Addressing the data challenge
Given the current frailties of African data, a foundation of ACEIR’s work in each node is getting the data right. This will require frontier data scholarship and holds great possibilities for capacity development across the continent.
Plans are underway to support ACEIR partners and its network to create their own data hubs. Leading this work is Prof. Martin Wittenberg and colleagues at DataFirst, based at the University of Cape Town. DataFirst has over 20 years’ experience in the curation and dissemination of data and is the only data service on the continent to have achieved the CoreTrustSeal certification as a trusted repository. Over the last decade DataFirst has also developed a specific competence in the assessment of data quality issues and in the harmonisation of data.
Creating a data repository
Given this mix of capabilities, DataFirst will create the data hub at the core of ACEIR. This entails providing access – on the DataFirst data portal – to the datasets specifically useful for the ACEIR research, and sourcing new datasets that are currently not public to add to the portal. Harmonised versions of existing data series will also be created by DataFirst to enable ACEIR’s comparative research, as will be the creation of metadata to document this collection properly.
DataFirst also will assist the South African node with data quality assessments and the harmonisation of the South African data series, and the harmonisation of South African sub-national data.
Lastly, the unit will provide source code and data quality guides for the datasets, as well as facilitating training workshops at the Centre, its nodes, and within the broader African network.
Expanding partnerships for data capacity building
Each of the ACEIR nodes has the capacity to set up a data centre for the research community in their country. Given this group’s excellent established linkages to international centres of excellence; the partnership with the University of Bouaké, Côte d’Ivoire; the likely partnership with the University of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; and strong research interactions with groups within ARUA universities in Uganda, Tanzania, Ethiopia and Nigeria, plans are underway to consolidate and broaden the ARUA network by providing leading representatives from the African groups with the capacity to build strong national data centres and contribute to ACEIR’s collective analysis and research.
DataFirst has an extensive history of training and capacity building as well as involvement in data advocacy work. The unit has run workshops on data curation throughout the African continent and has helped national statistical offices to set up dissemination portals. It has also run specialist courses on high-level data skills.
Collaborating with national statistical offices
A key strength of ACEIR and a central strain in its theory of change to contribute to evidence-informed policymaking is that each node enjoys very good working relations with their respective countries’ national statistical offices. These NSOs are participating as researchers in the country reports that are underway, and as trainees in ACEIR capacity-building programmes. There is particular interest from these agencies for capacity building in spatial mapping and analysis.
ACEIR has started working on three specific work streams with relevant NSOs and government departments that involve a combination of survey and administrative data. These are central to its research agenda and also form the bridge into an effective working relationship with governments on policies to overcome inequality. The development of local capacity in these areas is central to indigenising the production of indicators for the Sustainable Development Goals which, in turn, is essential for the development and assessment of local policy-making.
The first undertaking with the NSOs is to use census data, other survey data and administrative data to map spatial poverty and inequality and to understand the dynamics of spatial inequality in Ghana, Kenya and South Africa.
The second – and most advanced – undertaking with the NSOs is a series of tax and expenditure benefit incidence exercises in partnership with the Commitment to Equity Institute in the United States of America.
Lastly, positive discussions are underway with research teams at the World Inequality Lab, Paris School of Economics; Oxfam International and the London School of Economics to partner with ACEIR for contributions to their influential annual reports on inequality. As African countries are very under-represented in these reports, it has been proposed that these institutions work with the Centre and the policy researcher community in workshopping the production of the reports and involving ACEIR policy teams in deriving the country analyses and results that feed into the reports.
While growing researchers’ capacity and putting in place the required data are essential to ACEIR’s success, it is not just about data. The country contexts will bring to the fore own inequality dynamics that require novel analysis and will bring fresh theoretical extensions and challenges into the contemporary international literature on inequality in developing countries.