Why does Data matter for Policymaking?

Addressing today's challenges - such as the COVID-19 pandemic, the climate change crisis, or gender inequality - requires sound policies that are transparent, rooted in evidence and effective at the grassroots level.

In 2023, the world approaches the halfway point of the 2030 Agenda that was agreed in 2015. Global emergencies like COVID-19, climate-induced disasters, and conflicts with international ramifications, as well as other challenges such as gender inequality have set back member states’ progress on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and are exacerbating domestic crises.  Sound, transparent, data-informed policies are crucial to support countries in counteracting this polycrisis and ensure that their programmes are effective and inclusive of the most vulnerable populations.​

Recent advancements in data-driven innovation and increased reliance on digital technologies in today’s hyper-connected and fast-changing world have created opportunities to address such challenges through evidence-informed policymaking. Effective use of data can help create legitimacy, build trust and improve efficiency, effectiveness and transparency, enabling the provision of better services and resulting in better policies. In essence, data has the power to transform every aspect of policymaking.​

However, the lack of high-quality data coupled with limited institutionalised data capacities remains a critical problem for governments worldwide. These challenges manifest themselves in policy designs that inadequately address, and in some cases reinforce, inequalities especially against marginalized groups and vulnerable segments, acting as a critical impediment to the achievement of the SDGs.  ​

For governments to reap the benefits of new data sources, concentrated efforts in capacity building, data privacy standards, data governance and technical capabilities are needed. By more effectively harnessing new and existing data, governments can begin to close the gaps that have long impeded effective policymaking. ​

This Data to Policy Navigator was created to guide policymakers in their journey to integrate data into their policies and decision-making. Most importantly, the navigator responds to the emerging need for evidence-based decision-making among policymakers as they face pressing, urgent and unique societal, environmental, economic and political challenges. ​

Examples from across sectors

Economic Development

Estimating the magnitude of economic impact resulting from a pandemic by analyzing call detail records

Increase refugee employment and reduce unemployment cost by refugee resettlement based on personal characteristics data & geographic employment outcomes

Refugee employment rate could be increased by 40% to 70%

Combating energy vulnerability through compensation payments using an online application platform

Disaster Management

Improvement of public crisis-related policy announcements based on tracking of community responses

thousands of live saved, and costs reduced thank to enabling taking preemptive measures

Preventing severe flood damage through warning governments and citizens based on AI, geospatial mapping and water data


Determining critical drivers of pollution based on citizen-generated data

Identifying ecologically significant areas to preempt environmental threats based on spatial data

Increase refugee employment and reduce unemployment cost by reIdentifying illegal construction waste dumping cases based on public waste disposak records

More than 500 water hauling trucks suspected on involvement in illegal dumping identified

Diversity, Equality &Inclusion

Enabling women's economic empowerment through optimized placement of childcare facilities

Identifying critical current gender-specific topics based on hashtags tracking in social media posts


Improving yields by harnessing positive deviance in rained farming

identified 180 municipality best practices that can be replicated

Improving water management in agricultural fields by using data on soil moisture, precipitation and temperature.

Reducing burglary > 20% in on month

Health Care

Providing improved health care access through data-driven facility placement

Expanding sanitation and health services, as well as utility capacity in informal settlements using satellite imagery

Note: Depicted application areas and cases are indicative, not exhaustive

Peace & Justice

Improving children's protection through more directed case follow-ups based on child protection information management system

Reducing hate speech by using social media scraping to detect sources spreading incendiary language and misinformation

Urban Planning &Mobility

Accommodation changing demand and enabling broader access to urban public transport networks using traffic data


Ensuring access to educational institutions using school data

Adjusting teaching methods according to student sentiment & engagement leveraging social media data