The Importance of Data for Development Planning

– within the Framework of The United Nations 2030 Agenda for The Sustainable Development Goals

The proliferation of a dense ecosystem of technologies and radical shift in the volume, variety, quality, and speed of data generated on people, governments, economies and environment has led to a salvo of new information (and techniques of storage, access and analysis) without precedent in history (UNDP, 2016). Data is rapidly transforming society and the way in which the world functions. It necessitates enormous opportunities – as well as challenges – to improve the livelihoods of people around the world (UNDP, 2016). Access to data and data analytics has the potential to radically improve service delivery, public administration and accountability of governments and businesses (Sachs, 2015). According to the UNDP, it is estimated that governments worldwide already posted over one million datasets on the internet (IDRC, 2013). However, only a small fraction of these datasets is from developing countries. This points to the dearth of knowledge in some parts of the world, despite a data deluge in others (UNDP, 2016).
New data collection and monitoring technologies are becoming rapidly available. These innovations will dramatically advance national statistical offices’ and the international community’s ability to monitor the impacts of development programmes, in addition to informing the way they are designed and implemented.
“The bourgeoning data revolution movement should seize on the opportunity to strengthen national statistical systems in the region from the ground up, focusing on underlying political economy issues that have slowed progress on data for decades.” United Nations Report on Sustainable Development, 2015: P8).
Critical data for global, regional and national development policymaking are still lacking. Many governments still do not have access to adequate data on their entire populations. While most data are typically public, assessing it is not always easy, and mining it for relevant insights can require technical expertise and training. Making good use of big data will require collaboration of various actors including data scientists and practitioners, leveraging their strengths to understand the technical possibilities as well as the context within which insights can be practically implemented (Maroof, n.d).
Effective application of big data would require changes in decision – making process, which customarily relies on traditional statistics. Given the high frequency of big data, a more responsive mechanism will need to be put in place that allows the government to process information and act quickly in response (Maroof, n.d).
Moreover, it must be acknowledged that data are a prerequisite for delivery the 2030 agenda for Sustainable Development. The Development Co-operation report (2017) produced by OECD highlights the importance of data for development because of the quality, timely and disaggregated data that are crucial for achieving the ultimate goals of development – improving welfare of people and fighting poverty.
Investing in statistical systems needs to become a strategic priority for developing countries like Guyana and providers of development cooperation alike. Development cooperation can help developing countries produce and use more and better data in a responsible and transparent manner for good policy outcomes (OECD, 2017).
The OECD has put forward six concrete actions that can bridge the data divide for sustainable development:
1. Make statistical laws, regulations and standards fit for evolving data needs.
2. Improve the quality and quantity of financing for data.
3. Boost statistical capacity and data literacy through new approaches.
4. Increase efficiency and impact through data compacts or other coordinated, country-led approaches.
5. Invest in and use country-led results data to monitor progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals.
6. Produce and use better data to help understand the overall state of SDG financing.
National Government Actions:
* Increase national budget allocations for the development of national statistical systems.
* Maintain high-level commitment to engage in the data revolution and monitor SDGs by improving coordination across government and opening datasets related to the SDGs.
* Undertake assessment of existing capacity to fulfill SDG monitoring expectations and integrate needs into NSDSs.
* Prepare robust SDG-aligned NSDSs or national roadmaps to strengthen country specific capacity to monitor the SDGs. Well-articulated roadmaps, accompanied by realistic budgets, are needed to enlist domestic support and to coordinate with donors.
* Incorporate new data collection tools and technologies into SDG monitoring frameworks, such as earth observations, geospatial mapping, new sensors, and cell phone-based data.
* Engage in ongoing global processes, including the Statistical Commission, IEAG-SDG, and dialogue on new global partnership, to ensure that each country’s unique perspectives and needs are well addressed through global cooperation and action.

Guyana is about to enter an era of transformational development of its economic landscape and is ripened to be positioned as the number one investment destination in the Latin America/Caribbean and South America, if not the Western Hemisphere.
As a signatory to the United Nations 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development Goals, it is imperative that the development path undertaken by the policymaker is aligned to the SDGs. Guyana has a huge gap to fill where data driven policy is concerned – there is a lack of data collection to aid in this regard. The data is not necessarily unavailable, but rather, lack of compilation owing to most agencies still largely manual.
For example, the Guyana Revenue Authority collects a huge amount of data but these data are compiled and published. It is crucial, therefore, that going forward, data for development planning needs to be tied to a national digital transformation strategy and / or an ICT strategy which needs to be implemented quickly. More so, agencies such as the Bank of Guyana, and the Guyana Revenue Authority that sits on an abundance of data, and the Guyana Bureau of Statistics, need to work collaboratively in these respects.

About the Author:JC. Bhagwandin is an economic and financial analyst, lecturer and business & financial consultant. The views expressed are exclusively his own and do not necessarily represent those of this newspaper and the institutions he represents. For comments, send to [email protected]