Have you ever read an article in the Economist criticizing countries on their corruption levels and wondered what their sources were? The paper likely based its analysis on one or more of the assessment(s) the Governance Data Alliance concerns itself with.
Similar to Markets For Good, the Governance Data Alliance is a community of governance data producers, users, and funders committed to the effective production and use of high-quality data. Recently the Alliance launched its data dashboards and a new research report, Governance Data: Who uses it and why?
For the Alliance, one of the main goals is to modernize the marketplace for governance data. The Alliance focuses more narrowly on governance data and improving governance (i.e. increased fiscal transparency and accountability, less corruption, and greater citizen participation). Improving governance and governance data capacity has the power to catalyze economic and human development globally.
The Alliance’s efforts to modernize the governance data marketplace focus on supporting:
- more and better data;
- greater data relevance and use; and
- the appropriate and effective use of data.
The below paragraphs provide an overview of these three focus areas, as well as difficulties faced while creating a modernized marketplace for governance data.
Better and more accessible data
Globally, we see a lack of consistent, comprehensive, and predictable data. One problem with the governance data marketplace is that the data aren’t consistently available on a comprehensive and predictable basis. Available data doesn’t cover all countries, and quality and accessibility is uneven. The Alliance tackles these challenges through two main initiatives: 1) a data producers’ collaborative and 2) the data dashboards.
Data Producers Collaborative: By bringing together world-class producers such as Freedom House, Global Integrity, Transparency International, and the World Bank, among many others, the data producers’ collaborative identifies and shares lessons and good practice methods around key topics such as data collection, analysis, dissemination, and visualization. This peer-to-peer learning is intended to benefit a broader universe of data producers with an emphasis towards generally data quality improvement.
Data Dashboards: To improve the accessibility of governance data, the Alliance recently launched the Alliance website and data dashboards. These dashboards are an important contribution to the data marketplace because they bring together, in a single place, an important (and growing) number of governance assessments presented in an accessible and user-friendly way. For example, the dashboards offer the option to search data by assessment, country, and year, and to compare up to three countries across assessments and over time. Bulk data access via an application program interface (API) is also offered to power users.
Beyond making data more accessible, the dashboard calls attention to the serious data gaps in the governance space, a problem particularly acute in some regions (the Gulf states, the Caribbean, the South Pacific), and helps to make the case for investing in more comprehensive and consistent data production.
Enhancing data relevance and use
While improving the availability, quality, and accessibility of data is essential, it isn’t enough to “fix” the marketplace for governance data. Data must also be relevant to and used by target audiences for social good. One key accomplishment of the Alliance to-date has been the facilitation of intellectually honest conversations amongst data producers who grapple with the fact that they have little understanding of who the current users of their data actually are, and what they use the producers’ data for. Unpacking the black box of governance data users has become a core priority for the Alliance.
The Alliance’s approach to bridging the gap between the supply and demand for governance data is necessary to better understand the users, their needs and habits, and to feed this information back to data producers. We use a work stream, dubbed “feedback loops,” to collect and analyze information about governance data users, which is then shared with data producers so that future data production efforts will be more relevant.
As part of this work, the Alliance and AidData recently released a new research report, Governance Data: Who uses it and why?, which begins to untangle which data are used by whom, to what ends, and offers options for producers to consider in future production and dissemination efforts. The report analyzes data collected through the 2014 Reform Efforts Survey, which asked nearly 6,750 policymakers and practitioners in 126 developing countries which sources of external analysis and advice are actually being used on the ground.
The Alliance continues to build on this work with additional research, including snap polls (new customized surveys) of data users to inform future production efforts. When the feedback loops between data producers and users are tightened, we anticipate the production and use of more relevant data.
More appropriate and effective use of data
Beyond enhancing governance data use, the Alliance aspires to encourage appropriate and effective use of data. One false expectation of governance data users is that a single data point or set can provide a full understanding of an issue as complex as “governance.” Looking at a single indicator gives you only a partial, and in some cases a misleading, understanding of an issue. A government may, for example, successfully cater to a single but visible governance assessment, while otherwise worsening its governance “performance” across a range of parallel indicators. Understanding the state of governance in any country requires considering multiple dimensions of governance, and thus multiple governance data sets. By bringing together an increasing number of governance data sets, the Alliance helps users gain a more complete and nuanced picture of the state of governance (and potential reforms) in any given place.
Lessons for improving the broader social data infrastructure
While the Governance Data Alliance is still young, the identified gaps and early solutions present important considerations for efforts to improve the broader data infrastructure for social good. Though, most importantly is the Alliance’s focus on better understanding who data users are, and what they need and want. A key step in starting these conversations is the simple (but often ignored) recognition of what we currently don’t know about data users and data markets – which is often a lot.
Thank you to Caroline Poirrier, senior program officer at Results for Development, for contributing this piece on the Governance Data Alliance. Be sure to stay up to date with the Governance Data Alliance on Twitter.