PRB CEO Calls For Restoring Public Trust in Data at United Nations Development Event

“If we lose public trust in our data sources, it doesn’t matter the data that we collect,” Jordan said.

PRB’s Jeff Jordan delivers remarks, seated between Claire Melamed Global (Partnership for Sustainable Development Data) and Tapiwa Jhamba (UNFPA).


On July 19, PRB President and CEO Jeffrey Jordan participated in a side event at the United Nations High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development focused on promoting the use of population data to solve global problems.

The event, “Data for Sustainable Development: Introducing the UNFPA’s Population Data Portal 2.0,” was moderated by Priscilla Idele, Chief of the Population and Development Branch at the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). It included government representatives, private sector representatives, nongovernmental organizations, and virtual participants from around the world, including Chile, Moldova, the United States, and Zambia.

The event aimed to promote the use of population data in general for accelerating recovery from COVID-19 and for working toward the full implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the ICPD Programme of Action, Idele said.

“As you all know, what gets measured gets done, and we cannot achieve what we cannot measure. And that is the importance of this session,” Idele said.

The event also served as an introduction to a new population data tool from the UNFPA, the UNFPA Population Data Portal, “which has the latest quality-assured data that is geospatial to allow us to make sure that nobody is left behind,” Idele said.

During the discussion, Jordan remarked on the importance of developing subnational-level data to support local actors in reaching their development goals. He also emphasized the importance of ensuring public trust in data and called on governments and the private sector to work together to support laws and practices to protect this trust.

“If we lose public trust in our data sources, it doesn’t matter the data that we collect,” Jordan said.

Jordan’s comments followed remarks by Claire Melamed, CEO of the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data.

Video of Jordan’s comments and a transcript are below. The full event video is available here.

Remarks by Jeffrey N. Jordan, President and CEO, PRB

Thank you for this opportunity. And I see great hope right now when I look at things like the PDP [Population Data Portal] 2.0 in terms of just all that it does for understanding for use, for mixing data sets, for bringing in multiple layers of data and, again, for visibility, to particularly look at the subnational level data. I think too often, and we’ve seen many times where we create datasets to create international comparisons, and that’s wonderful and that’s lovely, but that doesn’t do anything for a local policymaker or a local civil society organization or an implementing agency to be able to do something specific and to use that data, so data use is certainly my big issue.

But playing off of what Claire [Melamed] just said, the concern that I have in the future—and I have great hope for future trends, I have great hope for the way we’re using big data, the way we’re using multiple sets of things to find people, to understand people—but we also have a problem right now in terms of trust, and the trust of individuals in the data, and the trust that they are, that their privacy is being respected, that there’s transparency in the collect and use and other kinds of things. And probably the single largest concern for me is that as we lose public trust, or if we lose public trust in our data sources, it doesn’t matter the data that we collect.

We’ve certainly in the U.S. seen great distrust in data sources and government collection of data and other kinds of things as we faced the COVID crisis, and those types of issues greatly concern me, that’s probably my single biggest concern for the future of this. Everything that we’ve said today gives me great hope for what is possible and what we are trying to do with it, but if we don’t strengthen laws within all of our countries that protect privacy, that protect rights—as we move towards more inclusive data, that is wonderful, and there are great things that we can do with it, and there’s great fear within that as well—if we cannot, as nations, correct that, work together—and that involves the private sector, that involves where were going with the use of mobile phone data, the use of other kinds of things.

So again, the great hope—I love what Claire had to say—the idea of agency, we want people to be counted, and if you don’t register them, and you don’t know that they exist, they have no agency, they can’t even start there. So, all of that is highly important. But if we don’t maintain that trust, then we lose in the long run, we lose the game.