There’s an African saying where there’s smoke there’s fire. And if you do not move from the railway line once you have been hit do not blame the train. A revolution is brewing and taking Africa by a storm and it is not sparing anyone. Its a new-era revolution that deals with numeracy and literacy – It is Data Revolution.
For the last two days I was in the company of great minds, some of the great think tanks in Africa and the world. Hosted by Partnership for African Social and Governance Research (PASGR) a Pan African organization spearheading great conversation on Data Revolution in Africa. PASGR seeks to increase the capacity of African academic institutions and researchers to produce research that can inform social policy and governance.
It is a forum on Building Capacity for African Development Data that being a journalist sure I am bound to be intimidated I whispered to my colleague and we had a good laugh about it. The reality is when they start talking and all are speaking this big jargon on Data one would tend to be confused but in reality this is what we consume on a daily basis. I will break it down to a language that You and I can understand through some of the conversations that took place.
The nascent Post-2015 global development agenda continues to emerge and attention is now focused on turning the call of Data Revolution into a set of concrete proposals that will be integrated into the UN Secretary-General’s Synthesis Report on Post-2015. Prof. Tade Aina, PASGR Executive Director noting that “The “Design Shop” is intended to generate analysis and ideas that will be used to form a PASGR-convened Working Group on African Capacity for Development Data. We need strong collaborative agendas“.
Danielle Doughman of APHRC “We need to build institutions that can produce accurate data that is unbiased. We need to improve data access, accuracy and co-ordination and encourage open data as we leverage regional multilateral to build National Statistics office capacity“
Implicit in this recognition is the need for investment in human and institutional capacity, which is especially acute in Africa, although there are a few examples of African innovation in data that have potential lessons for actors within and outside the region.
An interesting discussion was advanced by Muchiri Nyaggah of Open Society as there must be clear demand on the inside for data. We need informed fact citizens with open data, “Integration of statistics into public and private sector decision making“.
3 Observations by Muchiri: Work with administrative data is useful internally in public sector. There’s need to secure political early and capacity is needed to navigate political loopholes. We also need to go beyond Transparency and accountability. Quoting Thomas Sankara “You cannot carry out a fundamental change without a certain level of madness“.
This is profoundly true since the extraordinary people are the ones who stand out of ordinary people. All data has potential value for African development regardless of whether its collection is driven or enabled by the private sector, the state, or by civil society. African development requires a uniquely comprehensive and inclusive approach to data, and similarly to data capacity building efforts.
Ben Taylor of Twaweza East Africa noted that though information is power “Revolutions are driven by people and not data but most of the time the real revolution will be the small data about my life“. While Natasha Frosina of ACTS emphasized on bridging the data gap from formative stages of learning to higher education and professional development.
Prof. Ddembe Willeese Williams of KCA University urged “We need to embrace big data to include structured and unstructured data“. “Africa must begin to take big data seriously in terms of governance since there’s so much we can do with data even in the health care sector” Dr. Bitange Ndemo explains. Bitange urged media has to put pressure and begin using data “Media has to wake up for politicians to use the numbers of data given“.
In Africa, the data revolution will also need to take into account the particular challenges presented in fragile and conflict afflicted states, where the machinery of government is weak or absent, and challenges of data gathering, access and use are pronounced.
Serge Kapto, Policy Specialist UNDP noted that “Data capacity building needs to be placed at all community levels to enhance transparency and data literacy. Policy makers need to be trained on data for them to make informed decisions on policy and governments need to look for ways to fund data too.“
Winnie Kamau for African Voices