Published on Data Blog

What data do decision makers really use, and why?

When it comes to revolutions, the data revolution has certainly been less bloody than, say, those in the 18th and 19th centuries. Equally transformative? A question for historians.

AidData, a research and innovation lab located at the College of William & Mary in the US, set out in 2017, to identify what data decision makers in low and middle-income countries use, whose data they use, why they use it, and which data are most helpful.

What can the World Bank learn from AidData’s study, and do data from our own Country Opinion Survey Program, align with AidData’s findings?

Decoding data use: 3500 leaders in 126 low- and middle-income countries.

In 2017 nearly 3500 leaders responded to AidData’s Listening To Leaders Survey (LTL) to help uncover how, when, and why this audience uses information from a range of sources.

This rich data is featured in the report “Decoding Data Use: How do Leaders Source data and Use It To Accelerate Development” and can help any institution target important audiences. For example, what are CSOs and NGOs using most frequently, and for what purpose? How about government respondents? Development partners? The private sector? Does it differ region to region?

Here are some of the key findings:


  • Policymakers consult information from the World Bank more than other foreign/international organizations.
  • If you want opinion leaders in client countries to be aware of the Bank’s data and knowledge, bring it to their attention. If you expect them to find it through an internet search, you might be disappointed.
  • Opinion leaders are most likely to regard the knowledge and information helpful if it helps them better understand challenging policy issues and will help them develop implementation strategies in response.
  • Make sure the knowledge and information reflects the local context (be inclusive).
  • Stay focused on policy recommendations to ensure value.

Now let’s see how AidData’s findings compare with the Bank’s Country Opinion Survey Data.

First thing’s first: Accessing data

The AidData survey findings demonstrate that in the world of information and knowledge, decision makers around the world are accessing the Bank’s data.

Both the AidData and Country Opinion Survey studies clearly show that an interaction or act of engagement will go a long way in ensuring that an organization’s data and knowledge are used (or at least consulted/accessed). Think ‘active’ rather than ‘passive'. The following charts tell the story.

Why do policymakers look for data in the first place?

It’s all about solutions. Stakeholders report that they want data from international sources to solve problems. There’s less interest in using the data for advocacy, updates on progress, to name a few.

Most important: What makes it useful?

We know from Country Surveys that few respondents question the technical quality of the Bank’s data. These ratings remain consistently high from year to year.

AidData’s reporting suggests that it’s all about solutions. The knowledge doesn’t have to be new or innovative. Rather, it needs to help policy makers within their own context, solve their problems.

So how does the World Bank measure up on solving problems with its data and knowledge? According our Country Survey data, stakeholders view the global relevance of our knowledge more positively than they do its ability to ‘lead to practical solutions.’

At the World Bank, with this recent AidData report in mind, we should ask ourselves: do we include local stakeholders to ensure that our knowledge reflects the local context? Is it solution oriented? Ratings are fairly positive, as seen in the chart above, but there is room for greater inclusiveness and orientation toward solutions.

In sum, AidData’s “Decoding Data Use” report demonstrates that the World Bank  punches ‘above its financial weight in attracting users of the data and analysis” but the institution could do a lot better in ensuring the information is useful and helpful. A good mantra to emerge from this important study:

Think and act locally. Engage. Solve problems.

Think and act locally. Engage. Solve problems.

Think and act locally. Engage. Solve problems.

The full AidData study is available here:

Data and reporting from the World Bank’s Country Survey Program, is available here:


Sharon Felzer

Senior Communications Officer

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