For #FFD3 success after Addis, the devil is in the data

By Michael Igoe 15 July 2015

Malaria surveillance officers visit a malaria positive household in Tanzania to gather data. Improving data access and use should be part of the development process. Photo by: Mike McKay / CC BY-SA

Addis might be close to having its outcome document, but the hard work of parsing old money from new commitments and tapping better data to monitor progress toward the sustainable development goals is yet to begin.

After months of preparation — and a few tense days of heated negotiation — developed and developing country representatives are now in the final stages of deliberations to forge an accord at the third International Conference on Financing for Development in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The summit has been hailed as a critical kickoff to a year of global goal setting, which could set the tone for U.N. discussions in New York in September and climate talks in Paris at the end of the year.

Trade and taxes, both those raised through domestic resource mobilization and those paid — or not — by private corporations, have dominated the agenda this week. Rich countries want traditional aid recipients to foot a larger portion of the post-2015 development bill, and traditional aid recipients want more private investment and a fair global tax regime.

The future of development finance: Live from Addis

A new initiative was launched today in Addis Ababa that is expected to increase the amount of technical assistance donors provide to developing countries so they can improve their domestic resource mobilization efforts, including tax collection. But the creation of the U.N. intergovernmental tax body remains unresolved.

Disagreements about how best to crack down on global tax evasion and avoidance, as well as concerns about “common but differentiated responsibility,” threatened to bring #FFD3 to a close without an agreed outcome document in place. The Group of 77 developing countries, which includes major economic players like China and Brazil, earlier in the week appeared unwilling to back down on their call to see the creation of a new intergovernmental tax body included in the agreement. Summit leaders are hoping that achieving some sense of closure has taken priority.

But that will be short-lived. With U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon saying an agreement on the outcome document is “in sight,” attention will soon turn to finalizing and endorsing the SDGs — and to building the monitoring and reporting framework required to hold donors and national governments accountable for their commitments and to measure progress on the post-2015 development agenda.

A key step will be improving developing countries’ data and statistical capabilities, so development efforts can benefit from the so-called data revolution in a way they so far have not.

“What is happening here is to try to bring the data revolution to the development process, because the data revolution is taking place all around us in commerce, in advertising, in surveillance, you name it, but not yet in development practice,” said Jeffrey Sachs, celebrity development economist and director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, at a high-level side event convened by the ONE Campaign.

“We have to break the barrier of data as formal reports and data for daily use, and we can do that now. The first rule for every country should be mass broadband network that allows a free flow of data on a real-time basis,” Sachs added.

I can tell you for the [Millennium Development Goals] data has been nothing like this … data are what you read five years later to find out where you were five years ago to make a guess of where you are today. … We need a completely different approach,” he said.

Michael Anderson, chief executive of the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, reiterated Sachs’ critique.

“Without measurement, we are guessing. The truth is, in the development sector, for most of our programs, we should be horrified by how little basic data we have … and how little we know about what is being achieved beyond the pilot phase,” he said.

Wednesday morning saw a small eruption of new commitments to improve data access and use, including the official launch of the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data, with $3 million each from the U.S. and U.K. governments and $2 million from the Hewlett Foundation, to invest in new data sources and greater capacity to use them.

Devex spoke with Millennium Challenge Corp. CEO Dana Hyde on the sidelines of the event, who noted that MCC was a deliverable of the Monterrey financing for development conference in 2002.

“It’s nice to be back here 11 years later as a contributor,” Hyde told Devex. “Data was baked into the DNA of MCC from the beginning. … As we look ahead into the next decade, there are a number of dimensions where MCC’s looking to take data to the next level.”

MCC’s unique scorecard-based funding model, which compels compact recipients to meet certain key requirements, requires the agency to track some difficult-to-measure attributes — good governance, for example.

“I speak to the private sector all the time who consume governance data, and they look to MCC’s scorecard,” Hyde said.

U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Jack Lew also highlighted efforts at the MCC to deliver more sex-disaggregated data, so countries can better analyze and confront the barriers to economic growth posed by gender inequality through initiatives like the Data2X partnership.

There was a self-described “contrarian voice” among the data enthusiasts and technologists. Despite announcing International Monetary Fund commitments to help low-income countries introduce the systematic publication of key macroeconomic indicators, IMF Deputy Director in the African Department Sean Nolan reminded attendees that “data costs money.”

Ministers of finance must weigh those costs against other priorities like funding schools and hospitals, Nolan noted, urging that countries “shouldn’t be producing data for foreigners, but for national commitments.”

Even if the Addis summit closes on a collaborative and cooperative note. It remains clear though that an agreed outcome document is the start — not the end — of a far more challenging process of putting it into action.

Devex is in Addis to give you the inside track on #Fin4Dev. Check out our running blog, and follow @Devex, @richard_devex and @AlterIgoe to get the latest news and developments from #FFD3.

About the author

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Michael Igoe@AlterIgoe

Michael Igoe is a senior correspondent for Devex. Based in Washington, D.C., he covers U.S. foreign aid and emerging trends in international development and humanitarian policy. Michael draws on his experience as both a journalist and international development practitioner in Central Asia to develop stories from an insider's perspective.


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