Administrative data is that which is collected as part of regular activities that occur during program implementation. It has not been tapped sufficiently for learning and research. As the COVID-19 pandemic advances, how might administrative data be used to help with the COVID response, and other national or global pandemics.
At the final event in the MERL Tech and CLEAR-Anglophone Africa series for gLOCAL Evaluation Week, we were joined by Kwabena Boakye, Ministry of Monitoring and Evaluation, Ghana; Bosco Okumu, National Treasury and Planning, Kenya; Stephen Taylor, Department of Basic Education, South Africa; and Andrea Fletcher, Cooper-Smith.
The four panelists described the kinds of administrative or “routine” data they are using in their work. For example, in Kenya educational records, client information from financial institutions, hospital records of patients, and health outcomes are being used to plan and implement actions related to COVID-19 and to evaluate the impact of different COVID-related policies that governments have put in place or are considering. In Malawi, administrative data is combined with other sources such as Google mobility data to understand how migration might be affecting the virus’ spread. COVID-19 is putting a spotlight on weaknesses and gaps in existing administrative data systems.
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Benefits of administrative data include that:
- Data is generated through normal operations and does not require an additional survey to create it
- It can be more relevant than a survey because it covers a large swath of the entire population
- It is an existing data source during COVID when it’s difficult to collect new data
- It can be used to create dashboards for decision-makers at various levels
- Data sits in silos and the systems are not designed to be interoperable
- Administrative data may leave out those who are not participating in a government program
- Data sets are time-bound to the life of the program
- Some administrative data systems are outdated and have poor quality data that is not useful for decision-making or analysis
- There is a demand for beautiful dashboards and maps but there is insufficient attention to the underlying data processes that would be needed to produce this information so that it can be used
- Real-time data is not possible when there is no Internet connectivity
- There is insufficient attention to data privacy and protection, especially for sensitive data
- Institutions may resist providing data if weakness are highlighted through the data or they think it will make them look bad
Recommendations for better use of administrative data in the public sector:
- Understand the data needs of decision-makers and build capacity to understand and use data systems
- Map the data that exists, assess its quality, and identify gaps
- Design and enact policies and institutional arrangements, tools, and processes to make sure that data is organized and interoperable.
- Automate processes with digital tools to make them more seamless.
- Focus on enhancing underlying data collection processes to improve the quality of administrative data; this includes making it useful for those who provide the data so that it is not yet another administrative burden with no local value.
- Assign accountability for data quality across the entire system.
- Learn from the private sector, but remember that the public sector has different incentives and goals.
- Rather than fund more research on administrative data, donors should put funds into training on data quality, data visualization, and other skills related to data use and data literacy at different levels of government.
- Determine how to improve data quality and use of existing administrative data systems rather than building new ones.
- Make administrative data useful to those who are inputting it to improve data quality.
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