As a former public school teacher, I have a special place in my heart for literacy issues. I know first-hand both the joy of reading with children and the very real pains that struggling with literacy can leave on a child’s life.
In light of my professional exposure to this topic and the fact that yesterday was International Literacy Day, I decided to take a look at the World Bank’s literacy data to get an idea of how literacy rates worldwide are progressing or still facing challenges.
The theme of this year’s International Literacy Day 2014 is “Literacy and Sustainable Development.” For developing countries in particular, literacy is one of the key elements needed to promote sustainable development as it empowers people to make the right decisions in the areas of educational growth and socioeconomic development.
In Kenya, Data Science, LTD (www.datascience.co.ke) is a data analysis and research company providing services to government, local organizations, and businesses. The company seeks to promote greater understanding and use of available data to gain insights for better planning, resource allocation, and entrepreneurship. This blog post is based on a recent Google Hangout discussion with Data Science, LTD founder Linet Kwamboka.
So what is it like being a data analysis company in Kenya, and what can others learn from Linet’s experience?
Open data roots
Linet worked on the World Bank supported opendata.go.ke as a project manager in the lead up to the initiative's launch in 2011. The company works with clients seeking to utilize data to make better decisions. They include private companies involved in marketing, jobs, retail, and consumer products. With government and civil society clients, the focus is to improve decision-making that lead to better public services and advocacy efforts.
Overcoming gaps in data
Linet has learned that the tasks of sourcing, analyzing, and transforming data into more readily consumed and actionable forms can take a significant amount of effort and time. In many situations, the data simply do not exist or are out of date.
This is a group that is in a transition period from childhood to adulthood. Since this period (ages 15-24) affects adulthood more directly than childhood, youth-related data can provide insights into how we can better address their future opportunities and challenges.
"The potential possibilities of any child are the most intriguing and stimulating in all creation."
– Ray Wilbur, American educator
Where are the highest concentrations of young people?
In 2013, people who were born between 1989 and 1998 accounted for 17% of the world's total population – 1.2 billion. While the world's population continues to grow, the youth population has declined gradually after it peaked in 2010. The youth population in high-income countries decreased by 6 million between 2010 and 2013, a reflection of the aging population trend in this income group.
What happens when a person’s potential to succeed in life is simply determined by the lottery of birth? We call this Inequality of Opportunity. Characteristics like gender, economic circumstances, geography, and ethnicity can trap large groups of people in poverty, and specifically affect access to basic services among children. Watch this video to learn more about Inequality of Opportunity -- what it is, how we measure it, and where you can find more information.
One of the core principles of trade economics is that of “comparative advantage.” First described by David Ricardo, the theory says that countries are best off if they specialize in products that they can make relatively more efficiently – with lower opportunity cost – than other countries. If this happens, the theory goes, global welfare will increase. This concept is more difficult than it sounds, however – as Paul Krugman has pointed out quite eloquently – and benefits from illustration.
Basketball genius Michael Jordan stars in one example sometimes used in textbooks and classrooms: If Jordan mows his lawn faster than anyone else in the neighborhood, he has anabsolute advantage in lawn mowing. But that doesn’t mean that he should mow his neighbor John Smith’s lawn, because that would come at an opportunity cost: in the same two hours it would take Jordan to cut the grass, he could earn much more by playing basketball or making a commercial.
While it is difficult to measure comparative advantage in world trade, one indicator is something called “Revealed Comparative Advantage” (RCA). This is a measure of how a country’s exports compare to those of a bigger group, such as a region or the rest of the world. For example, if a country’s RCA in wheat is high (typically greater than one), that means wheat makes up a higher share of that country’s total exports than it does of the world’s exports. This suggests that that country is a more efficient wheat-producer than the average country.
But countries don’t always produce the products in which they have a revealed comparative advantage. Sometimes Michael Jordan mows the lawn. Let’s take a look at a couple of examples from this new data visualization tool.
Follow the Money (http://followthemoneyng.org/) is a community action organization that leverages open budget and aid spending data from the Nigerian government and its aid partners. The organization also advocates for specific issues that impact communities, most recently, in the Zamfara State.
Follow the Money activists collect, publish, and visualize data, then connect findings to national and global social media networks in order to bring government attention to crises on the ground that require resources or immediate action. Once visualized, the data become a resource for citizens in affected communities to track government expenditures against actual outcomes.
The team has tackled issues like lead poisoning, flood relief, and most recently, education. They also host partners with other organizations, like Indigo Trust U.K. to offer regular data literacy events for other non-profits, journalists, government officials, legal professionals, and open data activists.
US Digital Services Playbook on Github
The White House launched a new “US Digital Service” yesterday - a small team of of word-class technology experts tasked with working with other government agencies to improve the design and delivery of digital services. This is a similar idea to the UK’s Government Digital Service (GDS) which has succeeded in bringing into government the technology approaches once found only in the more dynamic elements of the private sector. What are these approaches?
The Digital Services Playbook
The playbook outlines 13 specific strategies that draw on successful best practice from the private sector that, if followed together, “help government build effective digital services.” The plays are:
- Understand what people need
- Address the whole experience, from start to finish
- Make it simple and intuitive
- Build the service using agile and iterative practices
- Structure budgets and contracts to support delivery
- Assign one leader and hold that person accountable
- Bring in experienced teams
- Choose a modern technology stack
- Deploy in a flexible hosting environment
- Automate testing and deployments
- Manage security and privacy through reusable processes
- Use data to drive decisions
- Default to open
As with the GDS’ 10 Design Principles, I like the clarity with which these are explained, and that the entire playbook is published on Github, and open for public comment and collaboration. I’d recommend taking a few minutes to read it and think about how many of the approaches your government or institution uses.
As International Youth Day approaches next week, I've found myself wondering what are the primary issues affecting young people throughout the world. One topic that seems to be a common thread across regions and income groups is youth unemployment, which remains more than double the rate of unemployment for the general population.
It's well known that youth populations are on the rise in the developing world, particularly. What does this mean for the millions of young people who enter the workforce every year?
Youth unemployment is defined as individuals aged 15-24 who are without work, but are currently available for work and have sought it in the recent past. Below, I analyze data from World Development Indicators. These data come originally from the International Labour Organization (ILO), which produces its own estimates that are harmonized to account for inconsistences in the data source, definition, and methodologies. ILO estimates may differ from official unemployment statistics produced by national statistical offices.
Asia maintains lowest levels of youth unemployment
Regional levels of youth unemployment have barely changed in the past two decades. South Asia and East Asia and Pacific have maintained the lowest rates, hovering at about 10% for the last 20 years. Meanwhile, the Middle East and North Africa region has had the highest rate of youth unemployment since the 1990s, and clocked in a figure of about 27% in 2012. The biggest increase in the youth unemployment rate has been in the Europe and Central Asia region, where after years of steady decline rates have risen to over 20% since the financial crisis in 2008.
I was lucky to be in Berlin with some colleagues earlier this month for the 2014 Open Knowledge Festival and associated fringe events.
There’s really too much to distill into a short post - from Neelie Kroes, the European Commissioner for Digital Agenda, making the case for “Embracing the open opportunity” to Patrick Alley’s breathtaking accounts of how Global Witness uses information to expose crime and corruption in countries around the world.
A few things really stuck with me though from the dozens of great sessions throughout the week, here they are: