Data matters

Are there 30,000 pigs in the country?

A data analyst questioned this at a gathering, which was greeted with blank faces. Reports show there are, and it is accepted at face value. Nobody even bothers to question it, forget analysing the data.

Data is power and it is important in a democracy. In the west, there is already a movement called data democratisation. People not only look up for data, but ask for reliable data. They demand access to data.

The National Statistical Bureau’s initiative of data literacy comes at the right time. It is in fact, long overdue. Data is the basis of planning. Good planning can be done if there is a basis authenticated by facts and figures or what statisticians called evidence-based decision-making. Development partners are now asking for reliable data before they make decisions.

Even at home, there is a growing demand for data, statistics, research and market information. It will only grow because they have learnt that those with access had enjoyed the benefits.

Our planners and decision-makers should have data. More importantly, they should be data literate to interpret, analyse and decide. With the NSB taking the lead, we are heading in the right direction.

The problem today is not lack of data. There are plenty. But the problems are not lesser than the data available. With each agency generating their own data, there are problems of reliability, duplication and redundant data.

There is a lack of networking among agencies and organisations responsible for generating data. This lack of coordination and communication results in conflicting data. For instance, the farming population in the country has three figures from three different surveys or studies. With agriculture becoming a planning priority, conflicting data is what planners don’t want.

If there is conflicting data, there is an issue of accessibility. Apart from the big surveys and studies that are launched over grand luncheons, the data or statistics that are crucial for the public are not easily accessible, defeating the very purpose of keeping them.

Researchers and the media who are after data are frustrated with bureaucratic procedures. Individuals have no access to data unless you have  “permission” from the minister, secretary or the director. We are known to be more open than many governments. Perhaps, there is a lack of understanding the importance of sharing data.

There are no legislations empowering an independent central agency to ensure proper procedures for collection, processing, storage, and sharing. This leads to conflicting data. We are not talking about classified information, but information that will enable people to make reasoned decisions.

In an information age, which Bhutan is riding on, the importance of data and statistics is crucial.  We hope the NSB’s initiative to make officials data literate will encourage people to share data, question the credibility and availability of data.

Meanwhile, the analyst is still not convinced by the number of pigs in the country when many gave up rearing pigs.

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