WASHINGTON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – A group of civil society organisations has banded together to work on improving the quality and usage of data that measure governance and corruption.
Billions of dollars in development aid is distributed to low and middle income countries each year and yet methods are lagging for providing quality assessments of whether a country has the systems in place and experience to use that aid effectively. Some experts estimate that 20 percent or more of development aid gets lost to inefficiencies and corruption.
Representatives from nearly 40 groups meeting in Washington this week agreed to develop a forum where government agencies, international financial institutions, civil society groups and other data producers and users can share information about governance data and work towards raising its quality.
“In a very tangible way, this will create a marketplace for improvements in governance data,” said Alicia Mandeville, managing director of development policy at the Millennium Challenge Corp., a U.S. agency that gives development grants based on performance criteria, and co-host of the event.
“I need to know the specific steps a low-income country is taking to combat corruption when we consider a grant, but the quality of data available today is very limited. This will provide a vehicle for me to go to and make my needs known,” she said.
One of the most widely used governance indices today is Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index, which scores countries annually on how corrupt their public services are seen to be. It aggregates a range of indices produced by public and private organisations on rule of law and country risk ratings, and it combines these with qualitative assessments by its country experts.
Another well known index is the World Bank’s Worldwide Governance Indicators, which similarly aggregate data in six areas – rule of law, corruption, regulatory quality, effectiveness of government, political stability and voice.
For lack of any better measures, these are widely used in development reports assessing country performance. But they are far from scientific. Critics say perceptions-based indices fail to make fine distinctions when a country is moving in the right direction, aggregates compound problems with the underlying data sets, and they frequently lag changing reality on the ground.
Moreover, indices developed by Western-based institutions are not always trusted at the local level, said Anastase Shyanka, chief executive of Rwanda Governance Board, an independent agency that evaluates Rwanda’s progress on accountable and open government.
“If we can have fact-based data, it would be much better. Fairness, dialogue and transparency around the collection of the data is very powerful,” said Shyanka.
Accurate data would help governments, donors and the private sector decide where to invest their money to achieve the highest returns, he said. “It would be cheaper and bring better results.”
The forum, which has the working title of Government Data Alliance, coincides with discussions over what should be included in the United Nation’s development goals after 2015. A high level panel has recommended embracing the data revolution and including more of a bottom-up approach to data, collecting more data from within low and middle income countries on their development progress, rather than on relying on outside assessments.
This has sparked considerable discussion within the development community about how better to use data to address the goal of ending extreme poverty.
“We also call for a data revolution for sustainable development, with a new international initiative to improve the quality of statistics and information available to citizens. We should actively take advantage of new technology, crowd sourcing, and improved connectivity to empower people with information on the progress towards the targets,” according to the report A New Global Partnership by Liberia President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Indonesia President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and British Prime Minister David Cameron.
Discussions on the Governance Data Alliance were initiated by Global Integrity, a civil society group tackling corruption issues worldwide in collaboration with MCC. It aims to report back in three months with a plan of action.