Benefits of data in Africa development

Posted on February 15, 2017 12:00 am

There’s a consensus that data drives everything in Africa today. No shortage of as it’s being produced at astronomical speed from images, video, tweets and GPS signals.More than 85 percent of data today available in Africa has been created through smartphone. Africa has an enormous amount of information within reach it needs to be harnessed better for the benefit of human development. It will help governments make better decisions and deliver services. While data is often considered the starting point for any statistical analysis, am one of those who believes that the starting point should be planning the data collection itself.  Effort at this stage is always rewarded from lower costs, more powerful analysis and the assurance that it is likely to succeed.  Conversely, mistakes at this stage can be difficult, expensive or even impossible to recover from.  Proper planning ensures that the right data is collected, that it is complete and that it is sufficient for a meaningful analysis. Data aids basic needs like healthcare. Traditional ways of gathering data is slowing Africa down. Surveys are expensive and focus groups don’t capture enough information needed for a population as vast and diverse as Africa’s. Phones, in Africa, can order a motorcycle taxi known as Boda Boda in East Africa, a lunch and even a massage within minutes and they can deliver real-time data about people’s daily experiences. Africa’s poorest regions are turning to social media platforms and mobile technology to mine data so the government can improve basic services. Serious challenges face people in rural areas. More than half of children under five years old are stunted due to chronic undernutrition. Many maternal deaths occur each year. African governments wants change and are using most effective ways of gathering information and data. It’s done by crowdsourcing data using social media platforms or SMS to learn more about numbers, prices, opinions data that matters.

Sometimes data collection is a large, complex task.  One example i know about is running tests on a mineral processing plant in South Africa, where each data point requires days of effort.  Another might be a large scale survey, which requires a major investment in fieldwork.  At the other end of the spectrum, the process of data collection can be seemingly simple.  But even these simple cases often have subtleties.  For example, extraction of data from an existing database will have questions of data definition, filtering and exactly what tables may need to be merged.  In all cases, carefully considered planning will improve the final results. Sometimes the result is that no data collection is required either because the information is already available or because no data collection is possible that will meet the project aims, within time and budget constraints. In Kenya, it has been used to understand fluctuating food prices, or gather public opinions about services so the government can ultimately improve them. Recently, the country emphasised the importance of data that helps citizens give government feedback and information. This will help improve government services.It is also good for food security. Walk through a food markets in African cities and you can buy locally sourced food. About 400 million people in the region are purchasing these staple foods. Fluctuating food prices in a cash-only economy can cause hardship for vulnerable populations, but it is difficult for African governments to track price changes in markets until now.Statisticians have special tools to assist in planning for such data collection and can provide advice on the amount of data to be collected, the type of data to be collected, the method to use in collecting the data and the storage of the data.

Perhaps the best known tool is sampling theory, which incorporates methods of efficiently collecting this data to ensure that it is representative, together with methods of determining sample sizes required for accurate answers. As well as these technical aspects, statisticians are experienced in many of the day to day issues of data collection, including survey design and implementation.  Designing a questionnaire is often seen as a simple task, but in reality it is often full of pitfalls.  Here a statistician’s focus on the final analysis is invaluable.Traditional surveys are slow, costly and difficult in hard-to-reach areas in Africa. Data collected through mobile apps proves nowcasting can give governments real-time knowledge about food prices. This information helps improve and target support to vulnerable populations. It is also good for democracy. The government of South Africa is already using national feedback systems to listen to citizens’ concerns and allows people to report complaints either online or via SMS anonymously. Democratisation and decentralisation are pivotal to Africa’s development and it’s never been more important for African governments to listen to local citizens about issues concerning them. Through such projects, African governments are combining public opinions expressed on social media and SMS-based feedback system to communicate perceptions at the community level to decision-makers. That has given insights for policymakers around health care and infrastructure, especially power outages. Social media and mobile technology is growing faster than human development in Africa. But it can and should be harnessed as a powerful resource. It’s where millions of Africans express opinions relevant to their local development daily. It is a goldmine of information, particularly for government, allowing them to improve public services for better lives. Through public and private partnerships, there is enormous potential for African countries to integrate knowledge gained from mobile apps and advanced social media analytics. African countries have committed to Sustainable Development Goals to achieve by 2030 to end extreme poverty, tackle climate change and reduce inequality. The prosperity of Africa’s most remote areas is critical for the continent to achieve them all. The answer exists in data being generated daily.

Contador Harrison