Data gaps threaten achievement of development goals in Africa


Sara Jerving at Devex: “Data gaps across the African continent threaten to hinder the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals and the African Union’s Agenda 2063, according to the Mo Ibrahim Foundation’s first governance report released on Tuesday.

The report, “Agendas 2063 & 2030: Is Africa On Track?“ based on an analysis of the foundation’s Ibrahim index of African governance, found that since the adoption of both of these agendas, the availability of public data in Africa has declined. With data focused on social outcomes, there has been a notable decline in education, population and vital statistics, such as birth and death records, which allow citizens to access public services.

The index, on which the report is based, is the most comprehensive dataset on African governance, drawing on ten years of data of all 54 African nations. An updated index is released every two years….

The main challenge in the production of quality, timely data, according to the report, is a lack of funding and lack of independence of the national statistical offices.

Only one country, Mauritius, had a perfect score in terms of independence of its national statistics office – meaning that its office can collect the data it chooses, publish without approval from other arms of the government, and is sufficiently funded. Fifteen African nations scored zero in terms of the independence of their offices….(More)”.

Why policy networks don’t work (the way we think they do)


Blog by James Georgalakis: “Is it who you know or what you know? The literature on evidence uptake and the role of communities of experts mobilised at times of crisis convinced me that a useful approach would be to map the social network that emerged around the UK-led mission to Sierra Leone so it could be quantitatively analysed. Despite the well-deserved plaudits for my colleagues at IDS and their partners in the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, the UK Department for International Development (DFID), the Wellcome Trust and elsewhere, I was curious to know why they had still met real resistance to some of their policy advice. This included the provision of home care kits for victims of the virus who could not access government or NGO run Ebola Treatment Units (ETUs).

It seemed unlikely these challenges were related to poor communications. The timely provision of accessible research knowledge by the Ebola Response Anthropology Platform has been one of the most celebrated aspects of the mobilisation of anthropological expertise. This approach is now being replicated in the current Ebola response in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).  Perhaps the answer was in the network itself. This was certainly indicated by some of the accounts of the crisis by those directly involved.

Social network analysis

I started by identifying the most important looking policy interactions that took place between March 2014, prior to the UK assuming leadership of the Sierra Leone international response and mid-2016, when West Africa was finally declared Ebola free. They had to be central to the efforts to coordinate the UK response and harness the use of evidence. I then looked for documents related to these events, a mixture of committee minutes, reports and correspondence , that could confirm who was an active participant in each. This analysis of secondary sources related to eight separate policy processes and produced a list of 129 individuals. However, I later removed a large UK conference that took place in early 2016 at which learning from the crisis was shared.  It appeared that most delegates had no significant involvement in giving policy advice during the crisis. This reduced the network to 77….(More)”.

‘Digital colonialism’: why some countries want to take control of their people’s data from Big Tech


Jacqueline Hicks at the Conversation: “There is a global standoff going on about who stores your data. At the close of June’s G20 summit in Japan, a number of developing countries refused to sign an international declaration on data flows – the so-called Osaka Track. Part of the reason why countries such as India, Indonesia and South Africa boycotted the declaration was because they had no opportunity to put their own interests about data into the document.

With 50 other signatories, the declaration still stands as a statement of future intent to negotiate further, but the boycott represents an ongoing struggle by some countries to assert their claim over the data generated by their own citizens.

Back in the dark ages of 2016, data was touted as the new oil. Although the metaphor was quickly debunked it’s still a helpful way to understand the global digital economy. Now, as international negotiations over data flows intensify, the oil comparison helps explain the economics of what’s called “data localisation” – the bid to keep citizens’ data within their own country.

Just as oil-producing nations pushed for oil refineries to add value to crude oil, so governments today want the world’s Big Tech companies to build data centres on their own soil. The cloud that powers much of the world’s tech industry is grounded in vast data centres located mainly around northern Europe and the US coasts. Yet, at the same time, US Big Tech companies are increasingly turning to markets in the global south for expansion as enormous numbers of young tech savvy populations come online….(More)”.

Social Systems Evidence


Social Systems Evidence is the world’s most comprehensive, continuously updated repository of syntheses of research evidence about the programs, services and products available in a broad range of government sectors and program areas (e.g., climate action, community and social services, economic development and growth, education, environmental conservation, education, housing and transportation) as well as the governance, financial and delivery arrangements within which these programs, services and products are provided, and the implementation strategies that can help to ensure that these programs, services and products get to those who need them. The content contained in Social Systems Evidence covers the Sustainable Development Goals, with the exceptions of the health part of goal 3 (which is already well covered by databases such as ACCESSSS for clinical evidence, Health Evidence for public health evidence, and Health Systems Evidence for the governance, financial and delivery arrangements, and the implementation strategies that determine whether the right programs, services and products get to those who need them).

