Tuesday, 8 October 2013

A ‘data revolution’ for elimination of poverty?

Inherent in the 2013 High Level Panel (HLP) report on the Post 2015 Development Agenda is the idea of a ‘data revolution’ that aims to draw on existing and new sources of data to infuse statistics into decision making[1]. The ultimate is to have information shape policy: to encourage open access to data, facilitate relevant analysis and to promote appropriate employment of accrued information to improve policy.

Too often, development efforts have been hampered by a lack of the most basic data about the social and economic circumstances in which people live. Stronger monitoring and evaluation at all levels, and in all processes of development [...] will help guide decision making, update priorities and ensure accountability. [...] We must also take advantage of new technologies and access to open data for all people.” ~ Bali Communiqué of the High-Level Panel, March 28, 2013
The conceptualisation of the ‘data revolution’, albeit not universally agreed on so far, leaves the connotation of an overhaul of the current system[2]. It implies empowering citizens (CSOs, media, government officers, ‘techies’, academicians and development partners within a data ecosystem) in a ‘fresh wave’ of data collection, analysis and use. It is a call for transparency and accountability[3]. It aims to ensure that information influences development policy; that data is utilized to evaluate the efficacy of policy and that data provides feedback loops for improvement of systems, institutions or policies. The question that lurks however is:

Will a ‘data revolution’ or its equivalent really lead to better policies and attainment of poverty eradication targets beyond 2015?
Clearly better data and improved evidence has proven to be able to facilitate better policy making. A data revolution, if conceptualised as so, would thus provide the factual basing for the review and improvement of policy to meet the demands of prevailing circumstances. However, there is also the risk of getting overly carried away with datasets and infographics, and losing focus on the structural issues that require to be addressed in order to improve policy and bolster poverty reduction. 

The real 'data revolution' will depend on the ability to collect and aggregate data, and to have as many people as possible collabortaing effectively around a distributed ecosystem of information[4]. Conversely, a non-revolution would be a kin to having just a 'select group of nerds or politicians knowing more about poor people and their problems'[5].
  • What should be the true understanding of a ‘data revolution’ in the context of poverty reduction?
  • What is the potential for a ‘data revolution’ to contribute to development and to the ending of poverty by 2030 and what could stop this from happening?
  • What role can different stakeholders in the data ecosystem play in promoting the ‘data revolution’?
  • What could best inform the design of a platform to drive the ‘data revolution’?

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