The High Level Panel one year on: making the Data Revolution matter in countries like Kenya

On 30 May 2013, the UN Secretary General’s High Level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda published their report A New Global Partnership: Eradicate Poverty and Transform Economies through Sustainable Development. The report sets out an agenda to end extreme poverty by 2030, and deliver on the promise of sustainable development. It also laid down a challenge for a Data Revolution – recommending the formation of a global partnership on development data.

One year on – has this challenge been met? While the international community has been captured by panel debates to discuss and define the Revolution, progress to connect the dots to create a holistic and multi-stakeholder approach to improve the use of development data has been slow. In Kenya, questions were being asked as to the relevance of the term and whether the Revolution was just spinning round on the spot or really about creating change.

Last week over 20 Kenyan stakeholders met for a breakfast meeting that was convened by Development Initiatives’ Africa Hub. With representation from the community, national and global levels, the meeting aimed to be a small step in connecting the dots and developing a shared understanding of the challenges of making the Data Revolution a reality in Kenya. The discussion was guided by three fundamental questions

  • What needs to be done to make the Data Revolution a reality for Kenya and Kenyans?
  • What is the best way to make connections and links among different stakeholders?
  • What role could organisations play in ensuring that the ’demand’ and ’supply’ sides of data and information at national, sub-national and community levels communicate effectively and help connect the dots?

The key points made by attendees are outlined below, but all of them point to the Data Revolution in Kenya being more than a challenge of improving data and ensuring that the data is both relevant and accessible. The Data Revolution needs to be piloted by a multi-stakeholder group to enable different stakeholders to find ways of working together and sharing information to focus on ending poverty.

This was the second meeting on the Data Revolution hosted by Development Initiatives (the first one was held in 2013). We hope that these meetings will be part of a continuing conversation and look forward to working with colleagues across the region to ensure that the Data Revolution really does result in improved lives for the poorest in East Africa.

Key points

What needs to be done in order to make the Data Revolution a reality (and of maximum benefit) for Kenya and Kenyans?

Data may be broadly divided into two groups – ‘core data’ and a ‘symphony of data’. Core data is the traditional data that is produced mainly by governments, but we also have what is the ‘symphony’ data – this is new data that come with tech solutions. The core data needs to be open and accessible to trigger analysis. The symphony of data also needs to speak to the challenges that the country is facing – it requires going beyond developing applications.

When you talk about data in Kenya, we first look at techies. But we want situations where we also engage the non-techies. We need to take the risk and move out of the urban areas –where discussions on data, transparency and accountability are vibrant – and go down to community levels.

Data needs to be made relevant to people at all levels, and making sure this is always cascaded. People at the local level need highly disaggregated data. Besides aggregating this data, literacy levels of the people at the ground need to be enhanced to lead to well informed public participation and engagement.

The intermediaries and mediums that we use to bring information should vary too. Some people have more confidence in their religious leaders, some fear their political leaders. How do we make use of this?

Ultimately, there is also the need to look beyond data and put in place proper legislative systems such as passing the Access to Information Act to promote data access.

What is the best way to make connections and links among different stakeholders in the Data Revolution?

Kenya needs to be more strategic, and find champions to support the Data Revolution. This may require champions both at the national level but also at the local level. Monetary incentives for the Data Revolution most of the time does not come up in discussions. How do we put money into the Data Revolution and work with organisations that are for-profit to make the best use of data?

What role could organisations play in ensuring that the ‘demand’ and ‘supply’ sides of data and information at national, sub-national and community levels communicate effectively and help connect the dots?

First an understanding that the Data Revolution has to be driven by something is fundamental. What is that target that we want? Ultimately the Data Revolution needs to drive the end of poverty.

Kenya needs a multi-stakeholder group piloting how the Data Revolution can be done; this will then be replicated at the grassroots, which may be organised in thematic working groups. The stakeholder groups need to talk collectively and find ways of working together and sharing information. In addition, we need to use the data that is already available to create demand for better or more data.