Thursday, 19 June 2014


The data revolution should include a universal legislation requiring states to provide open, good quality data

Ever since the release of the High Level Panel report on the Post 2015 development agenda in 2013, the concept of a data revolution has gained significant traction in conversations at the global level. Nonetheless progress towards actualising the revolution in practical terms remains hamstrung by data sourcing and a myriad other challenges that can potentially be dealt with by an internationally-led consensus and sustained momentum to bring multiple stakeholders on board, and work closely with governments on issues of accessibility and usability of good quality, timely and relevant data and information.


I have participated in forums discussing the idea of the data revolution. I have also engaged in related conversations that seek to leverage the use of data and information for better policy making, governance and service delivery like the Open Government Partnership (OGP), the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) and the Open Data movements. A lot has been achieved towards outlining what is meant by the data revolution, of course with diverse and sometimes divergent views, what we want to achieve with it, and what obstacles remain on the way towards realising it.


The World Bank has sponsored elaborate conversations on the data revolution both in international forums and within localised national level facilitated processes. The Oversees Development Institute (ODI) as well through the Post 2015 blog has sponsored a series of research work and literature on the nature and impetus behind the data revolution. The PARIS 21facilitated an event on the sides of the UN General Assembly in 2013 on engineering a development data revolution. Elsewhere Civil Society Organisations are organising a broad range of stakeholders in many countries to make sense of the data revolution and what developmental ends could be achieved from it. In East Africa Development Initiatives is engaging an ecosystem of data handlers to discuss how to make sense of and utilise the data revolution to end poverty.


There is near consensus that the data revolution must be underpinned by a focus on providing open data, that is of good quality – available in machine readable formats and up to date.

However, the common narrative about what impedes the data revolution seems to rest on source challenges emanating from the supply side. These apply both in developed and developing countries. The argument is that even before discussing what to do with the data and how to make it relevant to poverty reduction in order to resonate with lives of common citizens, we need to locate the data. Data providers on the other hand lament that whatever is made available, no matter how little, is not being used. So where do we stand?

I am persuaded that unless these sourcing and usability of currently available data issues are resolved there will be significant challenges in realising the data revolution.

Across the globe, the approaches to data sourcing and tackling usability challenges vary, with similarities in certain instances. Some are using national level legislation or policies to compel custodians of development data to make it available to the public, while some are using laborious and expensive processes of purchasing and digitising data that is not available in machine friendly formats. But these approaches have achieved very little since, governments - custodians of the largest proportion of development data either lack the incentive, political will, or legal frameworks to make data available.

We now know that many interventions and programmes being implemented globally and at national levels are based on poor quality data or statistics that make them tenuous and contestable.  Yet for over a decade, enormous resources have been allocated and programmes implemented to tackle development challenges. African economies are suddenly leaping into middle income status due to revisions in national statistics and introduction of data previously not considered in calculating important national development indices.

The current development data isn’t good enough. Nearly 40% of developing countries cannot measure their poverty trends over the last decade due to inadequate data. The HLP report on post 2015 development agenda and UN Secretary General’s report on poverty both call for pioneering approaches to improving quality, timeliness and relevance of development data and a fundamental rethinking of the way we use data for social good” – Dr Jim Yong Kim, World Bank President.

I am of the opinion that now more than ever, the data revolution requires an international level facilitated process, to require national governments to make good quality data available to the public. Such a process could drive country level action by multiple stakeholders to invest in producing data and translating it to usable information.

This has been achieved in other spheres, for example the declaration on human rights was ratified globally compelling states to abide by and guarantee a minimum set of rights for all their citizens.

Through diplomacy and international driven consensus, development practitioners can lobby for a similar international declaration, or better yet, a standalone goal in the post 2015 framework to guarantee access to information to all citizens across the world. This could provide the much needed leverage that actors at national levels pushing for increased access to development data can use to further the agenda of the data revolution

This blog was originally posted on Open Development Toolkit here: 

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