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How to coordinate and collect countrywide ICT indicator data in Africa – A guide by ICT experts

Apr 12 '16 | By La Afrique Media | Views: 108 | Comments: 0

With sufficient legal powers and assuming the co-operation of operators supply-side ICT statistics and indicators should be relatively easy to collect and analyse since data required from telco operators for most indicators are readily available – the most challenging part is the collation and analysis of supply side data. Demand side ICT data, on the other hand, is much more costly to collect, more design intensive and harder to coordinate and execute on the part of each country and their respective statistics office.

The availability of both demand- and supply-side data for verification and for complementary analysis is of course the optimal situation for informed decision-making.

Days three and four of the ITU regional workshop on ICT Indicators and Measurements for Africa focused on just this: demand side measurement, costs and coordination. The discussion started off with an overwhelming reception to the importance of household ICT statistics by policy makers and regulators in attendance. Most prevalent among the concerns raised were those surrounding financing and budgeting – the scarcity of resources in the countries represented the meeting was the mantra throughout the meeting. The ITU itself does not have money to assign for this cause but assists in terms of capacity building. These resource constraints in African countries make it all the more important that coordination of processes for ICT data collection happens at the national level.

Most African states are relatively new to the concept of evidence based policy making – with states such as South Sudan showing a keen interest in starting the process of ICT data collection but claimed simply not to know where and how to begin. With the cost constraints and lack of experience, adopting and implementing regular demand side ICT data collection is challenging.

How to internally coordinate demand side ICT data collection – The ITU perspective

To set the context Doris Olaya (independent consultant to the ITU) highlighted the importance of national coordination for ICT statistics between (I) data users, (ii) data producers and (iii) data providers. Understanding who these parties are in local contexts is vital to successful data gathering. Most attendees were in agreement that:

  • data users are made up of National Regulatory Agencies (NRA’s), sector ministries, media, researchers and the information society (among others);
  • potential data producers comprised the NRA and National Statistics Offices (NSO’s) ; and
  • data providers are made up of ICT service providers, other private sector industries and households.

The ultimate aim for ICT statistics data collection and coordination is that data users should be represented in national coordination mechanisms. Data must be (i) relevant and (ii) coherent. There is no point in collecting data that cannot be used to extrapolate findings that will influence policy and help users understand the market. Poor data is arguably worse than no data. Coherent definitions of use and technical terms should be applied – in this case alignment with technical ITU definitions should be used as a guide to defining terms used in data collection.

To assist in the ease of data collection and assigning the burden of responsibility different coordination models exist. Some of which are:

  1. National statistical coordination bodies – here the national statistical commission is created by law and led by the NSO – this includes satellite entities in sector ministries or independent statistical units in those ministries. The former is preferred for economies of scale. The statistics office in South Africa supplied a successful example of a National ICT Satellite Account. Rather than a vertical (SIC) analysis of the contribution and cost of the sector to the economy, that Satellite account provide a horizontal analysis, extracting from the National Accounts, the Labour Force and Household Survey, data that will assess the contribution of ICTs across the economy. This is an invaluable tool for policy makers but a mammoth project that has not been sufficiently exploited for policy purposes.
  2. Inter-institutional committees and working groups involving different ministries who may have a vested interest in ICT’s. This is a less institutionalised form of collaboration among data producing agencies. Inter-institutional working groups should have clearly defined responsibilities for establishing technical standards. The opportunity for bringing in non-government experts should ideally exist (as was the the case on the South African ICT Satellite account where Research ICT Africa sat on the StatsSA advisory committee.
  3. National information society coordination. This model usually has an objective such as the centralization of data. It requires close cooperation with all data producers in the country and this is not usually easy.
  4. Any other combination of ad hoc groups that can collect such data and make it publically available. The ITU has now established a category of membership for universities. With some exceptions the expertise at universities has been largely unexploited by African government and NSOs. Using expertise at universities and think tanks particularly with regard to the design of demand side data and the modeling that is possible with large nationally representative dataset is is massive untapped resource in a resource constrained environment.

