In 2015, the United Nations agreed the Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
From a statistical perspective the implications of Agenda 2030 for the accompanying monitoring framework are enormous, as not only have the number of goals and targets increased considerably (The MDGs had 8 Goals, 21 targets and 60 indicators whereas the SDGs have 17 Goals and 169 targets and 230 indicators) but so also has the complexity of these targets.
The scope of Agenda 2030 is also far wider than their predecessor, attempting to span the full spectrum of development issues, including not only aspects of society, economy and the environment but also institutional coordination.
This massive increase in scope and scale raises real questions regarding the capacity of national and international statistical systems or what others have described as 'data ecosystems' (Jütting, 2016) to implement such an enormous monitoring framework.
The complexity and ambition of this challenge led Mogens Lykketoft, President of the UN General Assembly to describe it as an 'unprecedented statistical challenge' (Lebada, 2016).
This paper argues that to prioritise the data requirements of the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) monitoring framework, requiring 230 global indicators and spanning the full spectrum of development issues, over the development of national statistical systems may be a mistake.
Rather, countries should prioritise the development of efficient national statistical systems that are sufficiently flexible, responsive and affordable to satisfy the enormous appetite of the SDG monitoring framework but also national and regional information requirements.
The growing recognition of the importance of good quality, independent official statistics to support development and progress, provides a unique opportunity to make a real and long-lasting investment to improve national statistical systems.
This will require coordinated investment and political support from donors and international organisations.
The prerequisities for a modern statistical system are outlined. Without these countries will not be able to build statistical systems appropriate to a data driven world nor meet existing and future demands for information, including the SDG monitoring framework.