Charlotte Scarf and Ros Madden
Research Fellows, Centre for Disability Research and Policy, University of Sydney, Australia
Data development as part of knowledge development for achieving the SDGs
More than one billion people or 15 percent of the world population live with some form of disability, or significant difficulty in functioning in their everyday lives (WHO & World Bank 2011). This number is growing due to the increase in chronic health conditions and population aging. Across all countries and income levels, people with disabilities have lower health status than the rest of the population, and frequently face discrimination in their everyday lives. Low and middle income countries are home to nearly 80 percent of people with disability, most of whom live in poverty (WHO & World Bank 2011). This situation reflects a strong and enduring link between disability and poverty whereby more people living in poverty have some form of disability due to factors such as inadequate housing, education, sanitation, nutrition, unsafe work conditions, road traffic accidents, natural disasters and conflict; and more people with a disability live in poverty due to factors such as unemployment and expenses required to manage their disability. The need to address disability-related disadvantage is emerging as a global priority, as is evident by the explicit reference to persons with disabilities in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in relation to: education (Goal 4), employment (Goal 8), inequality (Goal 10), accessibility of human settlements (Goal 11), as well as disability-disaggregated data collection and monitoring of the SDGs (Goal 17). The last requires building capacity for data collection and reporting against indicators of disability-inclusiveness for tracking progress towards achieving the SDGs.
We strongly support disability-disaggregated data collection and monitoring of the SDGs using universally applicable standards set out in the International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health as a means to strengthen the evidence base, to inform and assess policies and practices to improve opportunities and support for people with disabilities. We also support the SDGs’ flexible approach, which aims to facilitate international coordination and comparisons, as well as local flexibility to target and track country-specific challenges based on local priorities and needs. We are, however, concerned that the SDG’s emphasis on ‘data’ risks overshadowing the importance of ‘knowledge’ for sustainable development, and the links between the two. Knowledge takes multiple forms, reflecting the many diverse ways in which people know and experience the world. Not all types of knowledge can be readily distilled and codified from or into baseline, outcome and impact measures, but many diverse ‘knowledges’ are needed to meet the complex challenges of sustainable development. By focussing only on data without knowledge in the formulation, implementation and evaluation of problems and solutions, the SDGs pay insufficient attention to the various ways knowledge is constructed and can be captured by powerful interests. In so doing, they risk neglecting the views and concerns of persons with disabilities and other vulnerable groups with lived experience of the issues the SDGs aim to address. The proposed Agenda for Knowledge Development and associated Knowledge Development Goals (KDGs) can help overcome this limitation of the SDGs. By clearly articulating a pluralistic, diverse and inclusive vision of knowledge in which all people’s perspectives are recognised, valued and shared, and their potential to contribute to knowledge production is fostered, the KDGs provide a valuable framework for the emergence of rights-based approaches to knowledge for sustainable development. Building capacity for data collection and monitoring of the SDGs is important, and inclusive methods for data design, collection and analysis must be ingredients of inclusive and empowering knowledge. An equal challenge, as we see it, is to adopt empowering practices that create fertile conditions for more productive dialogue, insightful learning and meaningful collaboration and action among the many stakeholders whose diverse knowledges are relevant – indeed essential – for achieving the SDGs.