Delivering on the Data Revolution in Sub-Saharan Africa

July 8, 2014

Despite improvements in censuses and household surveys, the building blocks of national statistical systems in Sub-Saharan Africa remain weak, according to a new report. It’s all very well calling for a revolution in data for use in Africa’s development decisions, but what might such a revolution involve? The report charts out a clear path for “Delivering on a Data Revolution in Sub-Saharan Africa”. The report and its recommendations for actualizing a data revolution in Africa are a product of the Data for African Development Working Group, a joint effort of the African Population and Health Research Center (APHRC) and the Center for Global Development (CGD).
Alex Ezeh, Executive Director of APHRC, co-chaired the expert working group alongside Amanda Glassman, Director of Global Health Policy and a senior fellow at CGD. Together, they led the group to examine why a data revolution is so crucial now, in the lead up to the post-2015 agenda; where previous efforts to improve data systems, quality and access have succeeded and where they have created perverse incentives; and how national governments, donors, and civil society can accelerate progress.

Governments, regional bodies, and international institutions need good data on basic development metrics to plan, budget and evaluate their activities. National systems for capturing fundamental development measures such as birth registration and cause of death, growth and poverty, taxes and trade, land use and the environment, and sickness, schooling, and safety face four major challenges: (1) national statistics offices have limited independence and unstable budgets, (2) misaligned incentives encourage the production of inaccurate data, (3) donor priorities dominate national priorities, and (4) access to and usability of data are limited.

The Working Group’s recommendations for reaping the benefits of a data revolution in Africa fall into three categories:

First, the report recommends that donors and governments fund more and fund differently and identified three strategies by which this might be achieved:
• Reduce donor dependency and fund NSOs more from national budgets
• Mobilize more donor funding through government—donor compacts, and experiment with pay-for-performance agreements
• Demonstrate the value of building block statistics by generating high-level agreement by national governments and donors to prioritize national statistical systems

Second, there is a need to build institutions that can produce accurate, unbiased data. The report suggests that this might be achieved through:
• Enhancing National Statistics Office autonomy to protect them from political influence
• Experimenting with new models such as public-private partnerships to generate demand and improve access.
• Formalizing relationships between National Statistics Offices, central banks, and other government ministries by contracting for provision of data.

Lastly, to prioritize the core attributes of data building blocks, governments, donors and civil society must work jointly to:
• Build quality control mechanisms into data collection
• Encourage open data that is free of charge, online, and in a format that can be analyzed.
• Monitor progress and generate accountability.

Read and share Delivering on a Data Revolution in Sub-Saharan Africa (policy brief, full report) and join the conversation on Twitter #data4dev.