The types of syntheses in Social Systems Evidence include evidence briefs for policy, overviews of systematic reviews, systematic reviews, systematic reviews in progress (i.e. protocols for systematic reviews), and systematic reviews being planned (i.e. registered titles for systematic reviews). Social Systems Evidence also contains a continuously updated repository of economic evaluations in these same domains.

Documents included in Social Systems Evidence are identified through weekly electronic searches of online bibliographic databases (EBSCOhost, ProQuest and Web of Science) and through manual searches of the websites of high-volume producers of research syntheses relevant to social-system program and service areas (see acknowledgements below).

For all types of documents, Social Systems Evidence provides links to user-friendly summaries, scientific abstracts, and full-text reports (if applicable and when freely available). For each systematic review, Social Systems Evidence also provides an assessment of its methodological quality, and links to the studies contained in the review.

While SSE is free to use and does not require that users have an account, creating an account will allow you to view more than 20 search results, to save documents and searches, and to subscribe to email alerts, among other advanced features. You can create an account by clicking ‘Create account’ on the top banner (for desktop and laptop computers) or in the menu on far right of the banner (for mobile devices).

Social Systems Evidence can save social-system policymakers and stakeholders a great deal of time by helping them to rapidly identify: a synthesis of the best available research evidence on a given topic that has been prepared in a systematic and transparent way, how recently the search for studies was conducted, the quality of the synthesis, the countries in which the studies included in the synthesis were conducted, and the key findings from the synthesis. Social Systems Evidence can also help them to rapidly identify economic evaluations in these same domains…(More)”.

Counting on the World to Act


Home report cover

Report by Trends: “Eradicating poverty and hunger, ensuring quality education, instituting affordable and clean energy, and more – the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) lay out a broad, ambitious vision for our world. But there is one common denominator that cuts across this agenda: data. Without timely, relevant, and disaggregated data, policymakers and their development partners will be unprepared to turn their promises into reality for communities worldwide. With only eleven years left to meet the goals, it is imperative that we focus on building robust, inclusive, and relevant national data systems to support the curation and promotion of better data for sustainable development. In Counting on the World to Act, TReNDS details an action plan for governments and their development partners that will enable them to help deliver the SDGs globally by 2030. Our recommendations specifically aim to empower government actors – whether they be national statisticians, chief data scientists, chief data officers, ministers of planning, or others concerned with evidence in support of sustainable development – to advocate for, build, and lead a new data ecosystem….(More)”.

Sharing Private Data for Public Good


Stefaan G. Verhulst at Project Syndicate: “After Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans in 2005, the direct-mail marketing company Valassis shared its database with emergency agencies and volunteers to help improve aid delivery. In Santiago, Chile, analysts from Universidad del Desarrollo, ISI Foundation, UNICEF, and the GovLab collaborated with Telefónica, the city’s largest mobile operator, to study gender-based mobility patterns in order to design a more equitable transportation policy. And as part of the Yale University Open Data Access project, health-care companies Johnson & Johnson, Medtronic, and SI-BONE give researchers access to previously walled-off data from 333 clinical trials, opening the door to possible new innovations in medicine.

These are just three examples of “data collaboratives,” an emerging form of partnership in which participants exchange data for the public good. Such tie-ups typically involve public bodies using data from corporations and other private-sector entities to benefit society. But data collaboratives can help companies, too – pharmaceutical firms share data on biomarkers to accelerate their own drug-research efforts, for example. Data-sharing initiatives also have huge potential to improve artificial intelligence (AI). But they must be designed responsibly and take data-privacy concerns into account.

Understanding the societal and business case for data collaboratives, as well as the forms they can take, is critical to gaining a deeper appreciation the potential and limitations of such ventures. The GovLab has identified over 150 data collaboratives spanning continents and sectors; they include companies such as Air FranceZillow, and Facebook. Our research suggests that such partnerships can create value in three main ways….(More)”.

