data or fiction – how one’s perspective on data influences decision making

I had the privilege of virtually attending the Seventh Meeting of the Statistical Commission for Africa, organized by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa in October 2020. The meeting brought together heads of African National Statistical Offices of member states; and statistics and policy experts from different organizations. The aim was to develop solutions to improve the resilience of national statistical systems in Africa to meet the needs of data during the decade of action, in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Joining online in an era of COVID-19 may have some limitations, but despite technical challenges for some member states, the experts outlined their knowledge, expertise, challenges and opportunities for growth and discussed the differences in resources and infrastructure to support data creation. collection, analysis and data use.

As a community of statisticians and policymakers, the interaction was mutually supportive and compassionate, leaving no doubt about their commitment to accuracy, relevance, reliability and usefulness of data. Each representative had a clear strategic plan for data – all in the context of continuous massive innovations in technology and an exponential growth of information and data.

As the evolution of disciplines such as data science, data analytics, and so on grows, organizations, businesses and even individuals grow their own data analytics departments that work out information and interactive data dashboards that provide information in near real-time. What became clear in exchanging experiences across the community of statisticians was the need to continually sift the wood for the trees and ensure that the needs of stakeholders remain at the core of the data ecosystem.

Interview data

It is also necessary to find ways to instill trust in stakeholders and involve them in the creation and interpretation of data. This makes it easier to communicate the facts, increase trust and make informed decisions.

Innovation in data creation, collection, analysis and fine data dashboards provides excellent imagery, and this is important for adaptability and recording. But data users at all levels should never stop questioning what they see.

In an era of COVID-19 and the uncertainties surrounding the pandemic, the central value of data is intertwined with the need to constantly examine it, go back to the basics and ask very important questions about the nature and usefulness of the data.

Furthermore, we rely on policymakers to lead the decision-making process as we influence in an interconnected world, where trade, value chains, access to markets and decisions to fly or participate in tourism.

If ordinary stakeholders are to be served well, we must also try to understand the resistance to decision-making based on sound data we have seen in the course of the pandemic. This may seem daunting to our community of statisticians, but when data is considered fiction, it implies that the stakeholder who views it does not trust it because of its nature or usefulness.

Importance of data experts

This fictional position is quite dangerous – it leads to false news, conspiracy theories and disinformation. For this reason, in a time of severe pandemic, when data is important to make decisions to save lives; rediscovering economies; find secure ways to keep our economy, transport, education and many other sectors alive, new ways to engage stakeholders, to communicate decisions supported by valid and reliable data are needed.

Data experts are there to break down and analyze data. It is also necessary to find ways to build trust with stakeholders and involve them in the creation and interpretation of data. This makes it easier to communicate the facts, increase trust and make informed decisions.

As we navigate through this new reality and modernize our data systems, the need to remember the nature and usefulness of data is to provide stakeholders with what is relevant, what is valid, and what is reliable. inevitable fall of the COVID-19 pandemic. If you do, the data-as-fiction story should stop in front of the door.

Dr. Mwavita is Director, Center for Educational Research and Evaluation and Associate Professor at Oklahoma State University, where he teaches evaluation, measurement and statistics. He examines STEM, accountability and policy evaluation, multi-level methods and longitudinal data analysis.


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