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Our recent report, Delivering on the Data Revolution in Sub-Saharan Africa, calls for donors and countries to better align their funding and activities around national statistics priorities to improve the accuracy, timeliness, and availability of data.  These national statistics priorities are supposed to be outlined in a country’s National Strategy for the Development of Statistics (NSDS), intended to lay out a comprehensive, prioritized plan for developing statistical capacity and outputs across the entire statistical system and set milestones for achieving progress.   

NSDS have been implemented in nearly 100 countries, but success of the approach has been variable so far.  In many countries, and particularly in Africa, the capacity of National Statistical Systems (NSS) to collect and publish data remains far from meeting the needs of data users, and funding remains dependent on sources outside the country.  Further, many NSDS are aspirational and don’t provide a framework that responds to political and budget realities. 

Still, there’s strong momentum behind the NSDS in many African countries and at the regional level, and examples are emerging that demonstrate the NSDS framework can facilitate positive changes if governments and donors approach it in the right spirit.  Rwanda is one such case.  Ranked in the top five in Sub-Saharan Africa in the World Bank’s Statistical Capacity Indicator in 2013, Rwanda recently released a draft of their second NSDS that documents a number of lessons learned and best practices that led to improvements to the accuracy, timeliness, and availability of national statistics in the country.       

For instance, the government of Rwanda implemented systemic improvements around the NSDS1 that have contributed to improvements in the timeliness and quality of core economic statistics.  The report notes that the Consumer Price Index (CPI), Producer Price Index, and Gross Domestic Product have been produced and published on time, and the publication of the CPI was bumped up by five days each month in response to requests from policy-makers and businesses for more timely information.  And for the first time, the launch of key statistics -- like those from the Demographic and Health Survey and Living Conditions Survey-- were timed to allow assessment of progress against Rwanda’s first poverty reduction strategy and inform planning for the next one.  These changes demonstrate an effort by the government to take account of and meet the needs of data users through improved accessibility and usability.

Rwanda’s government has also strengthened the role of its National institute of Statistics (NISR) by institutionalizing a “visa” system that requires other data producers in the country to work with the NISR when they design their survey and again upon completion of the report to get approval for publishing results.  This degree of coordination could help improve the consistency and quality of statistics across the entire NSS.

These actions and others outlined in the NSDS2 demonstrate a visible commitment by the government to improving national statistics and strong management capability within the national statistics office.  But much of the progress in Rwanda is also a result of donors aligning behind NSDS priorities.  Nearly 70% of financing for NSDS activities came from sources outside of the government, including the World Bank, the European Union, the UK Department for International Development, and UN agencies.  Firm commitments and timely disbursements from these donors allowed for effective and timely implementation of the 2012 Census, the Demographic Health Survey, and the Integrated Household Living Conditions Survey.  

With hope, other countries in the region can learn from these best practices identified in Rwanda’s NSDS and take steps to implement similar measures (like mainstreaming an evidence-based culture across government, granting national statistical offices greater authority, and consulting and responding to the needs of data users).  Still, Rwanda’s second NSDS will require around US$95 million over the next five years to address on-going gaps and challenges including major undertakings like developing a civil registration system and improving the size and capacity of statistical staff -- and this is one of the best performing statistical systems in the region.  Even with an increased commitment by government for NSDS2, there reportedly remains a funding gap of nearly $15 million.  

Where funding gaps exist as a barrier to implementing an NSDS approach effectively, I hope all parties will explore ways to fund more and fund differently by allocating more domestic funding to national statistical systems and by experimenting with pay-for-performance agreements with donors.  Learn more about these and other recommendations that will help governments and donors better coordinate and mobilize around a NSDS in our Data for African Development Working Group report.

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CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD does not take institutional positions.