Arjun Kumar, Anshula Mehta, Mahima Kapoor, Swati Solanki

Generation Alpha Data Center (GenAlphaDC) at IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute organized a talk under The State of Statistics – #DataDiscourses on the topic Practitioner Reflections on the Data and Evidence Ecosystem.

The speaker of the day was Abhirup Bhunia, an independent development practitioner and supports evidence-based decision-making through research and monitoring, evaluation and learning (MEL). He has worked closely with bilateral/multilateral donor agencies, the private sector, and governments in various developmental sectors covering a diverse range of policy matters. He has a Master’s from the University of Sussex, UK. The event was chaired by P C Mohanan, Former Acting Chairperson, National Statistical Commission, Government of India.

DataDiscourses Abhirup Bhunia Practitioner Reflections on the Data and Evidence Ecosystem

The lecture began with the basics of public intent data, private intent data, and administrative data. The chairperson elucidated how World Bank’s report for the year 2021 chronicled around the topics of data too.

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The excerpt on the official website’s publication reads that: “Today’s unprecedented growth of data and their ubiquity in our lives are signs that the data revolution is transforming the world. And yet much of the value of data remains untapped. Data collected for one purpose have the potential to generate economic and social value in applications far beyond those originally anticipated. But many barriers stand in the way, ranging from misaligned incentives and incompatible data systems to a fundamental lack of trust

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World Development Report 2021: Data for Better Lives explores the tremendous potential of the changing data landscape to improve the lives of poor people, while also acknowledging its potential to open back doors that can harm individuals, businesses, and societies.

To address this tension between the helpful and harmful potential of data, this Report calls for a new social contract that enables the use and reuse of data to create economic and social value, ensures equitable access to that value, and fosters trust that data will not be misused in harmful ways.”  There are also other government announcements like The Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019, introduced in Lok Sabha by the then Minister of Electronics and Information Technology, Mr. Ravi Shankar Prasad. It seeks to provide for the protection of the personal data of individuals and establishes a Data Protection Authority for the same. 

In a world where data has taken center stage, and claims of center-sponsored surveillance are seeing upticks, building discourse of ethics around the same is crucially important. We cannot do away with the paradigm of big data, because it is integrated into the evidence generation process, but the conceptualization of the same can be enhanced.

With the e-commerce space expanding, marketers have the ability to use the data to feed us more tailored products. Abhirup Bhunia

The information asymmetry and coordination challenges make us circle our discussion over three questions:

  • Discoverability,
  • Accessibility, and
  • Equality.

Data journalists should ask difficult questions and seek answers for whether data has the potential to generate structured evidence for policy, how forthcoming the district and state administrations going to be in data sharing, the missing data in unstandardized formats, and how to not deprive those who are touchy about having their personal information being handed over to websites to be able to ingress webpages.

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The government agencies are opening up to introduce various governance policies electronically and periodical filings to regulate and control the industries are done through electronic means, so much so that even bookkeeping is being digitized. To end poverty, to reduce the jarring reverberations of capitalism, collation of primary quantitative data on inter-loaning, provision of microcredit in Grameen banks, reliable financial history, the status of funds’ utilization, timestamps of transactions can prove out to be helpful.

Example of Self Help Groups (SHGs)

The NATIONAL BANK FOR AGRICULTURE AND RURAL DEVELOPMENT (NABARD) has embarked on an initiative of strengthening and positioning the Self-Help Groups as crucial pillars in financial inclusion. Internal transactions MIS and regular operations are being made digital, with manual entries, and so on. There are no new processes, with simply existing ones being leveraged, making the management quicker, with fewer chances of errors due to standardization. There is now real-time monitoring of SHG performance and finances, so that specific policy questions can be answered. For credit history generation, other external actors like banks, DSPs, et cetera are roped in.

Previously, one of the hurdles the banks faced while extending credit was the absence of credit history of the SHG members. Now, the digitization coverage spread across 50+ districts with linkage to a NABARD portal “e-shakti” so that any movement in an account is automatically conveyed to the portal. Actionable data and evidence can transform how financial service providers, NGOs, and social enterprises expand and adapt their services to meet customers’ needs.

There were also deliberations on indicative quantitative indicators, namely SHG demographics, financial performance like the status of savings, inter-loaning nature, reasons; fund receipt utilization and anomalies; enterprises profiling (revenue, income, profits), non-financial meetings, discussion topics, time/duration, meeting frequency; functionality and non-functionality, locational and other variations. When examining if evidence operates in bubbles, the interplay of politics, timeliness, incentives, interests, power dynamics, and social norms are imperative to consider.

Real Work” complexities entail complexities in pathways to change, the multiplicity of stakeholders, varying interests, and many unknowns. There are many logistical issues and operational questions with surveys too, not only are they laborious for respondents, and even co-designing being easier said than done, therefore the first port of call should not be surveyed.

Other takeaways from the session were more tapping into existing data, capacity building to have quality admin data in place, evidence to be situated within complex real-world policymaking context, co-design research processes geared to answer policy questions, nuances of qualitative research like stakeholder interviews and consultations, primary surveys with considerations given to the length of the questionnaire, what variables are useful while analyzing/generating evidence, the data-points that are available, and more.

Mahima Kapoor, from IMPRI, questioned whether we have enough infrastructure to collect vast data, the capacity at ground level, and the financial feasibility underscoring the same. Arjun Sujit Varma, an economics major at OP Jindal University queried over the deployment of satellite imagery, and Dr Arjun Kumar shared his insights over microdata penetration and more.

Acknowledgement: Priyanshi Arora is a research intern at IMPRI.

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