By Loyce Kyogabirwe|
The United Nations (UN) has recognised data as a key factor for achieving and monitoring sustainable development. Indeed, the push for open data that contributes to government transparency and accountability and promotes citizens’ right to information and innovation through the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) sector continues to gain prominence globally, including in Africa.
In Uganda, the government is geared towards contributing to the emerging data revolution for sustainable development. Since 2016, the country has been party to the African Charter of Statistics and is also working to implement the UN Fundamental Principles of National Official Statistics as well as the Cape Town Action Plan. Uganda has also developed the National Development Plan and is party to regional development agendas such as Agenda 2063 and the East African Community’s Vision 2050.
In tandem with the above commitments and recognition of the need for quality data that responds to the demands of development agendas, the Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS) together with other development agencies hosted the country’s first High Level National Data Forum from November 14 to 17, 2017 in Kampala to reflect on how to harness the data revolution for national development.
While presenting the National Standards Indicator Framework (NSIF) at the Forum, Imelda Musana, Deputy Director of Statistical Production and Development at UBOS underscored the importance of data and statistics for actualising the NSIF as an effective tool for measuring progress and performance, informing planning and resource allocation in all government Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs).
Further, Bill Anderson, Data and Information Architect at Development Initiatives (DI) reiterated the need to build sustainable and inclusive data ecosystems. “To meet national development plans and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), we need to build sustainable systems that are sustainably funded to tell the story of everyone in every village” he said.
During the discussion, it was recognised that due to decentralised statistical systems and fragmented data sets, official statistics did not reflect data generated by non-state data producers including the private sector, academia, civil society and the citizens. Participants therefore called for frameworks that can allow these sources of data, who are also motivated by the data revolution, to feed into the national statistics.
Coordination, collaboration and partnerships was also pointed out as essential for a functional and inclusive data ecosystem. According to Norah Madaya, Director of Statistical Coordination Services at UBOS, partnerships are inevitable in order to minimise duplication of efforts and increase efficiency and harmonisation of programmes. However, she noted existing challenges that hinder coordination and partnerships within the data ecosystem, such as lack of institutionalised statistical structures in government agencies, inadequate commitment to factors driving coordination such as harmonised ICT platforms and resistance to joint survey undertakings.
Meanwhile, usability as a driver for the national data ecosystem was also discussed, with widespread calls for data released by government to be in easily accessible digital formats. Currently, most public information/data released by government agencies is in PDF format and does not meet open data principles as prescribed in the Open Data Charter which calls for data to be released in a format that easily accessible, reusable and allows for manipulation, among others.
On the ICT front, Kenneth Bagarukayo, from the Ministry of ICT and National Guidance noted that Uganda’s readiness for open data is hindered by lack of common data standards as well as inadequate infrastructure. As such, in 2015, the government embarked on the process of developing the Open Data Policy that will help address these challenges. A draft of the policy has been developed with priority areas focusing on open data working groups, the development of an open data portal and high value data sets. According to Bagarukayo, policy consultations have been completed and the draft policy will be presented to cabinet for approval in December 2017.
Meanwhile, efforts are also underway to build Communities of Practice (CoP) on data among civil society, private sector and public-sector organisations. One such initiative is the East Africa Community of Practice for Data Revolution and SGDs which is working to enable actors meet frequently and deliberate on best practices, challenges and experiences of their engagements on data and community at the subnational level. Development Initiatives is leading efforts in Uganda towards agreeing on a general action plan for the country’s CoP and recently held a meeting with various actors including CIPESA to discuss gaps and needs that the CoP might address to increase collaboration across the East African region.
Ultimately, the National Data Forum was a ground-breaking event which will hopefully bring the data revolution to the forefront of national debates and support awareness of the evolving data demands for measuring national, regional and international development initiatives. Discussions over the three day event rallied stakeholders to come together and support more investment in data production, analysis and use, for evidence based planning.