Open Data to Achieve Sustainable Development Goals

Geospatial is providing the framework and process for applied sustainable development. The process follows the steps like observing, modelling and prediction, analysis and interpretation, design and planning.

Open Data  to Achieve Sustainable Development Goals
Open Data to Achieve Sustainable Development Goals

Open Data  to Achieve Sustainable Development Goals

Among the 17 global goals for Sustainable development, many are inherently geospatial. Geospatial is providing the framework and process for applied sustainable development. The process follows the steps like observing, modelling and prediction, analysis and interpretation, design and planning, decision making and finally the action. The 17 SDGs bring with them 169 targets and 230 indicators. 

Field data collection is required for forest management, renewable energy, access to education, urban designing and smart communities, demographics, access to healthcare and water management. Intelligent maps and their applications make the implementation of the SDGs convenient and easy. Over 70% of the world is not mapped in any openly accessible data source with any meaningful level of detail. 

Open data for SDGs is used by decision-makers to map financial services, map access to food, map areas affected by disease outbreaks, map barriers to education, create a detailed map of schools, provide opportunities to women through hiring practices, provide mapping of water and sanitation and much more. 

In a three day conference by the UN Institute for Training and Research Operational Satellite Applications Programme (UNITAR-UNOSAT) and Esri, some participants discussed how GIS applications are contributing to the achievement of the SDGs. E.g. UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR), showed how to build an open data infrastructure for city resilience.  

The Geneva 2030 Ecosystem is also utilizing new thinking and innovative approaches towards realizing the 2030 Agenda. IISD and Sustainable Finance Geneva, the SDG lab and the Canton De Genève launched an interactive mapping for better understanding of how organizations are working on sustainable finance. 

Opening up weather data through NOAA lowered the economic and human costs of weather-related damage by forecasting the events. In Singapore, the government of Singapore and the city's National Environmental Agency (NEA) used open data to control the spread of dengue fever.

Data is critical to understand the surroundings and powerful technology like GIS improves decision making. Agencies can transform their information and create a platform for innovation using Open Data. Traditional charts and graphs are not sufficient to achieve big goals with today's large population. 

Esri's ArcGIS Online

Esri's ArcGIS online is providing agencies with a comprehensive approach to government and public managers with a set of tools to use their data and integrate GIS. A successful example is of Maryland case. 

Being the global leader in GIS software, Esri represents and manages data on behalf of government customers, and government agencies can make their data public with a click of a button. 

Governments around the world realize that open data can be used to identify social and economic trends, improve public services, build trust in government and promote economic growth. 

Open data is freely available and foster economic growth and job creation. It improves transparency, accountability, and citizen participation. Open data facilitate better information sharing within government and improves efficiency, effectiveness and coverage of public services. 


Open data is being used by many countries to ensure availability of education, reducing corruption in education funding, improving school operations and helping parents to find the best education for their children. E.g. in Mexico, open data is helping to assess school quality. 

Company ENOVA is developing innovative school models, and its founder finds the use of open data as "urban acupuncture" which pinpoint schools based on population density, access to transportation, broadband etc. 

Hunger and Food security

GODAN- Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition, is an International Open data initiative. It focuses on Open data, agriculture, and development, food security etc. In Jamaica, a research project by Caribbean Open institute use open data to combat praedial larceny ( theft of crops and livestock.

Open Mapping for SDGs

Open mapping is a global movement to create free and open geographic data. The U.S. government has committed to open mapping in its Third Open Government National Action Plan and has also hosted Mapathons at the White House to create data for the SDGs. 

In the wake of the 2015 Nepal earthquake, 2,182 members of the OSM community came together to identify 3,128 damaged buildings in just 48 hours. 


 The free wiki world map is helping to fill data gaps at the micro-level. It provides free geographic data. Crowdsourced geospatial data provides an insight into SDG progress on a real-time basis. Communities can geolocate their key community assets and vulnerabilities. Humanitarian OpenStreetMap provides free, up-to-date maps as a resource to relief organizations responding to disasters or political crisis. 

Overcoming Obstacles 

In an analysis by the World Bank, the Open data institute, and the Open Data in Developing Countries project, a number of obstacles were identified in lower-income countries, such as:

  • Lack of clear legal and policy guidelines.
  • A digital – divide between rich & poor.
  • Organizational culture in government ministries that inhibits data sharing. 
  • A mismatch between demand for Open Data & supply of appropriate datasets.

Solving issues like these and making Open Data more manageable and scalable, can help make government data open in relevant, accessible and actionable ways for users. 

Watch Video: What are the Sustainable Development Goals

What are the Sustainable Development Goals from The Geospatial on Vimeo.