Data Is a Development Issue


Paper by Susan Ariel Aaronson: “Many wealthy states are transitioning to a new economy built on data. Individuals and firms in these states have expertise in using data to create new goods and services as well as in how to use data to solve complex problems. Other states may be rich in data but do not yet see their citizens’ personal data or their public data as an asset. Most states are learning how to govern and maintain trust in the data-driven economy; however, many developing countries are not well positioned to govern data in a way that encourages development. Meanwhile, some 76 countries are developing rules and exceptions to the rules governing cross-border data flows as part of new negotiations on e-commerce. This paper uses a wide range of metrics to show that most developing and middle-income countries are not ready or able to provide an environment where their citizens’ personal data is protected and where public data is open and readily accessible. Not surprisingly, greater wealth is associated with better scores on all the metrics. Yet, many industrialized countries are also struggling to govern the many different types and uses of data. The paper argues that data governance will be essential to development, and that donor nations have a responsibility to work with developing countries to improve their data governance….(More)”.

How mobile text reminders earned Madagascar a 32,900% ROI in collecting unpaid taxes


Paper by Tiago Peixoto et al : “Benjamin Franklin famously once said that “nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” In developing countries, however, tax revenues are anything but certain. Madagascar is a prime example, with tax collection as a share of GDP at just under 11 percent. This is low even compared with countries of similar levels of economic development, and well below what the government could reasonably collect to fund much-needed public services, such as education, health and infrastructure. 

Poor compliance by citizens who owe taxes remains a major reason for Madagascar’s low tax collection. Madagascar’s government has therefore made increasing tax revenue collection a high priority in its strategy for promoting sustainable economic growth and addressing poverty.

Reforming a tax system can take decades. But small measures, implemented with the help of technology, can help tax authorities improve compliance.  Our team at the World Bank jointly conducted a field experiment with the Madagascar’s Directorate General for Taxation, to test whether simple text message reminders via mobile phones could increase compliance among late-tax filers.

We took a group of 15,885 late-income-tax filers and randomly assigned some of them to receive a series of messages reminding them to file a tax declaration and emphasizing various reasons to pay taxes. Late tax filers were told that they could avoid a late penalty by meeting an extended deadline and were given the link to the tax filing website. 

The results of the experiment were significant. In the control group, only 7.2% of late filers filed a tax return by the extended deadline cited in the SMS messages. This increased to 9.8% in the treatment groups who received SMS reminders. This might not sound like much, but for every dollar spent sending text messages, the tax authority collected an additional 329 dollars in revenues, making the intervention highly cost-effective.

In fact, the return on this particular investment was 32,900 percent! Although this increase in revenue is relatively small in absolute terms—around $375,000—it could be automatically integrated into the tax system. It also suggests that messaging may hold a lot of promise for cost-effectively increasing tax receipts even in developing country contexts….(More)”.

Stop Surveillance Humanitarianism


Mark Latonero at The New York Times: “A standoff between the United Nations World Food Program and Houthi rebels in control of the capital region is threatening the lives of hundreds of thousands of civilians in Yemen.

Alarmed by reports that food is being diverted to support the rebels, the aid program is demanding that Houthi officials allow them to deploy biometric technologies like iris scans and digital fingerprints to monitor suspected fraud during food distribution.

The Houthis have reportedly blocked food delivery, painting the biometric effort as an intelligence operation, and have demanded access to the personal data on beneficiaries of the aid. The impasse led the aid organization to the decision last month to suspend food aid to parts of the starving population — once thought of as a last resort — unless the Houthis allow biometrics.

With program officials saying their staff is prevented from doing its essential jobs, turning to a technological solution is tempting. But biometrics deployed in crises can lead to a form of surveillance humanitarianism that can exacerbate risks to privacy and security.

By surveillance humanitarianism, I mean the enormous data collection systems deployed by aid organizations that inadvertently increase the vulnerability of people in urgent need….(More)”.

Mobile phone data’s potential for informing infrastructure planning in developing countries


Paper by Hadrien Salat, Zbigniew Smoreda, and Markus Schläpfer: “High quality census data are not always available in developing countries. Instead, mobile phone data are becoming a go to proxy to evaluate population density, activity and social characteristics. They offer additional advantages for infrastructure planning such as being updated in real-time, including mobility information and recording temporary visitors’ activity. We combine various data sets from Senegal to evaluate mobile phone data’s potential to replace insufficient census data for infrastructure planning in developing countries. As an applied case, we test their ability at predicting accurately domestic electricity consumption. We show that, contrary to common belief, average mobile phone activity is not well correlated with population density. However, it can provide better electricity consumption estimates than basic census data. More importantly, we successfully use curve and network clustering techniques to enhance the accuracy of the predictions, to recover good population mapping potential and to reduce the collection of informative data for planning to substantially smaller samples….(More)”.