Measurement matters. Data matters. If you work in the fields of communications or development or international policy, these are two of the most common declarations of the moment.  And while a new chorus of data enthusiasts and professionals takes its rightful seat at the decisionmaking tables around the world, it is important to understand the kids of data sets and the innovative work of groups taking data from a trendy talking point to a trusted guide and approachable tool for work that will impact our future.

From my early years at the Millennium Challenge Corporation, to my current post at the United Nations Foundation helping tell the vital work of the UN’s mission and mandate, data and storytelling have always been part of my “day job.”  But that job is getting more complex as the science and art of data evolve.

Smart development happens when decisions flow out of facts, and governments can only be truly innovative if there is measurement. And at the recent World Government Summit in Dubai—“a knowledge exchange platform at the intersection between government, futurism, technology, and innovation”—we heard that data analysis and measurement are more important than ever for policymakers worldwide.

Here are a few data sets, organizations and measurements making a difference around the globe.  I am sharing them here as a resource for those looking to base their learning, their storytelling, their decisions and their advocacy in the remarkable data that exists in our fields today:

  • The Human Development Index (HDI), published by the UN Development Programme, uses life expectancy, education, and per capita income data to measure the state of human development worldwide.
  • Global Pulse is a flagship initiative of the United Nations, tasked with harnessing big data for public good. By making the most of modern data science, we can glean valuable information, contribute to the Global Goals, and drive innovations across the UN.
  • Universities are in on the action, too. At the College of William and Mary in Virginia, the AidData “think-and-do tank” uses open data on worldwide aid and development to help governments and agencies do the most good.
  • NGOs and watchdog organizations are using data and measurement as well. And the policymakers within governments around the world take note. The Fund for Peace’s Fragile States Index (FSI) annually measures countries’ vulnerability to conflict..or even collapse.

And an important reminder: If we’re not counting girls and women, the data is not only less powerful, but misleading. That is why data must count important parts of the population and be supported to count everyone in a world that depends on everbody.  Data2X is an initiative working to close the gender data gap to make a practical difference in lives worldwide.  Learn more about the organizations that are prioritizing data that tells the story of our entire world…not just the parts some choose to see.

There has never been more data available to so many.  Yet if we as storytellers and global communicators to not dig into the data, we are leaving some of the most important parts of those stories behind.

What data sets – or organizations working to make them more available to more people – are important to you and your work?  Please share and comment!