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The quality, availability, timeliness and use of basic economic and demographic data to inform policy remain significant challenges across Africa. These challenges stem in part from limitations in technical know-how and qualified human resources, but also from the barriers created by misaligned political and institutional incentives within governments and persistent difficulties in aid coordination from donors. As a result there is a huge need for better examination of the political economy challenges faced by donors and countries.
While there are many international groups and initiatives working to improve methodologies for measurement and coordination and to build country statistical capacity, there are few working to assess and seek solutions to the underlying political economy drivers of poor quality data for policymaking. Understanding the reasons for this gap in available data and whether there are perverse incentives operating that are preventing the information from being collected and used is one way this group could decrease potential barriers and improve data for development in Africa.
The African Population and Health Research Center (APHRC), based in Nairobi, Kenya and the Center for Global Development, based in Washington, D.C., teamed up to address these major data challenges through the Data for African Development Working Group. The Working Group identified the underlying political economy issues related to the collection, analysis and use of data for policy-making and examines the relationship between the institutional arrangements governing national statistics systems as they relate to efficient and timely production of data.
The Group’s final report, released in July 2014, offers insight on where governments and donors should focus their efforts to deliver on the data revolution in the region, including: (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.
The Working Group is made up of 26 members with diverse backgrounds in statistics and development fields in Africa. Members include leaders from country statistical offices from across the continent; several regional groups including individuals from COMESA, INDEPTH, IHME; and international organizations such as the African Development Bank (AfDB), the African Union (AU), United National Economic Commission for African (UNECA), United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the World Bank. The group had its first meeting September 17-18 in Nairobi, Kenya.
Working Group Members
Ibrahima Ba, Institut National de la Statistique, Côte d’Ivoire Inge Vervloesem, UNESCO Philomena Nyarko, Ghana Statistical Service Chukwudozie Ezigbalike, UNECA Abadila Berrou, Former head of PARIS21 Alex Ezeh, APHRC Amanda Glassman, CGD Angela Arnott, UNECA Catherine Kyobutungi, APHRC Chris Finch, World Bank Eloi Ouedraogo, FAO Gabriel Demombynes, World Bank Justin Sandefur, CGD Kobus Herbst, INDEPTH Kutoati Adjewoda Koami, AUC Markus Goldstein, World Bank Meshesha Getahun, COMESA Peter DeCosta, Hewlett Representative Peter Speyer, IHME Themba Munalula, Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) Ties Boerma, WHO Victoria Fan, CGD Yeo Dossina, African Union Samia Zekaria, Central Statistical Agency of Ethiopia Salami M.O. Muri, National Bureau of Statistics of Nigeria
The sheer number of solutions being pursued is some cause for optimism, but ultimately it will be individual African countries that must accomplish the most challenging part of the work. Cameron, echoing a Center for Global Development report (pdf), pointed to the need for governments to invest in strong, independent national statistical offices. Those agencies will need consistent funding as well as checks against corruption and insulation from political whims. Only then can international aid and technical support be effective in helping them to reach new milestones.
Producing better data is just one step on the path to solving more urgent and tangible problems in Central Africa. However, it is an essential step. Policy makers need it. Aid organizations need it. Businesses need it. And, in a world where political, economic, and medical decisions are made on an international stage, the world needs it too. That vast gray gap on the map of the Earth isn’t just journalistic laziness. It is one of the few concrete symptoms those in the developed world ever see of the challenges that Central Africans face. So long as the gap is there, so are the problems.
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The need and will to produce and use better data is clear in low-income countries: SDG-related data quality, completeness, availability, and use are woefully inadequate for policy and accountability purposes. But the global response has yet to address these needs.
The Third Conference on Financing for Development has come and gone; country delegates and their leaders, civil society actors, aid organizations, and policy wonks have all returned home. As we discussed prior to FFD , the United States government had a major opportunity to make commitments on domestic resource mobilization (DRM) and data. So how did the US government fare in these areas?
In Washington, rumor has it that the United States will bring commitments on domestic resource mobilization (DRM) and data to the table at the Financing for Development Conference this month in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. As we get down to the wire, our fingers are crossed that the US government will take this opportunity to be ambitious and offer robust packages in both these areas. Here’s what that could look like.
Overthrowing the unsatisfactory data status quo depends on more than declarations and calls to coordinate and partner. As we and others have noted (here and here), more and better funding is what’s needed to deliver on a data revolution.
Since the term “data revolution” was brandished in the High-Level Panel report on the Post-2015 Development Agenda, there has been a great deal of activity to define, develop, and drive an agenda that could transform the way development statistics are collected and used throughout the world. But nowhere is the need for better data more urgent than in sub-Saharan Africa. Despite a decade of rapid economic growth in most countries, the accuracy of many types of basic data remains low, and improvements have been sluggish.
Country action should drive the data revolution from the bottom up, but high-level activities surrounding the post-2015 development agenda can and must help catalyze progress on national statistics. This event will highlight the need for more timely, accurate, and open data in Africa, and discuss strategies to help national governments, donors, technical agencies, and the producers and users of statistics to drive a data revolution that can be led and sustained in the region.
The event will mark the launch of the Data for African Development Working Group report, Delivering on the Data Revolution in Sub-Saharan Africa, co-chaired by Amanda Glassman from the Center for Global Development and Alex Ezeh from the African Population Health and Research Center in Nairobi, Kenya.