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How the data revolution influences digital Monitoring and Evaluation in Africa

- Talitha Hlaka, M&E Communication Officer

In 2021, CLEAR-AA and MERL Tech worked with a group of African data privacy and M&E experts to develop a uniquely African viewpoint on responsible data governance in M&E. In a series of blog posts, we’ll be drawing out key points from the two reports that we co-produced as a part of this effort, Part 1: Overview of Data Governance and Part 2: Guidance on Responsible Data Governance in Africa.

In our first post of the series, we look at how the Data Revolution has influenced digital Monitoring and Evaluation in Africa.

In 2013, the United Nations High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda recommended two transformational shifts in international development.

The first was a data revolution for sustainable development backed by the commitment to improve the quality of statistics and information available to citizens.

The second was a push for a more rigorous monitoring systems for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that leverages technology to document progress and shortcomings and enables sharing of information with decision makers and the public. The panel called for a major transformation of data ecosystems at country and regional levels in response to the need for quality, relevant, accessible, and timely data to strengthen accountability and improve service delivery.

The Partnership in Statistics for Development in the 21st Century (PARIS21) and the Mo Ibrahim Foundation reiterated these calls for improving the production and use of data for evidence-based policymaking in Africa.

Their working paper released in 2021 provides recommendations for national statistical offices and governments to bridge the data policy gap in Africa. Various authors note that whereas emerging technologies and expanded access to and use of digital and mobile communications present new opportunities for Africa to harness new data sources for sustainable development, the increase in digitisation presents new challenges. These include trust in data, privacy protection and effective data governance.

Commitment to the data revolution has been incorporated in long-term development plans and reforms aimed at achieving the transformation of data ecosystems. In terms of the responsibilities for data protection and ethics, the following specific challenges were cited at the 2020 gLOCAL Evaluation week event:

1) Poor practice of informed consent.

2) Data collection gatekeeping by government and other non-state actors leading to biased results.

3) Technology advances that allow disaggregated data to be de-anonymised.

4) Research bias – especially on data from African contexts.

5) Poor data quality and problems with research validity and reliability.

6) Inadequate automation for digitisation of records.

7) Fatigue of communities on data collection.

Technological advancements, access to information laws, the spread of open data initiatives, and the increasing involvement of non-state actors in the data ecosystem are some of the requisite core elements necessary to realise the continent’s development data needs. A comprehensive approach which includes both the creation of an enabling environment for leveraging data and the establishment of partnerships to generate data for the continent’s various development priorities, has been recommended.

There has been considerable innovation and experimentation in African countries, within multiple data communities and ecosystems. However, these efforts have been small-scale pilots, siloed or ad hoc initiatives. For the data revolution in Africa to be truly catalytic, systematic, large-scale, and integrated, sustainable efforts are necessary.

The investment is necessary for the production, processing, protection, ownership, quality, openness, timeliness, relevance, accessibility, harmonisation, interoperability, and use of diverse types of data, regardless of who produces or owns data.

It remains to be seen how the data revolution will play out, yet M&E practitioners should be cognisant of the role they play in ensuring quality data that doesn’t infringe on the data protection rights of their data subjects, be it digital data or personal/community data. More on this in the next post on the Data Ecosystem. Stay tuned!