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Practising what we preach

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Tanzania

I promised to talk more about the programme of support to statistics that I am working on at the moment.

Data collection in action!
Data collection in action!

At the moment I am working with the Government, the World Bank and other Development Partners (DPs) to develop our plan to support the implementation of the Tanzania Statistical Master Plan (TSMP).

This plan has been developed with wide consultation with those who produce and use data in Tanzania, and the DPs have agreed to support its implementation with a 'basket' or 'pooled fund'. At the moment we are working to set out some more detail on how the goals of the plan will be reached and how the support will be provided. I have also been under scrutiny from my colleagues in the DFID office to ensure the project is well designed and managed before DFID can agree to contribute funds.

Aims include giving the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) more independence from government (similar to the process that Office for National Statistics (ONS) in the UK has just been through) as well as making improvements to the data they collect and the ways they analyse it, and making it more accessible to the public. Core surveys will be implemented in a sensible sequence, and underlying methodologies and the capabilities of their staff will be strengthened.

NBS will also develop a role in working with other parts of government who collect data. This is one of the most challenging areas and the TSMP focuses on some key ministries first (health, education, agriculture and local government). A lot of work is required to improve the complicated and large data systems and the ministry statisticians need to be clear about how they can draw on the NBS as a source of expertise. I can relate well to this as I am a statistician working in a ministry (in DFID), but the ONS is my ‘professional home’.

This type of all round progress is made possible by NBS having developed a strategic plan and donor support and advice coming in line behind their own goals. It requires a lot of planning, and paper work at this stage, but by the end of this (five year) project, we hope it will make a real impact on the amount and quality of data that is available on Tanzania.

Having good data helps decision makers make the right decisions, and in turn making better decisions means more impact on the lives of people (including the poor) in Tanzania.

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  1. Comment by Adam Hooper posted on

    Hi, I lived in Dar es Salaam up until the beginning of this year, and I am an avid reader.

    I am a bit taken aback by your closing statement: "Having good data helps decision makers make the right decisions, and in turn making better decisions means more impact on the lives of people (including the poor) in Tanzania."

    Call me a cynic, but I just don't see a clear link between a "decision maker" (read "powerful person") and sound, unbiased, utilitarian decisions.

    The path from facts to good decisions comes through knowledge, I think: everybody's knowledge, certainly not knowledge exclusive to decision makers.

    For instance, AIDS rates in Tanzania are much lower than in South Africa, even though at a guess I'd wager more statistics are known about it in South Africa. The difference, to me, is that most Tanzanians have had access to more unbiased, consistent information than most South Africans.

    With AIDS as with any other major issue, I believe each individual is the decision maker. I wholly applaud your work in Tanzania, and I hope the results become accessible to everybody.

  2. Comment by Tim Clode posted on

    Dear Emily,

    Glad to hear everything is going well. Don't forget to contact your 'professional home' if you need anything.


  3. Comment by Dermot Grenham posted on

    While having good data is important (and I am all for enhancing statistical capacity in developing countries), it is more important to know what to do with it - as TSEliot wrote in Chorus from the rock "Where is the wisdom that we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?" It is important not to miss the wood for the trees. Furthermore, data tends to relate to what has happened in the past and if timely enough what is happening in the present. However, decisions are about what we want to do in the future, which direction we want to go in and where we want to arrive. Decisions in these areas may not always be taken for the common good but rather for the good of a special group.

  4. Comment by Emily Poskett posted on

    OK - so having good data doesn't automatically lead to good decisions - point taken, but I certainly feel its a pre-requesit. How can the ministry of education decide what to prioritise if it doesn know how many kids are in school or where in the country class sizes are becoming too big? How can the government take appropriate macroeconomic policy decisions if it doesnt know the inflation rate or economic growth rate? How can government and donors decide what awareness raising campaigns to run on HIV/AIDS, without having real evidence of the particular factors which are leading to its spread in Tanzania? The data that is required for these and many more will be supported under the TSMP - but I do agree, that the data then needs to be used in a good way for an impact to be seen on the lives of people of Tanzania.

  5. Comment by Dermot Grenham posted on

    While the number of children in school is a fairly objective and relatively easy to define item the other items that you mention (inflation and economic growth rates) are not nearly so objective. While there are international standards for these, any particular measure is problematic. As we have seen recently in many developed countries, even knowing inflation rates and economic growth rates has not necessarily prevented governments making wrong decisions. In measuring inflation or economic growth what one includes and exclude is vitally important (and can be a political decision) and can make a big difference in certain circumstances.
    Just going back to education, what is probably more important for long term planning is future birth rates, which although current rates may provide some idea are really much more about making assumptions about the future.