Article: Unpacking the Data Revolution in Senegal

By Suwadu Sakho-Jimbira, Ibrahima Hathie, Aminata Niang, Madické Niang and Shannon Kindornay

Since the High Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda released its report in May 2013, calling for a “Data Revolution” to support the post-2015 framework, there has been a lot of buzz in official and unofficial circles – people are excited by the possibilities of more and better data to track development progress, improve decision making, and enable citizens to hold their governments to account. In many respects, the data revolution has raised as many questions as it seeks to answer – what role for technology to improve data collection? How can we ensure that national statistics offices have the necessary capacity to produce data that reflects national priorities, but also meets global monitoring needs? Do users of data – civil society organizations, policymakers, bureaucracies, and journalists, for example – have access to data and the capacity to effectively use the data that has been produced? How much data is really needed and to whom will it be available and under which conditions?  And how do these considerations play out in different country contexts?

To address these questions, IPAR (Initiative Prospective Agricole et Rurale) held a workshop in Dakar, Senegal, to launch an initiative – Post-2015 Data Test – aimed at unpacking the data revolution at the country level. The workshop, opened by the Minister of Planning, Mr. Abdoulaye Baldé, brought together representatives from government, the national statistics agency, civil society, academia, and media to examine key questions relating to data quality, availability and accessibility in Senegal, particularly with an eye towards the post-2015 development agenda.

So what are the key messages? Fundamentally, the discussion focused on two key areas: data availability and data accessibility.

It’s not all about the national level: What about local and sectoral data availability?

Data production does not exist at the local level. Yet, decentralization is expanding – increasingly local governments have more responsibility, including for planning which requires data at the geographic level. However, the capacity for data production still resides largely at the national level.  Similarly, these issues exist for sectoral data. For health and education, the data is available, though it could be improved. In other sectors – culture, environment, sport, justice, etc. – there is no data at all. The regularity of data collection is also still a challenge.

Nevertheless, the national statistics office has seen significant improvements in the past two decades in terms of financial resources to support operations and human capacity. The number of staff has increased significantly. Work conditions, methodological approaches and institutional capacity have all improved. Regarding the challenges identified by participants on data availability, the representative from the national statistical office argued that placing a statistician in each government ministry would contribute to greater collection of data, as well as coordination and methodological consistency of data collection across sectors.

Looking towards the expanded post-2015 agenda, significant efforts will be needed to regularly collect data at both the local and sectorial levels. Given that focusing on the local level is a priority for the international community as much as it is for the national government, particularly with the mantra of “leaves no one behind,” the measurement agenda holds a number of possibilities for national and local governments and international partners to work together.

Accessibility doesn’t mean free: who gets what, when and for how much?

An engaging debate at the workshop was around the question of whether data funded by the government should be freely available to everyone, and the implications this has for accessibility. One participant compared accessibility of data to accessibility of health care. In Senegal, health care is not free – even at the public hospital. Citizens pay a service fee. Can or should data collection funded by the state be considered the same? Though both health care and data are considered public goods, typically, they are not free. The national statistics agency is authorized to generate revenue from data sale for partial cost recovery.

On the other side of the debate was the position of a long-term citizen who argued that, having spent hours providing information for surveys and the census for free, the data should be freely available. A hot debate followed, raising questions on the accessibility of data for the private sector, including international consultants. Who should have access to data for free? And on what terms?

Technology is not a panacea: recognize the risks

Participants explored the possibility of technology to supplement traditional methods of data collection. Even though the benefits of technology improvements are huge, they recognized that, given infrastructure, energy and connectivity constraints, particularly at the rural level, the potential exists to lose data when transferring information. Therefore, participants argued for a combined approach, making use of traditional and technological advances where appropriate. For example, at the rural level, both traditional and technological methods (paper and tablets) should be used to collect data. In urban areas, tablets are appropriate given that less constraints exist, and that should data be lost, geocoding enables the national statistics office to retrieve the information from survey respondents easily.

What’s next in the Senegal Post-2015 Data Test?

In addition to the literature review being conducted, IPAR will organize focus group discussions and key informant interviews involving various stakeholders such as statisticians, policymakers, UN representatives, researchers and members of civil society. This research will enable IPAR to better investigate national priorities regarding the future development agenda and problems related to data and statistics – in terms of accessibility, availability, and transparency – at the national level.