Senior government officials, policy makers and industry leaders in the field of data science gathered in St John’s, Antigua and Barbuda this week for an intensive workshop on how to harness data for impactful innovation, while addressing the significant data gaps that Caribbean countries face.
The event, organised jointly by the Commonwealth Secretariat and the National Statistics Office of Antigua and Barbuda and due to end on June 1, focussed on ways to strengthen the data and innovation ecosystem in the region.
It also recognised the need for timely and accurate data to help governments make rapid and informed decisions – a need which has increased in urgency and importance in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Commonwealth Secretary-General,Patricia Scotland QC, in her keynote statement highlighted the strong support from leaders to scale up data-driven approaches to sustainable development across the Commonwealth. She said: “We are only weeks away from the next Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Kigali. We approach this vital CHOGM in the knowledge that Commonwealth Heads recognise the seminal role of ICT, Science and Innovation in securing good governance, promoting inclusion and building sustainable development. And we are confident that we will have the backing we need to scale up the Commonwealth Innovation Ecosystem Programme.”
Antigua & Barbuda’s minister of works and minister of state in the Ministry of Finance and Corporate Governance, Lennox O. Weston, said: “As the Caribbean region, we have to work together to weaponise data to close inequality gaps and achieve our development goals together. I urge participants to use these three days to be the best and sharpest in mastering the techniques to produce the right kind of data, in the required format, that will give policy makers the basis to make good decisions.”
And, assistant Director-General for the World Health Organisation for data, analytics and delivery, Dr Samira Asma, said: “For us to get back on track and accelerate progress to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), we must have better data and use this to drive impact through enhanced access and governance. We cannot make progress without partnership and collaboration, leveraging the innovative technologies at our disposal, and making data openly available while also protecting people’s privacy.”
However, it was noted that the ability to collect good data, conduct analysis and turn those insights into policies and legislation to help populations, is spread unevenly amongst Commonwealth regions and countries. Many Small Island Developing States (SIDS), in the Caribbean face specific challenges related to their small size and lack of infrastructure, but are also exploring a range of opportunities to improve their capacity to become ‘innovation nations’.
The workshop has therefore covered topics such as building a digital and data ecosystem for Small Islands Developing States (SIDS); leveraging opportunities for machine learning and GIS tools; analysing data gaps in tracking progress around the SDGs in the Caribbean; strengthening open data ecosystems; and enhancing the role of national statistics offices in the region.
As part of the Commonwealth Connectivity Agenda, the Commonwealth Secretariat will also be assisting member states in the region to coordinate their agriculture and fisheries data infrastructure.