Covering the gaps in the game of data

Source: The Hindu

Relevance: To understand the role of data in evidence-based policymaking.

Synopsis: The “statistical vaccum” in India can be bridged with decentralization and if states build their own quality databases

Introduction

The e-Governance and penetration of the internet have made data the new talking point in Governance. The role of data and politics has long been established by thinkers like Foucault. But the government’s recent denials about having data on Covid casualties showed how data can be used to manipulate the narrative.

What is Data Based policymaking?

It is an idea in public policy proposing that policy decisions should be based on, or informed by, rigorously established objective evidence (data).

Advantages of data-based policymaking

  • Data helps in formulating programmatic policy decisions.
  • Data-based decisions can help address inter and intra-district inequalities.

However, this has to be supported with the existence of reliable, rigorous and validated data.

Challenges with data-based policy-making

  • States and their various departments collect an enormous amount of data. So, there is a need to link databases of various departments, but this is stalled by factors like Jurisdiction issues.
  • Issues like household data that would vary from department to department also prevent the data linking.
  • Accurate collection, measurement and interpretation of data are crucial for evidence-based policymaking.
  • Standardization of data formats and procedures is important as manipulation of data can lead to abuse of data. For example,
    • During the Covid crisis, some States in North India were not testing enough, and it created an impression that States in South India were unable to control the infection.
  • There can also be issues like the consistency of data, assimilation and calculation of data. For e.g. recent data released by the Union government showed Tamil Nadu having 27 educationally backward districts. On the other hand, the same report ranks Tamil Nadu in fourth place on educational attainment. This shows that the data needs proper scrutiny.
Way forward

The challenges require efforts on two fronts during data collection:

  1. Homogenize the data sets
  2. Validate the data through urban local bodies and rural local bodies

We are in a data-driven world, so the move towards data-based governance is the next natural step. Scholars like Jean Dreze and others have called for decentralized data collection systems.

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