Real access to and use of data is crucial for development co-operation, and for the billions of people whom this co-operation aims to benefit. For development co-operation stakeholders, real access to data allows for transparency as well as better planning, targeting and review. For beneficiaries, real access enables ownership and accountability, while strengthening participation. As we deepen the implementation of the four key Busan principles, we must have a revolution in both access to and use of data in our development co-operation. Good data is essential in order to involve all people interested in delivering development results. It is also vital in enhancing transparency and accountability.
However, we must realise that this will not be a one-off exercise. It will not be achievable at the flick of a switch. It is going to take a lot of hard work, exercising political will and leadership for institutional and legal reforms, capacity building, and behavioural change.
Efforts towards a data revolution are underway and encouraging. Global and national initiatives have attracted development providers and recipients alike, improving access to information. The International Aid Transparency Initiative is working on the global front, while several initiatives such as Kenya’s e-ProMIS exemplify national efforts. However we must observe that neither global nor national initiatives have attracted all relevant players. IATI remains a coalition of the willing, while national governments struggle to get their development partners, including South–South partners, to supply correct and timely data. More positively, we can see that there are systems out there that can improve data access both at the global and national levels.
Despite having systems to improve data access, bureaucratic procedures and political considerations still pose challenges to providing timely information. Lots of data supplied to the recipient country are not only outdated, but sometimes inconsistent with the information held by the provider country’s headquarters. This affects analysis and programming. Furthermore, few development partners are able to provide forward-looking data, making it impossible for actors in the recipient country to plan. Furthermore recipient Governments have increasingly failed to capture adequately ODA flows in their national budget as well as their medium term planning instruments thereby compromising the integrity of these planning instruments as the data is never quite forthcoming in a timely manner. For civil society organisations, this problem is compounded by the technical nature of the data, as well as by the political considerations of recipient governments before releasing such information to the public. Data access seems to be a preserve of the executives and not the general public and the codification of such information reflects this mindset. The view is that such information may be too politically sensitive to release to the public.
To combat this, we must invest heavily in the infrastructure and institutional frameworks necessary for the data revolution to take effect. Institutions must be capable of receiving, reviewing and processing data in a timely and effective manner. They must also be able to ensure the accessibility of this data to all who may need it. We must address the legal and regulatory impediments that impinge upon access to information.
Governments must also be willing to receive and process various forms of information from various stakeholders, including data beyond financial flows. For example, data from civil society on any negative impact of development programmes on communities, violations of human rights and abuse cases, domestic and sexual violence against women also need to be accommodated in the new data revolution.
While access remains key, data use is also important. The data revolution will have reached its objective when it has increased democratic ownership, strengthened partnerships and led to better development results. In this regard, we must build the analytical capacity of the institutions receiving data. This will not only require the technical aspects of capacity building but also human and financial resources. For millions of citizens around the world, data usage only becomes relevant when it empowers them to hold governments to account and to claim their own rights from the relevant institutions. Data use should not lead to ‘business as usual’. It must bring about a total behavioural change in addressing the real needs of the people as well as leading to a better enabling environment for civil society initiatives.
Vitalice Meja is a development policy analysis specialist in the areas of development cooperation, economic development, poverty reduction policies and microfinance as it relates to NGOs, government and intergovernmental organisations. He is also leading the CSO Partnership for Development Effectiveness (CPDE) Working Group on CSO Enabling Environment. He co-ordinates the Reality of Aid Africa Network – a pan-African network working on poverty eradication through effective development co-operation.