Museologia Social e Urbanismo XLVII

Conversation on Secondary Cities

  1. What are the limitations of data collection and what are the other essential features to enable monitoring?
  2. What is the opportunity in the face of monitoring these SDGs and collecting and analyzing new types of data?

I’m Eduardo Lopes Moreno, Director of Research and Capacity Development with UN-Habitat. This program works with data, with information, with analysis, trying to depict what is happening in the world, to anticipate some of the things, to transform these things into knowledge, to write about these things in a way that the decision makers and other partners understand the major trends that are unfolding, how they can anticipate them for policy purposes and then also we transform all these things into tools for training and capacity development.

So it is a continuum from data to knowledge and to capacity development and training. We have been fully involved in the last years in the Sustainable Development Goals. This has been a great opportunity for us because since the Millennium Development Goals we claim that cities, urban and urbanization at large was an important absence in this process.

We were saying and we’re happy that working with several partners our voices were heard, that the cities, human settlements are sort of visible, sometimes invisible, stream that connect many human development issues and this space, unlike many years ago, is not any longer a neutral platform, it has become a vector for change.

When you use well cities, when you use well space, you have a transformative tool in your hands and this is the way that we have been advocating, in the world that cities should be understood for all the targets, for all the indicators for all the goals – as this transformative tool to achieve different things associated to human development, to development at large.

We work with countries, we work with partners, we work with UN agencies, with think tanks in doing something that seems to be simple but its understanding that Goal 11 brings a completely different methodological challenge to the world.

A challenge of approaches, a challenge of the way we need to do things. To tell you for instance, among the 15 indicators that Goal 11 has, there are 9 that are completely new.

New in methods, new in spatial analysis, new in the way you need to aggregate or disaggregate information, collect information and this represents not only a change in data collection, not only a change in analyzing information, it is a change in governance systems. Because now local authorities, neighborhoods, local actors – they need also to be fully a part of this process and engaging them in a way that national governments understand that the equation integrates all these actors, is difficult.

It is politically difficult; it is still a lot of inertia, lot of resistance. So our work is by no means only technical, it’s at the same time advocacies, it is at the same time to sensitize our partners and a lot of political work in order to understand that, for instance you have indicators for Goal 11 like transport, of efficient land use, of air quality, waste management public spaces that national statistics offices do not have – neither the mandate nor the information.

So you need to create systems and this system implies a complete change in the way that now government will understand that new players have come in to set things. Because obviously it is not collecting an indicator, it is related to what kind of actions you are going to implement to transform this indicator into positive or negative for improvement. These changes entail many statistical offices, the UN at large sometimes are reluctant to understand that these changes need to take place. So what at UN -Habitat we are doing, is working at different levels in a systematic process.

No. 1 is creating what we call ‘metadata which is information required for anyone in the world working with indicators to understand how to compute, how to measure, how to aggregate or look at the specific thing which are the limits of the indicators, how it works, how it connects with other indicators, what kind of implication it has.

We are working in all these methodological aspects. We are working with partners in doing a lot of training. Imagine, many of these indicators require satellite images, analysis or non-conventional forms of data collection with communities, sometimes with ICT that we are integrating a lot in the system.

And all that requires that people understand how to use these tools to transform them into policies. So we are working also at that level. Now we were confronted – you produce some of this information, what do you do, we did.

How you translate this into specific plans, actions, into reporting mechanisms. And then you will see that Goal 11 brings additional challenges. For instance, two important – one is that, you have, as I said, 15 indicators for one city.

Are you going to conclude that with 15 indicators – a city is doing well, medium? How?

How do you aggregate all this information and it is here where UN- Habitat has introduced a framework and a tool that we call the City Prosperity Initiative and we are more and more trying to put these two frameworks together in a way that the City Prosperity Initiative (CPI) can perform some functions that the tyranny of sectoral approaches of the indicators can be overcome.

Because if you analyze transport – which is one of the indicators, transport is strongly connected as you know to the use of the space and land uses and some decisions in planning, etc.

How do you connect these dots? It is the City Prosperity that is giving us these interrelations, and some mutually reinforcing mechanism among the processes and indicators Second and fundamental problem that we just found, we knew, Habitat since one year ago we wrote a report on that to the UN system is the following.

Imagine for instance Kenya or India for the case, you have reporting on 50 cities, on 30 cities, on 20. It doesn’t make the ‘urban India’, it doesn’t make the ‘urban Kenya’. How do you aggregate indicators that you can in all confidence to say India in this indicator or in this target or in this goal is improving. And then you need methods that enable you to create conditions to aggregate values for national, regional or global indicators.

And then we are working with governments in creating something that we call the National Sample of Cities.

What we are saying is that countries should create a systematic way of measuring indicators with the same number of cities.

Obviously outside the sample they can integrate other cities, but what they cannot do, countries, is in 2017 report in 20 cities and 2018 in another 30 not necessarily the same, or the same plus others or the minus others and that will never give you the picture of what is happening in the country.

So we are worried for these things, because it’s not just the matter of measurement, it’s the connection to policy dialogues, it’s the connection to how when you conclude that transport in India is improving or waste management in Kenya is not improving; it refers to the reconfiguration if I can say, of national governance mechanism in which you need to rethink the role of the institutions, you need to rethink the role of what the local, the state or provincial and national are going to do in this process and also how the international community can participate in this process.

Third fundamental thing that we are doing, we’re starting but is key, and you will understand within the framework of the UN and the data revolution, this fundamental idea of ‘not leaving anyone behind’ that we have been saying with partners from India, Aromar among others, that we should ‘not leave any space behind’ as well, and not leaving any space behind means that cities, metropolis are far from being homogenous and we need to understand how they at the level of indicators and at the level of dynamics of segregation and marginalization in cities, categories of ethnicities of minorities but also specific spaces; how you can respond to these important challenges.

To give you an example, when we talk about inequalities that this is what this aggregation will look at specifically to understand that in the last twenty years since Habitat II and now today with Habitat III, what we see is that 75% of cities in the world, 75%, grew more unequal, not more equal, which is telling us that in these 20 years also, urban planning systems for instance, reduced the capacity to control planning in cities by 30 or 40%.

And this is very surprising because with more technology, with more civil society participation, with stronger institutions, what you can see is that the cities are responding less to some of the challenges, and are being less able to be more sustainable and to create conditions for shared prosperity and these incapacities are strongly related to governance mechanisms, are strongly related to aspects of institutional building and other mechanisms that again coming back to Sustainable Development Goals is not a matter of creating an indicator but understanding all these connections that have a lot to do with who is taking decisions, who benefitting from these decisions and what are we going to do in order to make sure that improvement of one indicator means improvement of the society at large, and means improvement the whole city in terms of this notion of shared prosperity.