As we deliberate post 2015 agenda chalking out global development directions after the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), there’s a renewed interest in the availability, quality and accessibility of data and statistics for guiding policy, monitoring progress, measuring results, and supporting analysis.
The recent report by the High Level Panel appointed by the United Nations Secretary-General to advise on the global development plans after 2015, stresses that a ‘data revolution‘ should support the new set of global development goals to help monitor their progress. It states that, “better data and statistics will help governments track progress and make sure their decisions are evidence-based; they can also strengthen accountability. This is not just about governments. International agencies, CSOs and the private sector should be involved. A true data revolution would draw on existing and new sources of data to fully integrate statistics into decision making, promote open access to, and use of, data and ensure increased support for statistical systems.”
Certainly, this is not the first time that the importance of data and statistics is expressed in the global development context. In fact, in 2000, when the MDGs were set out, the large gaps in reliable data required to monitor them, came to the forefront. The demand for comparable, good quality statistics relating to MDGs has led to concepts such as Managing for Development Results (MfDR) – a management strategy that focuses on using performance information to improve decision-making and initiatives such as International Conference on Financing for Development (Monterrey, Mexico, 2002) leading to the Monterrey Consensus. One of the concerns in these and subsequent related deliberations which went beyond the need for financing for development was to measure results throughout the development process, as well as the need to demonstrate that impacts were made. This required countries to come up with strong statistical practices capable of meeting this challenge through a system wide approach in planning their National Statistical Systems (NSS) – an ensemble of statistical organizations and units within a country that jointly collect, process and disseminate official statistics on behalf of the government.
This however, has not been the only global push for effective and efficient NSS. Related to the MDG agenda, but further than that, in the context of use of aid – both for attainment of internationally agreed goals and the national development priorities, mutual accountability is of key concern between donors and recipient countries. This concern has been echoed also in the ‘Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness’ endorsed by the 2nd high-level forum on Aid Effectiveness (Paris, 2005). This initiative highlighted the requirement of cost-effective data for results-oriented reporting and assessment frameworks in the context of public accountability. This also, called for a comprehensive approach in development of a national strategy for statistics.
National Strategy for the Development of Statistics (NSDS) is the formal framework to strengthen statistical capacity across NSS. Using a strategic plan to provide an overall strategy for improving development statistics has been widely accepted as a best practice. (Marrakech Action Plan for Statistics, 2004 – (PDF), endorsed by the partakers in the 2nd International Roundtable on Managing for Development Results in Marrakech, Morocco in 2004).
Currently, Rwanda is developing its 2nd NSDS for the period 2014/2015-2018/2019. Still in initial stages, while drafting this document, came the dawning realization that much as I would like it to meet the expectations towards international development agenda, it is the national development context which should drive it.
In Rwanda’s Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy (EDPRS) which is a medium-term strategy towards attainment of long-term goals – (now in its 2nd leap for the period 2013–2018), data and statistics as evidences, plays an indispensable role in guiding its implementation and subsequent policy making.
Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) framework in such strategies provide the context for data as baseline, output and impact indicators. NSS plays a very important role here. It will require the concerted efforts by all constituent members in NSS, towards meeting the objective of providing data for monitoring the EDPRS implementation. Which essentially entails obtaining activities/output data, from the regular administrative data collection mechanisms of implementing agencies at national and sub-national levels, and data for outcome/impact indicators (usually measured at the population level) through population based surveys and the census.
Hence, a strong NSDS, which ensures that the surveys and censuses are supplemented by administrative data (and vital statistics) from NSS, feeding in learning and discovering what is or is not working in development or poverty reduction context, is essential.
In the past, though NSS has collectively produced statistics through a large number of population based surveys and censuses, the administrative records and vital statistics to complement the requirement, has fallen short of expectations. It requires rigorous efforts to strengthen the mechanisms to improve the administrative data collection and civil registration system. Also, (and most importantly) data dissemination by NSS constituents has been weak. Some institutions and line-ministries don’t have data and statistics on their websites and in some cases these are not easily discoverable, useable, or understandable by the public.
It is required that access to data is made easier to allow users to have new insights and help improve the flow of information within and between NSS institutions.
Does the situation calls for open data revolution? (Not just data revolution!), as the recent G8 Open Data Charter states, “open data by default”!
During, the 41st session of the United Nations Statistical Commission, held in February 2010, in a seminar titled, ‘Emerging Trends in Data Communication’ organised by the United Nations Statistics Division (UNSD), informed its participants about the innovations in the communication of data and on movements towards open data.
Open data implies that data are open to public, free of charge, machine readable and follows open standards. In my view, also as a public good, government data and statistics should be freely available for use and reuse by the public.
I’m wondering though, can NISR as the coordinator of NSS in Rwanda (or similar National Statistics Offices around the world), play a facilitator’s role through NSDS in influencing the line-ministries and other government institutions in opening up their data?