African policy makers are increasingly called on to use evidence-based research to inform development decisions. But this requires the rigorous collection of data as well as a coordinated system to disseminate it. This is why Kenya-based African Population Health Research Center is advocating for national policies to enable strong data systems. Donatien Beguy explains Africa’s challenges and opportunities.
What is data driven decision making in the world of policy making?
Data, and especially data of good quality, are essential for national governments and institutions to accurately plan, fund and evaluate development activities.
Basic development indicators are essential for an accurate picture of a country’s development status. This includes a country’s progress towards specific development goals and improving its citizens’ socio-economic conditions. In fact, solutions to social and economic problems are often inseparable from the statistics.
You cannot build schools without knowing how many children need to be enrolled. Private investors need to know what resources are available in a given country before putting in their money. A country needs to know what it grows and where to prevent famine. Donors can only know whether their aid is changing lives if they have data.
Data is the first step – but then you need analysis?
In general, development programmes entail measurable results. Development decisions should be informed by data. But more importantly this data must be turned into information that is easy to understand and useful to end users. You sometimes hear people say, “The data speak for themselves.” But they don’t.
Data is the first, crucial step. Then you need smart, objective analysis to make sense of the data and shape the narrative. Once the data supply side is up to par, the hope is that decision makers at all levels will increasingly demand relevant information to lay the foundation for policy making and budgeting.
How good are African governments at making data-driven decisions?
Like everyone else, African governments and their development partners need good data on basic development metrics. To be of value, such data must be accurate, timely, disaggregated and widely available. This is not the case in many African countries.
Given the circumstances, you can imagine how difficult it is for African governments to make data driven decisions. This situation is often compounded by the lack of an entrenched culture of data use. More often than not it is difficult to ascertain existing programmes’ effectiveness or whether available resources are being allocated to address the most urgent and serious development issues.
You probably heard how Nigeria became the biggest economy in Africa overnight in 2014.