Speaking at the World Bank on Wednesday , musician and activist Bono made the call for “open data and transparency” to “turbocharge the fight against poverty.”
When asked what the World Bank could do, he responded: “We need better data.”
When the eight Millennium Development Goals  (MDGs) were set out in 2000, they drew attention to large gaps in the data needed to monitor them. As we think beyond the 2015 MDG deadline, there’s a renewed interest in the quality and availability of data and statistics for guiding policy, monitoring progress, measuring results, and supporting analysis.
What’s the state of national statistics, and how can the Bank “turbocharge” improvements?
Early efforts uncoordinated
Most statistics needed for the MDGs  come from country statistical systems. Twelve years ago, key statistics produced by many of these systems were of poor quality or non-existent. Donors’ early efforts to improve countries’ statistical capacity were piecemeal and partial. Aid was almost exclusively bilateral and uncoordinated, and at the time, the Bank’s only large-scale statistical capacity building project was focused on economic statistics in the former Soviet Union.
The results of investing in data
Since 2000, the Bank has invested over $500M into improving statistical systems. We’ve been drawing attention to data gaps and with our support, almost all IDA countries  have crafted statistical development plans, many of which are now being implemented.
These efforts have borne fruit. Coverage for sanitation, water, under five mortality, and gender statistics has expanded and the quality of statistics as measured by the Bank’s statistical capacity indicator  has improved from its benchmark level of 54 in 1999 to 67 in 2011. Data availability has improved, but you can see above that there’s some way to go.
Data gaps still remain: how do we help fix them?
In spite of this progress, many statistical systems are still week. Gaps in poverty, agriculture and malnutrition statistics and spotty vital registration systems require particular attention. For the Bank to effectively help countries improve their data, there are 4 things we need to do:
- Better integrate investment in statistical capacity building into more of our operational work.
- Increase the number of available experts in statistical capacity building.
- Have sustained support from the Bank’s board and senior management.
- Ensure data produced by country systems is more open and accessible.
Meeting these challenges would provide many benefits: More and better statistics will be available to monitor development goals post 2015 and facilitate the mobilization of needed resources; Evidence-based management at the Bank will improve; and there will be increases in national capacity for evidence-based development to guide policies, decision making, and monitor development progress.
For further details, see this month's "MDGs and Beyond" newsletter [PDF] .