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Boosting data literacy and increasing demand for data use in the Africa region

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Photo of two African women working on  a computer
Photo: ©Code for Africa (CfA).

In 2019, Nigeria’s National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) was hoping to increase its use of data among a diverse group of data users. However, at that time, the Bureau did not have the adequate capacity and technical expertise to make its data more accessible and usable. 

With the support from the World Bank, Code for Africa (CfA) partnered with NBS to help the Bureau achieve its aspirations. Specifically, CfA and NBS agreed to work together so NBS could: 

  • boost its publication of data as open data;
  • create a new user-friendly website to make data easily accessible and attract more users; and
  • build the data use capacity of stakeholders within the government, as well as of non-state actors including journalists and members of civil society organizations. 

The collaboration has increased the availability and use of NBS data. Now, there is a new unit instituted within the NBS consisting of seven members who ensures data is published in the most usable format. This team also helps the Bureau to design visualizations for their reports. Within the NBS there is now more capacity to understand the needs of data users and respond to those needs. Finally, NBS is more equipped to collaborate with journalists and share data with them. The many users who consult the NBS site on a daily basis can explore data more intuitively and make data-driven decisions.

There has been an uptick in the frequency of NBS data use in the media. NBS believes that because of its ability to publish data in a more user-friendly format, news discourse in the country is somewhat more evidence-based compared to the past. “Publishing data in PDF and publishing data in open data format is day and night,” says an NBS official. The greater uptake of NBS official statistics within and outside of government has contributed to increased NBS visibility and strengthened its value proposition. 

This is one of the case studies in a recently published paper that highlights good practices in building data literacy and strengthening the practice of data use at scale in the Africa region. These best practices are based on the partnership between the World Bank and CfA to increase data access and the use of data in decision making on the continent. Through a range of activities, CfA and the World Bank have invested in skills, tools, and community building to strengthen the culture of data use. Our work has engaged stakeholders at all levels of government, the media, civil society, academia, and the private sector. 

Investing in data skills is priority for countries in Africa to leverage data as a strategic asset for development
Photo: ©Code for Africa (CfA).

The need for data literacy is likely to become universal

We know that while public demand for data skills is difficult to assess, the need for data literacy is likely to become universal. Data skills are particularly relevant as COVID-19 has accelerated the digitization of virtually every aspect of the global economy and of routine activities in our daily lives. 

Data availability and data use, the latter of which is contingent on data literacy, can create significant benefits at the national level, and among poor and marginalized groups. Government accountability and service delivery can be improved through open government data, which enables data use and reuse.

Investing in data skills is priority for countries in Africa to leverage data as a strategic asset for development. The African Union’s Data Policy Framework recommends that capacity building should be a critical priority among state and non-state actors. Furthermore, the Framework emphasizes that “skills and understanding of the data ecosystem” should be built broadly.   

Recognizing the importance of data access and skills, in 2012 the World Bank began providing support for open data programs in developing countries. The goal of these initiatives has been to increase data accessibility and build capacity for data use. One key component of the World Bank’s broader effort to increase access to and use of data is the Data Use and Literacy Program, which comprises several activities focused on generating awareness and building capacity for data use and literacy among diverse stakeholders, including officials at all levels of government, helping operationalize the recommendations of World Development Report 2021: Data for Better Lives

The year 2012 was also when Code for Africa, a civic technology start-up based in Africa, started training journalists and government officials in data use, and collaborating with the World Bank. While CfA’s work was predominantly centered around data in journalism, the organization has since expanded its data training program to include government officials and now provides training for a range of different stakeholders, as discussed in the paper. 

The overall goal of the World Bank and CfA partnership has been to strengthen the enabling environment for data use and to build data literacy among stakeholders who can advocate for social accountability to improve the lives of citizens, especially including those from the poorest and most marginalized populations. 

One of the recommendations of the paper is that while capacity building efforts through the partnership thus far has largely focused on technical skills, a broader approach could be useful. Needless to say, policymaking is a complex process, and both state and non-state actors will likely be more effective in driving change if they have a comprehensive skill set that includes “soft” skills as well as technical skills. New courses should be developed and delivered that focus on skills in areas such as change management, leadership, negotiation, and other similar topics, and how they relate to effectively leveraging data.

In your view, what are some of the best practices to increase data literacy and incentivize data use?

The authors gratefully acknowledge financial support from the “Mainstreaming Rights-Based Approaches to Information and Data in Bank operations”, a World Bank project funded by the Human Rights, Inclusion and Empowerment (HRIE) Umbrella Program.


Ravi Kumar

Team Leader, Data Use and Literacy Program

Jacopo Ottaviani

Guest blogger / Chief Data Officer, Code for Africa (CfA)

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