Harnessing the Data Revolution for National Development: The Case of Uganda

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.

Data Revolution – The Reality for African Countries

By Aroob Syedah Iqbal |
IBM, the American multinational technology and consulting firm, reports that 2.5 quintillion (10^18) bytes of data are being generated everyday through search engines, social media check-ins, internet purchases and much more. The data being generated is at such an unprecedented rate that an estimated 90% of the data in the world today was created in the last two years alone.
While the digitised developed world is enthralled by the enormous amounts of data generated and the opportunities opened up by this data, developing countries are still grappling with a lack of complete data for development efforts. This lack of data in developing countries and the possibilities for data collection opened by digitisation has called for a ‘Data Revolution’ to be put at the forefront of the new global development agenda.
The need for a data revolution is at the heart of the international community’s conceptualization of the United Nations (UN)-led Post 2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Together with a global framework of indicators for monitoring progress towards the SGDs, emphasis is placed on establishing mechanisms that facilitate collection of local dis-aggregated data annually. This high quality data is expected to facilitate implementation, accounting, and tracking of the development goals at international levels.
However, this global movement towards better data can easily fail without the committed support of national governments. Following the UN call for a Data Revolution, the African Union Council of Ministers adopted the African Data Consensus in Addis Ababa in March 2015 to ‘Africanise’ and nationalise the data revolution. The Consensus recognises and emphasises the unique contextual realities of Africa.
In Uganda, a 2014 study by Development Research and Training (DRT) into the potential impact of open data to resource allocation for poverty eradication found that though there are multiple actors within the data ecosystem, they work in silos not complementing each other’s efforts. While the overarching goal for all the actors is increasing transparency of and access to available data for improved decision-making and ultimately for poverty eradication, the established and emerging open data actors were found to be “polarized, fractured, sharing different and conflicting agendas and in some cases, not even aware of one another’s existence”.
An earlier 2011 study by the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) which was based on basic tenets of open data readiness (knowledge, attitudes and practice) concluded that Uganda was ready to implement Open Government Data (OGD) with appropriate support and guidance. However, there remained the need to create systems and infrastructure to converge all government data into a single location. There was also the need for a shift in attitude towards open data use and the development of appropriate regulations and standards that conform to OGD initiatives.
Accordingly, as part of the 2015 annual Civil Society (CSO) fair in Uganda, a session was convened to discuss how Ugandan stakeholders can collectively leverage experiences and contribute to the regional and international data revolution and the SDGs debate. The session, organised by DRT and moderated by CIPESA, also sought stakeholders’ input on how to operationalise the open data revolution in Uganda. For its part, DRT is leading a pilot project in two districts – Katakwi and Kitgum – to connect all stakeholders involved in data collection and development efforts in the two districts and create an open-resource toolkit on the available data. According to DRT, this collaboration between the different stakeholders is imperative to actualise the data revolution in Uganda. Other initiatives, both by government and civil society such as Know Your Budget, Ask Your Government Uganda and Open Data Uganda, among others are supporting greater openness and information access for citizens.
But Michael Niyitegeka – an independent consultant and a panelist at CSO fair session – noted how the data community in Uganda was currently focused on the generation of data, without putting in place appropriate structures for the processing, analysis and dissemination of relevant and useful data for decision-making processes. He also emphasised the importance of digital literacy for the country to realise the data revolution.
“Even though the Africa Telecom Outlook Report, 2014 estimates that 30% of the continent’s population is expected to own smartphones by 2017, the ownership of these devices does not imply the ability for citizens to engage with social media networks or information platforms to utilise data for efforts to improve their livelihoods or holding their leaders accountable,” said Mr. Niyitegeka.
In agreement, Dr. Florence Tushabe, a Lecturer at the Uganda Technology and Management University, also a panelist of the session, noted that “to be able to fully contribute to and benefit from the data revolution, Uganda will need the technical and human expertise it currently lacks to collect and then analyse the data.” She added that there is a need also to test locally, the hypothesis that data availability directly informs citizens’ decision-making processes and improves accountability as envisaged by the data revolution theory of change.
With only 10% of Uganda’s population connected to the national electricity grid and an adult literacy level of 73%, achieving the data revolution requires investment not only in data collection, but also in the capacity to demand and analyse that data by citizens. Capacity building is also required for civil society organisations to appropriately leverage data analysis for advocacy and engagement efforts for development. For the policy makers, the analysis would inform development interventions and investments.
Aroob Syedah Iqbal is an AidData Summer Fellow currently stationed at CIPESA. She is pursuing a Masters in Global Policy Studies at the University of Texas, Austin – USA.