The 2022 Ibrahim Index of Governance (IIAG) has good and bad news on data. There’s reason for optimism – steps forwards on digital infrastructure, which is a key part of modernising data systems, and in many countries, progress on statistical capacity and civil registration. National statistics offices across the continent are leading processes of innovation and modernisation to deliver the data that is needed. But big gaps remain in the data itself, gaps which limit our ability to track and understand progress across many key areas in the Index. These gaps are global: at the halfway point of the 2030 Agenda, fewer than half of all countries are able to produce data on even 80 of the 231 SDG indicators.
Good data is vital to everything governments want to do, and the returns on investment in the systems that deliver it are phenomenal. Recent research found that, on average, investing one dollar in data systems delivers a return of $32 in the form of economic benefits for the country.
On average, investing one dollar in data systems delivers a return of $32 in the form of economic benefits for the country
Despite the huge returns on investing in data, the trends are going in the wrong direction. During the pandemic, two-thirds of national statistics offices in Africa saw costs rise, but at the same time nearly three-quarters found their government funding reduced and two-thirds saw a drop in donor funding. Globally, donor financing for data and statistics fell by 16% in 2020.
Globally, donor financing for data and statistics fell by 16% in 2020
At a time of growing crises and shrinking budgets, when governments and donors need to make the most of every dollar, it is particularly critical to invest in the data that can increase the efficiency and impact of all other spendings.
Pathways to data investment
Investments in data deliver these huge returns through three main pathways:
- Data is a critical element of good government decision making, guiding politicians and bureaucrats as they choose between options, allocate scarce resources and develop new policies. Without good data, governments are making policies in the dark. With good data, governments can effectively target resources – as when the National Police force in Kenya identified that most accidents took place on just 150km of the 6,200km road network. Better data meant they could target accident hotspots and make the money go further.
- Data is a critical element of private sector decision making, as companies weigh up decisions about whether and how to invest, to expand or to diversify. A solid understanding of the economic and social context can support choices by individual companies that increase employment and create growth.
- Data is essential for accountability. Without evidence of the impact of programmes on different groups and the trajectory of public spending, civil society and media groups lack the evidence they need to highlight problems and raise critical issues.
Good data is a global issue
Poor data is not only a problem for individual governments. Global challenges require good data systems at national level for tracking disease, for monitoring deforestation or for understanding the implications of changes happening in our oceans – good data is a global issue.
Effective support to national data systems is about the quality as well as the quantity of funding. More money is needed, but it has to be spent in the right way – on data systems, not just on individual data points or platforms.
Donors’ investments in data are often uncoordinated and, in some cases, they even undermine each other
Donors fund data in partner countries through direct investments in statistics and digital transformation, through the data component of sectoral programs. Too often these are not coordinated and in some cases, actively undermine each other, with money and time wasted on unconnected or competing priorities that don’t align with what countries actually need.
- In Nigeria, for example, seven different funders sponsored ten separate efforts to update the country’s Master Health Facility List, with each state surveyed a minimum of four times – a huge amount of time was wasted.
- In Zimbabwe, 33 different surveys were conducted in the nine years between 2009 and 2018, supported by 12 different donors. With the average cost of a household survey somewhere between $1-1.7 million, that represents more than $33 million that could have been put into strengthening the overall data system, providing more and better information than disconnected surveys.
Investments in data systems will pay off again and again in the form of more efficient use of resources across all sectors and greater accountability between people and governments. Governments, donors and the private sector all have a role to play:
- Governments need to allocate sustained funding to their data systems, including national statistics offices.
- Donors need to increase their support to data systems and ensure that their sectoral investments are strengthening and not undermining the overall system.
- Companies can be core partners in data systems, contributing technology, knowledge and skills to drive innovation and modernisation. Now is the time for governments, companies and donors to deliver on the opportunity of new technologies and create the modern data systems that can power Africa’s growth.