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Webinar Recap: harnessing the power of data

In a world increasingly driven by data, the importance of harnessing its power for development cannot be overstated.

On Friday, 12 May, Diego Fernandez, a senior analyst from MIF, and Karen Bett, Senior Policy Manager, Data Equity and Inclusion at the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data, shared their insights during the webinar Governance in focus: harnessing the power of data to meet Africa's development goals. Their discussion shed light on the data gaps in Africa and emphasised the need for concrete efforts to fill them.

Diego set the stage by providing valuable context on the current significance of data. As 2023 marks the halfway point toward achieving the UN's Agenda 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the first ten-year milestone of the AU's Agenda 2063, it is a crucial moment in the data for development agenda. Additionally, two summits are set to take place in the second half of this year: the 2023 SDG Summit in New York, which will provide a comprehensive assessment of the current state of progress against the SDGs, and COP28 in Dubai, which will conduct the first Global Stocktake of the Paris Agreement. However, without substantial efforts on the data front, the success of both these summits could be compromised.

When asked about the gap in the supply and demand of SDG progress and climate agenda data, Karen stated that fewer than half of all countries globally can produce data for 80 of the 231 SDG indicators. The preliminary assessment of the 140 SDG targets with data indicates that only around 12% are on track.

Karen also stressed the urgency to close data gaps to accelerate progress, highlighting that pressing gaps in Africa pose significant obstacles to the continent’s progress. Africa faces a staggering deficit in available data compared to other regions worldwide. 60% of countries globally that postponed censuses scheduled for 2020 or 2021 are African, with Nigeria recently delaying again its first census in 17 years. This contributes to the growing data gap. Furthermore, over half of the world's unregistered children under the age of five reside in Africa, approximately 91 million out of 164 million globally (as reported by UNICEF and UNECA).

IIAG and data

The 2022 Ibrahim Index of African Governance (IIAG) sheds light on the specific data gaps hindering Africa's progress. Key areas lacking up-to-date and relevant data include health capacities, mental health, the rural sector, informal economy, climate change resilience, age-disaggregated data, and disability data.

Insufficient data in crucial sectors such as health capacities, the rural sector, and climate change resilience hinders Africa's ability to effectively respond to health and climate crises. Concerningly, the IIAG Rural Economy sub-category has no data available for nine African countries, despite the vital importance of the rural sector for agriculture, food security, and climate change adaptation.

During the webinar, Karen Bett, an authority on data equity and inclusion, addressed critical questions related to data gaps in measuring African governance performance. She emphasised that the dearth of data itself is an injustice and highlighted some root causes of these gaps. Challenges include the struggle to find internationally accepted methodologies for producing official statistics and limited budgets that impede the collection of new types of statistics. Karen stressed the pivotal role of governance data in building public trust in leaders and ensuring effective public institution performance. Furthermore, she acknowledged the challenges in measuring problems such as corruption and government openness but emphasised the importance of prioritising these dimensions to drive meaningful inclusion and participation, leading to changing policies and improving people's lives.

Delving deeper into the data gaps, the 2022 IIAG data set reveals that there has been progress over the last decade (2012-2021). While only 55.2% of data points at the variable level were available at the source for 2012, data availability peaked at 82.6% for 2018. Equatorial Guinea and Libya experienced the highest percentage of missing data points across the ten-year period at the country level. Out of the four IIAG categories, Foundations for Economic Opportunity had the highest missingness, while Participation, Rights & Inclusion showed the least missingness.

Aimed at unleashing the data dividend for development, one of the key goals of the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data is to foster data partnerships. During the webinar, Karen shared best practices from the African continent, highlighting both institutional arrangements and remarkable results. Notable examples include the Praia Group on Governance Statistics, which brings statisticians together to strengthen statistical capacity.

Successful outcomes

When asked about successful outcomes, Karen mentioned the case of Malawi, where data was used to determine strategic locations for health facilities. By combining call detail records, census data, and earth observation data, the Ministry of Health was able to identify where best to establish health facilities. Following this approach, the government had established 55 facilities by 2022.

Another example is the National Police Force in Kenya, which identified that most accidents took place on just 150 km of the 6,200 km road network. They could target accident hotspots and allocate resources more effectively with better data.

In conclusion, the webinar shed light on the pressing data gaps that hinder Africa's progress and called for transformative action. As Africa stands at a crucial juncture with major global summits on the horizon, filling these data gaps becomes imperative for achieving the SDGs, Agenda 2063, and climate targets. Investing in data systems, fostering data partnerships, and prioritising problems are essential steps toward unlocking the data dividend for Africa's development. By harnessing the power of data, Africa can navigate the path towards a prosperous and sustainable future.