UN-Habitat in partnership with its stakeholders developed the urban observatory model, an innovative model for urban data monitoring, collection and analysis. Today, UN-Habitat’s Global Urban Observatory Unit (GUO) is overseeing and coordinating 374 urban observatories worldwide: 101 in Africa, 143 in Asia and 130 in Latin. Over the past decade, systematic guidance on setting up urban observatories has been provided to Member States leading to the development of a global network of observatories. Urban observatories are well-positioned to meet the frequently expressed need for reliable, high resolution urban data sets specific to the cities and immediate city-regions in which they operate. They assist in strengthening data capacities at national and subnational levels, providing platforms to facilitate effective knowledge exchange and promote evidence-based governance built on a shared knowledge base.

The purpose of GUO-Net is to support governments, local authorities and civil society:

  • To improve the collection, management, analysis and use of information in formulating more effective urban policies;
  • To improve information flows between all levels for better urban decision-making;
  • To stimulate broad-based consultative processes to help identify and integrate urban information needs;
  • To provide information and analyses to all stakeholders for more effective participation in urban decision-making;
  • To share information, knowledge and expertise using modern information and communication technology (ICT);
  • To create a global network of local, national and regional platforms for sharing information about the implementation of the New Urban Agenda;
  • Training on using the urban indicator toolkit for data collection and analysis; 
  • Training on how to use the results of the urban indicators data for fund raising activities;
  • Conferences of the network members for information exchange and city-to-city networking;
  • Access to internet resources available at UN-Habitat’s website including urban indicators databases and Urban Info system;
  • Data used for evaluations done for the World Cities Report published biannually by UN-Habitat.

UN-HABITAT achieves these objectives through a global network of local, national and regional urban observatories and through partner institutions that provide training and other capacity building expertise.

Monitoring the New Urban Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals

The Global Urban Observatory (GUO) carries out activities pertaining to the monitoring of the New Urban Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals relating to human settlements, including achieving a significant improvement in the lives of those living in informal settlements (slum dwellers), and halving the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation. Using the city as a unit of analysis, the programme regularly updates the urban indicators at city and country levels.

GUO coordinates the use of urban indicators as specified in the New Urban Agenda guidelines in the agency’s main flagship reports including the State of the World Cities Report, the Global Report of Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation in Cites report, regional, youth, gender and other report. GUO also produces the Global Urban Indicators Database and contributes to the United Nations Secretary General reports on the Sustainable Development Goals. It also ensures that reliable and up-to-date urban information is available for reports, messages and speeches of the Executive Director and other representatives of the Agency.

The Development Impact Assessment function

The Development Impact Assessment function (DIA) monitors urban inequities. It was initiated in 2003 through intra-city analysis and Urban Inequities Surveys to measure urban specific issues such as security of tenure, social capital, transportation, crime and violence, accidents, employment, climate change, municipal finances, housing rights, gender, etc. The DIA assists the agency to assess the level of its intervention and those of other actors that impact the lives of people, in terms of housing, social, economic and health conditions among others.

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Robert P Ndugwa, PhD
Chief, Data and Statistics Unit
Knowledge & Innovation Branch, External Relations, Strategy, Knowledge and Innovation Division