/ 11 October 2023

Why data matters for good governance

Data Governance
Officials in Nairobi from the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission register a voter for the Kenyan elections in 2022. (Simon Maina/AFP)

Data is becoming increasingly central to our daily lives, influencing both personal choices and broader societal decisions. From a governance perspective, improved access to, and understanding of, data can pave the way for evidence-based policymaking. 

While Africa does have data gaps, both within and between countries, the continent has made significant progress in data collection and utilisation in recent years. This presents new opportunities for collaboration between civil society organisations (CSOs), African Union (AU) organs and national governments.

The Data for Governance Alliance consortium (D4GA), with partner organisations across Africa, is dedicated to this collaborative effort. These partner organisations are Afrobarometer, the Ghana Center for Democratic Development, the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Nairobi in Kenya, the Institute of Justice and Reconciliation and Laws.Africa

D4GA’s core mission is to uplift African citizens by advancing governance, democracy and human rights. In 2022, D4GA initiated a series of stakeholder convenings and they are in the midst of their second round. These regional gatherings in South Africa, Ghana and Kenya embody D4GA’s pan-African philosophy. The theme for the 2023 convenings is “Empowering Pan-African civil society for effective data use to enhance advocacy”.

In line with this approach, CSOs and AU representatives from various African countries, including Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe, convened in Cape Town last month. The host partner organisation was the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation

Over the course of a week, representatives partook in presentations and advocacy training sessions focused on five key thematic areas: unconstitutional change of government, youth empowerment, child welfare, elections, and climate change. These are critical issues for Africa’s present and future.

One significant takeaway from the advocacy training is the importance of setting clear and realistic objectives when planning and executing advocacy campaigns. Having a well-defined purpose is crucial for resource allocation, audience targeting, alliance-building and delivering a consistent message.

Throughout the week, participants frequently referenced the Afrobarometer survey, which recently completed Round 9, covering nearly 40 African countries. Both CSOs and AU organs recognised the valuable role of Afrobarometer data in providing insight into citizens’ perceptions of governance in their respective countries.

Recent developments, including coups and a decline in youth engagement in electoral processes, underscore the urgency for African governments to proactively address citizens’ concerns and maintain their political legitimacy. It is increasingly evident that effective policy-making hinges on more extensive utilisation of data, both in day-to-day decision-making and long-term strategic planning. 

This perspective was further reinforced by Glen Mpani, a political campaigns expert who stood in for Professor Eldred Masunungure. In his keynote address at the D4GA opening ceremony, Mpani stressed that “data should not remain idle. In fact, we should explore ways to incorporate [Afrobarometer] data into primary school education. If we are teaching children to code, why not teach them the significance of numbers and how to interpret them?”

As one example of how data is utilised to demonstrate how resources might be more optimally allocated to achieve the objectives of the AU’s Agenda 2063, Good Governance Africa has developed a “governance coefficient”. The tool visualises how government effectiveness and citizen voice are associated with countries’ GDP per capita. 

These are two governance variables that work together to create an enabling environment for responsible economic dynamism to flourish. Allocating resources towards improving government effectiveness in delivering key services, such as justice, infrastructure, education and health, and equipping citizens to hold their governments to account, generally produces improvements in economic outcomes, proxied by variables such as GDP per capita

In this respect, D4GA is poised to leverage data to improve governance outcomes, a vision that will be prominent in upcoming convenings in Accra, Ghana, and Nairobi. Following the successful Cape Town gathering, attention now turns to the next phases of the initiative. The events in Accra, on 16 to 20 October, and Nairobi, on 6 to 10 November, will mirror the format and dedication to key themes: promoting democracy, human rights and good governance.

What sets these meetings apart is their ability to foster synergy between West and East African pan-African CSOs and various AU bodies. Together, they will forge collaborative partnerships and chart a course for data-driven advocacy, aiming to make tangible progress in addressing critical regional issues.

Since 2022, D4GA has achieved remarkable progress, sparking enthusiasm and collaboration among CSOs and African Governance Architecture (AGA) platform members. D4GA’s interface engagements have received widespread approval, with growing demand for more of these vital meetings. 

It has successfully trained over 95 CSOs from more than 15 countries in data use, equipping them with essential skills for advocacy and communication.

Moreover, D4GA has established a dynamic platform that brings together seven AGA members and 95 CSOs, facilitating shared activities and co-creation of initiatives spanning 18 months. This has deepened collaboration between CSOs and AGA members, extending to a wider circle of pan-African CSOs and AGA members. 

Examples of this is Good Governance Africa’s collaboration with the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child and the African Peer Review Mechanism.

In addition, D4GA’s AGP platform, housing over 9 000 digitised AU documents and legal information from 14 African countries, enhances accessibility and informed decision-making across the continent, contributing to knowledge growth in African governance. The platform further allows users to explore the law and policy of the AU and help Africans and the world connect with and understand the union’s agenda.

D4GA developed and launched an advocacy manual in August 2023. This represents a crucial resource for effectively articulating data-driven advocacy and fostering engagement between African CSOs and the AU. Shared with numerous CSOs, this freshly unveiled manual served as the foundation for all the collaborative advocacy plans crafted during the Cape Town convening.

The manual provides practical tools and clear definitions of key advocacy elements. It’s important to note that its purpose isn’t to offer definitive solutions to age-old questions but rather to apply the collective knowledge and experiences of CSOs. Its aim is to showcase the relevance and effectiveness of data-based advocacy, equipping organisations with the guidance needed to advocate for meaningful change.

D4GA’s overarching vision extends beyond the immediate convenings. It aspires to cultivate a lasting collaboration between CSOs and AU organs in championing Agenda 2063. Moreover, D4GA is dedicated to enhancing data collection, aggregation and accessibility for AU organs, CSOs, and the wider African population. 

The project is firmly committed to fostering an environment where improved data skills and data-driven advocacy serve as fundamental tools in shaping Africa’s future, empowering both citizens and CSOs alike.

As the D4GA project enters the final quarter of 2023, it is embarking on a significant initiative. It will conduct a two-day training session in Johannesburg for CSOs and journalists from across Southern Africa. It will equip them with the skills to read and analyse Afrobarometer data effectively. This training reflects D4GA’s ongoing commitment to strengthening data literacy and data-driven decision-making within the region.

Nyasha Mcbride Mpani is the project leader for the Data for Governance Alliance at the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation. 

Pranish Desai is Senior Data Analyst in the Governance Insights and Analytics Programme at Good Governance Africa.