and possible misuse of microdata; new disclosure control and access methods; and standards for interoperability among data sources.


  • Attila Hancioglu United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), Chief, Data Collection Unit
  • Junping Bao National Bureau of Statistics (NBS-China)
  • Lara Cleveland University of Minnesota
  • Peter Stokes Office for National Statistics (ONS-UK)
  • Pietro Gennari Food and Agriculture Organization of United Nations (FAO), Chief Statistician
  • Haoyi Chen United Nations Statistics Division (UNSD-DESA)

Wednesday, October 6th, 1:45 PM-2:45 PM
From the Ground, Up. Improving Geospatial Modelling through a Collaborative Approach to Ground-Truthing (virtual session only)
Organiser(s): World Bank (WB); The 50x2030 Initiative to Close the Agricultural Data Gap

The Big Data hype is waning, and the refrain that ‘the end is near’ for traditional data sources is being replaced by a growing consensus that sees new data sources as complements to traditional sources rather than substitutes. In the short- and medium-term, the potential of satellites, machine learning, and artificial intelligence is increasing, rather than decreasing, the value of ground data that can be used to calibrate and validate remotely-sensed estimates. Using the agricultural sector as a context, this session blends different perspectives on this question and how it is playing out in global efforts to increase food security and improve rural livelihoods. It draws on views from presenters that are each playing multiple roles as agricultural data producers, users, distributors, developers of new technologies or agents of integration of different data sources. The connective tissue for the presentations will be provided by the 50x2030 Initiative to Close the Agricultural Data Gap, a multi-donor initiative implemented by FAO, IFAD, and the World Bank which aims to support 50 low- and lower middle-income countries to build strong national agricultural data systems by 2030. In the work program of 50x2030 a strong emphasis will be placed on enabling surveys to feed into remote sensing applications that aim to produce actionable, high-resolution data of key indicators at-scale. The session will showcase innovative work that is tackling key challenges for augmenting satellite data and other tech-based data collection methods (e.g. sensors, unmanned aerial vehicles - UAV) by using them in combination with ground data. That will include (a) using ground data to improve crop and yield maps at high resolution in smallholder production systems; (b) collecting objective plant, weather, and soil data through low-cost multiple-sensor stations; (c) performing lab-grade soil analysis in-field with handheld sensors; (d) setting-up an open infrastructure to make ground truthing datasets accessible at scale; and (e) linking traditional and spatial data for official statistics. While centered on applications around agricultural development, food systems and nutrition, the session will spark a broader discussion on the way forward for data integration, as most technical and governance problems around data integration are not sector-specific.