Why Joined-up data is vital in informed decision making

By John Nsubuga

Having right and timely data is widely believed to have positive influence on planning, resource allocations and good governance across the world including in developing countries like Uganda.

Information about growth, investments, population, living conditions, and natural resources among others is vital for relevant policy formulation and allows policymakers and citizens to understand how resources spent in their localities affect their community.

For this reason, data must be well processed, organized, structured or presented in the manner that makes it useful for poverty eradication.

However, although over years Uganda has made demonstrable progress in obtaining development-related data, a study that was conducted recently shows that districts are still faced with numerous challenges in generating and managing data.

A recent Data Interoperability study conducted by Development Research and Training (DRT) and Development Initiatives (DI) in Katakwi and Kitgum districts revealed that districts are still faced with lots of challenges in handling data.

Mr Bernard Sabiti, Data Interoperability lead researcher at DRT, explained that a lot of data exists but the right data still isn’t available.

He further said existing data is in complicated formats (papers, big books, PDFs), making it difficult to share and manage.

“The challenges range from staffing gaps, lack of sufficient expertise at different levels to generate, analyze and disseminate data to technological challenges,” Mr Sabiti said while presenting the emerging findings in Katakwi district recently.

He also attributed the absence of right data to changing of staffs in departments and poor handover processes.

For this and other reasons, Joined-up data, or data that “speaks to each other” is pivotal. Known as “interoperability” in technical jargon, it is about having the right data in the same place, at the right time, accessible to all who need it.

Several district offices who attended the dissemination meeting, concurred with the findings that such kind of data would be a welcome development, although they appeared to have less influence over some of the challenges they face.

“The biggest challenge is at the data collection stage. We have limited staff at parish and sub-county levels who collects data,” Mr Silver Ongom, Katakwi District Production Officer said.

The Data Interoperability project, however, aims at joining up the data that has been collected on Health, Agriculture and Education in the two districts of Kitgum and Katakwi.

The objective of the project is to create a pilot model of an ‘open resource toolkit’ by collating all available data on social spending in three specific sectors, within specific trial localities, to maximum granularity –while building interoperability with social impact data.  This innovative ‘data partnership’ project will provide evidence-based recommendations for international stakeholders who see interoperable data for poverty eradication as a global public good.

Meanwhile, as the country embraces the data revolution debate in the post-2015 development agenda, the government and development partners need to support efforts aiming at making data interoperable.  Available data must “speak to each other”.

John Nusbuga is a data intern at Development Research and Training

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