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Evidence based policy or policy based evidence? Supply and demand for data in a donor dominant world

Humanity Journal's picture

This post, by Morten Jerven, is a contribution to an online symposium on the changing nature of knowledge production in fragile states. Be sure to read other entries by Deval Desai and Rebecca TapscottLisa Denney and Pilar Domingo, and Michael Woolcock.

Patients seeking treatment at Redemption Hospital in Monrovia, In 2010 I was doing research for Poor Numbers: How we are misled by African development statistics and what to do about it. I was In Lusaka, Zambia on a Wednesday afternoon, and was having a free and frank conversation with a specialist working for the UK’s Department for International Development (DfID) office there as part of the ethnographic component of my book. One of the themes we kept returning to was the problem that donors demanded evidence that was not necessarily relevant for Zambian policy makers. We were also discussing how results-oriented MDG reporting had created real outside pressure to distort statistics, with donors having the final say on what gets measured, when and how. Indeed, whenever I asked anyone in Zambia—and elsewhere in sub-Saharan Africa—“what do we know about economic growth?,” a recurring issue was how resources were diverted from domestic economic statistics to MDG-relevant statistics.

Two days later I was sitting in the Central Statistical Office in Lusaka, talking to the then only remaining member of the economic statistics division. In 2007, this division was manned by three statisticians, but when I returned in 2010, there was only one person there. The other two had been pulled from economic statistics to social and demographic statistics where there was more donor money for per diem payments. The phone rang. DfID Lusaka was on the other end. They had a problem. They had financed a report on social statistics, but the office statistician tasked with completing the report had recently travelled to Japan to participate in a generously funded training course, leaving the report incomplete. Could someone help out? And so it was that the last remaining economic statistician for the Zambian government temporarily left the office to come to the rescue.

It is time to measure development finance wholly and universally

Gail Hurley's picture

At the start of 2016, the United Nations will launch a new set of Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs, to drive development efforts around the globe. But one question still needs some thought: How will we finance these new goals?

Even more questions lie within this broader question on finance. Which countries need more resources? What types of resources are needed most? Where does international finance, both public and private, currently flow? Where does it not? Answers to all of these require reliable and easy-to-understand data on all international financial flows.

When governments convene in July in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to agree on a framework for financing the new sustainable development agenda, there will be a key window of opportunity to improve the existing, haphazard approach to data collection and reporting.

Have your say: what do you want from a development data revolution?

Haishan Fu's picture

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If you’ve been reading anything related to international development in the last year, you will have seen rich conversations around the the idea of a “data revolution”. What exactly would a data revolution look like? What would its aims be? Is it about data collection, use, analysis, all of the above, or something else entirely?

To answer these and other questions, the United Nations Secretary General recently formed an Independent Expert Advisory Group (IEAG) on the “Data revolution for development”. I’m part of this group: we’ve been tasked with making recommendations on how to achieve a data revolution. We have to do it quickly - and we want to get your inputs too!