What to Read this Month

Reliable, Accurate Information Vital to Policymaking in Africa | Njiraini Muchira, The East African
“The policies are often not implementation ready-they are big in citing evidence to justify why action should be undertaken but weak in using evidence to determine what cost-effective interventions to implement.”
The Executive Director of the African Institute for Development Policy, Eliya Zulu, makes the case for governments to invest in research that informs how to effectively implement policies, and to create training and incentives for government personnel to use evidence in decision making.

Data Roadmaps for Sustainable Development | Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data
“Interoperability of data and systems continues to be a major barrier for the effective collection, distribution, and use of data, and a barrier for countries trying to set up more modern data ecosystems.”
The seven countries engaged in the data roadmap process have several challenges in common: filling data gaps, sharing data across government agencies and the private sector, increasing political commitment to invest in data, and developing data skills among government officials.

Scaling Social Policy: Five Lessons from Brazil | Megan Dent, Apolitical
“Because Bolsa Família already works with low-income families, the Ministry had instant access to a list of vulnerable households with children under three.”
New antipoverty and social protection programs need a lot of detailed data to identify the poor households that will be eligible for program services; in Brazil, a new early childhood development program was able to utilize already-existing data from a national cash transfer program to target beneficiaries and scale up across the country.

Public Servants and Political Bias: Evidence from the UK Civil Service and the World Bank | Stefan Dercon, VoxDex
“An experiment shows that public servants make errors when interpreting data, incorrectly concluding that it aligns with their ideological preferences.”
The article presents further evidence that even skilled professionals are subject to confirmation bias; peer review / quality assurance units, red teaming, and other strategies could help staff correctly interpret the results, and be more open to results that challenge their preconceptions.

And if you haven’t read it already, check out:
The Politics of Evidence: From Evidence-Based Policy to the Good Governance of Evidence | Justin Parkhurst, London School of Economics
“A heavy focus on individuals as the driving force to improve the use of evidence in policymaking raises two particular issues. The first has to do with the roles of researchers, who are under increasing pressure to ensure that the research evidence they produce is ‘used’ or ‘taken up’. This risks encouraging researchers to have political influence, a role that they are neither trained to do nor one that many feel they have the mandate to take on. The second problem is that such efforts can have a limited duration of impact, given that both researchers and decision makers will naturally change over time or move on from existing positions.”
Parkhurst advances a holistic ‘good governance of evidence’ approach, defined as the use of rigorous, systematic and technically valid pieces of evidence within decision making processes that are representative of, and accountable to, populations served.

What to Watch

Ghana’s Infrastructure: The Mystery of Misspending | International Growth Centre

“But just as the problem was hidden within the data, so was the solution”
Still one of our favorite examples of how administrative data can be used to diagnose and overcome challenges to effective implementation of government policies. Well worth a watch!

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