Once methodological issues such as design and definition have been agreed on (country standards should align with international standards even if elaborated and adapted for local context). The timing of statistical operations and coordination and planning around the timing of these operations is important.

All budgets should be planned for and included in the strategy of the ministry. The aim is to increase efficiency. Data collection and dissemination procedures should be formally drafted as the mandate of the ministry, the satellite account sub-committee or other institutional arrangement. If data takes too long to be collected and disseminated it may be outdated when released. The turnaround time from collection to dissemination should be between 18 and 24 months – with the next cycle starting as soon as the previous one is complete.

In all cases the aim is for the duplication of work to be eradicated and existing expertise to be exploited. This is where the involvement of the statistics office in ICT data collection becomes invaluable[1]. The coordination mechanism chosen must clearly delineate who implements, collects and finances the data. It is an optimization exercise, for minimal cost and minimal time to release; the quality of data should be maximized.

Experience and perspective from the ground – ICT demand side data collection in African States

The Ugandan Case:

Uganda Telecom was an early mover in developing a strategy plan for ICTs. It was met with support from the Bureau of Statistics, but the Ministry of ICT was not onboard the project leading to a policy coordination failure. The bureau of statistics has attempted to bring the ministry on board.

The Ugandan bureau of statistics has an interagency committee to understand which agency is responsible for which statistics and makes sure that these stats are clear in the strategy plan for each year – the strategy plan for statistics to be collected is then made clear to the whole country. This committee ensures that the data needs of relevant stakeholders are made known to the statistics office.

The bureau is the data disseminator for all stakeholders. To increase the contribution to data requirements across sectors and ministries the stats office engages the heads of relevant institutions early on to explain to them the importance of such ICT statistics.

When ministries set up their annual budgets they tend to overlook statistics as they do not see the importance of it. This brings to light the importance of advocacy in improving coordination between stakeholders. Further inter-institutional harmonisation of concepts and definitions simplifies the coordination and alignment.

Without doubt the biggest challenge that states face regarding ICT data collection is funding. In the case of Tanzania no coordination is evident but the regulating authority has taken on the responsibility of conducting the ICT access and use survey, which is set to launch in 2016.Tanzania’s representative suggested of a part time committee to manage the institutions that collect data.

All is not doom and gloom – states like Lesotho have been collecting supply side data on network operators on a quarterly basis, and its first nationally representative demand side survey based on the ITU survey was conducted recently. The second household survey is set to launch in 2016. Similar success stories were shared by Zimbabwe – the only country who had a representative from its NSO in attendance.

Like many others, the Ghanaian NSO collaborates with the Ministry of Communications but ICT statistics are a small part of the main census survey. The ICT data is not disseminated separately from the main census findings, and the burden of analysis is heavy on the user. Another key stumbling block due to the lack of data separation is that only stakeholders who have access to the national household census can access the ICT component of the data.

Regarding methodology international standards should be used as a guideline. There is immense value in the development of a strategic plan and budgeting for the development of official national ICT statistics. The Ghanaian representative believed that the regulator should gather the information on relevant sectors and make it publicly available. A national statistics coordination body may prove to be a better solution.

The under-representation of NSO’s at this conference illustrates the challenge that African states face. In several countries like Ethiopia there is no inclusion of ICT statistics in the five-year strategy plan for the statistics office or ministry. This emphasises the importance of the role of the communications ministry in pushing its agenda with the NSO. In Tanzania there has been no coordination between stakeholders on nationally representative ICT data collection – the regulator has taken on the role of conducting an ICT survey that is set to launch in 2016.

The simple underrepresentation of statistics at this meeting was met with suggestions that the ITU intervene in an advocacy capacity to convince the ministries of the value of these surveys at higher institutional levels – such as NSO’s. Once the advocacy has been achieved, the even larger barrier of funding is expected to resolve itself through institutional planning.

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