Introducing the Governance Data Alliance

“The overall assumption of the Governance Data Alliance is that governance data can contribute to improved sustainable economic and human development outcomes and democratic accountability in all countries. The contribution that governance data will make to those outcomes will of course depend on a whole range of issues that will vary across contexts; development processes, policy processes, and the role that data plays vary considerably. Nevertheless, there are some core requirements that need to be met if data is to make a difference, and articulating them can provide a framework to help us understand and improve the impact that data has on development and accountability across different contexts.

We also collectively make another implicit (and important) assumption: that the current state of affairs is vastly insufficient when it comes to the production and usage of high-quality governance data. In other words, the status quo needs to be significantly improved upon. Data gathered from participants in the April 2014 design session help to paint that picture in granular terms. Data production remains highly irregular and ad hoc; data usage does not match data production in many cases (e.g. users want data that don’t exist and do not use data that is currently produced); production costs remain high and inconsistent across producers despite possibilities for economies of scale; and feedback loops between governance data producers and governance data users are either non-existent or rarely employed. We direct readers to for a fuller treatment of those findings.

Three requirements need to be met if governance data is to lead to better development and accountability outcomes, whether those outcomes are about core “governance” issues such as levels of inclusion, or about service delivery and human development outcomes that may be shaped by the quality of governance. Those requirements are:

  • The availability of governance data.
  • The quality of governance data, including its usability and salience.
  • The informed use of governance data.

(Or to use the metaphor of markets, we face a series of market failures: supply of data is inconsistent and not uniform; user demand cannot be efficiently channeled to suppliers to redirect their production to address those deficiencies; and transaction costs abound through non-existent data standards and lack of predictability.)

If data are not available about those aspects of governance that are expected to have an impact on development outcomes and democratic accountability, no progress will be made. The risk is that data about key issues will be lacking, or that there will be gaps in coverage, whether country coverage, time periods covered, or sectors, or that data sets produced by different actors may not be comparable. This might come about for reasons including the following: a lack of knowledge – amongst producers, and amongst producers and users – about what data is needed and what data is available; high costs, and limited resources to invest in generating data; and, institutional incentives and structures (e.g. lack of autonomy, inappropriate mandate, political suppression of sensitive data, organizational dysfunction – relating, for instance, to National Statistical Offices) that limit the production of governance data….

What A Governance Data Alliance Should Do (Or, Making the Market Work)

During the several months of creative exploration around possibilities for a Governance Data Alliance, dozens of activities were identified as possible solutions (in whole or in part) to the challenges identified above. This note identifies what we believe to be the most important and immediate activities that an Alliance should undertake, knowing that other activities can and should be rolled into an Alliance work plan in the out years as the initiative matures and early successes (and failures) are achieved and digested.

A brief summary of the proposals that follow:

  1. Design and implement a peer-to-peer training program between governance data producers to improve the quality and salience of existing data.
  2. Develop a lightweight data standard to be adopted by producer organizations to make it easier for users to consume governance data.
  3. Mine the 2014 Reform Efforts Survey to understand who actually uses which governance data, currently, around the world.
  4. Leverage the 2014 Reform Efforts Survey “plumbing” to field customized follow-up surveys to better assess what data users seek in future governance data.
  5. Pilot (on a regional basis) coordinated data production amongst producer organizations to fill coverage gaps, reduce redundancies, and respond to actual usage and user preferences….(More) “