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Data for African Development

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Building a solid foundation for the data revolution in sub-Saharan Africa

There is growing momentum for a worldwide data revolution and especially in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) where the need for better development data is more urgent than anywhere else in the world. But early efforts focusing on collecting more data, not necessarily better data, may divert attention from the underlying problems surrounding the production, analysis, and use of basic data that have inhibited progress so far. Often country challenges are not merely technical but systemic, resulting from implicit and explicit incentives (or incentive systems) that inhibit the production and use of timely, quality data. Both donors and countries need to take truly revolutionary steps to address the core problems facing national statistical systems and that underlying poor quality data in the region.

As part of the strategies to achieve a true data revolution in the continent, the expert working group on Data for African Development examined the underlying political economy challenges hindering the timely production of quality data in the region, exploring the root causes of slow progress on data in the region and identified specific actions for key stakeholders.

The working group’s report Delivering on a Data Revolution in sub-Saharan Africa identified four main challenges national statistical systems face and offered three actionable recommendations for national governments, international technical agencies and donors, and civil society and research organizations, which, if implemented, will contribute to realizing a true data revolution:

1) Lack of autonomy and stable funding for national statistical systems;

2) misaligned incentives contributing to inaccurate data;

3) dominance of donor priorities over national priorities; and

4) limited access to and usability of data.

The resulting recommendations include:

1) Fund more and fund differently;

2) Build institutions that can produce accurate, unbiased data; and

3) Prioritize the core attributes of data building blocks: accuracy, timeliness, relevance and availability.

APHRC believes that action for a data revolution in SSA should include addressing the underlying problems surrounding the building blocks of national statistical systems, including the production, analysis, and use of data. Actually, there have been gains in the frequency and quality of censuses and household surveys, but the building blocks of national statistical systems in this region remain weak. These building blocks, fundamental to the calculation of almost any major economic or social welfare indicator, include data on births and deaths, growth and poverty, taxes and trade, land and the environment, and sickness, schooling, and safety.

Not only these changes must be initiated and led by national governments, but also the data revolution must help modify the relationship between donors, governments, and national statistical offices and ensure production of data is in line with national statistical priorities. In addition to influencing high-level political commitment through global processes and advocacy, building national and regional political commitment is central to driving the data revolution in SSA.

Taken together, the recommendations will help build a solid foundation for promising initiatives like big and open data and provide the underpinnings of a true data revolution that can be led and sustained in the region.

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