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Data Management Revolution and Pakistan

Data is the lifeblood of decision-making and the raw material for accountability. Pakistan must adopt the revolution for good governance.
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The volume of data in the world is growing exponentially. In 2020, 64.2 zettabytes of data were created, a 314 per cent enlargement from 2015. Increased demand for information due to the COVID-19 pandemic also donates to higher-than-expected growth. A large share of this output is “data exhaust,” or passively collected data from day-to-day interchanges with digital products or services, including mobile phones, credit cards, and social media. This downpour of digital data is known as big data. Data is growing because it is increasingly being gathered by inexpensive and numerous information‐sensing mobile devices and because the world’s capacity for storing information has roughly doubled every 40 months since the 1980s.

The data revolution, which encompasses the open data movement, the rise of crowdsourcing, new ICTs for data collection, and the explosion in the availability of big data, together with the emergence of artificial intelligence and the Internet of things, is already transforming society. Advances in computing and data science now make it possible to process and analyze big data in real-time. New insights from such data mining can complement official statistics and survey data, counting depth and nuance to information on human behaviours and experiences. Integrating this new data with traditional data should produce high-quality information that is more precise, convenient and applicable.

Data is the lifeblood of decision-making and the raw material for accountability. Today, extensive data analysis is commonplace in the private sector, with consumer profiling, personalized services, and predictive analysis used for marketing, advertising and administration. Similar techniques could be adopted to gain real-time insights into people’s well-being and target aid interventions for vulnerable groups. New sources of data such as satellite data, new technologies, and new analytical approaches, if applied responsibly, can enable more agile, efficient and evidence-based decision-making and can better measure progress on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in a way that is both inclusive and fair.

However, fundamental elements of human rights must be safeguarded to realize the opportunities presented by big data: privacy, ethics and respect for data sovereignty require us to assess the rights of individuals along with the benefits of the collective. Much new data is collected passively from the ‘digital footprints’ people leave behind and from sensor-enabled objects or is inferred via algorithms. Because big data is the product of individuals’ unique patterns of behaviour, removing explicit personal information may not fully protect privacy but also essential transparency. Combining multiple datasets may lead to the re-identification of individuals or groups of individuals, subjecting them to potential harm. Proper data protection measures must be implemented to prevent data misuse or mishandling.

There is also a risk of growing imbalance and discrimination. Significant gaps are already opening up between the data haves and have-nots. Without action, a new inequality frontier will split the world between those who know and those who do not. Many people are excluded from the new world of data and information of language, poverty, lack of education, technology infrastructure, remoteness, prejudice, and discrimination. There is a broad range of actions needed, including building the capacities of all countries and particularly the Least Developed Countries (LDCs), Land-locked Developing Countries (LLDCs), and Small Island Developing States (SIDS). The role of the United Nations is massive in this regard. The UN must unite the world for competency, transparency and data provision and management access.

In 2015, the world embarked on a new development agenda underpinned by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Attaining these goals requires integrated action on social, environmental and economic challenges, concentrating on inclusive, participatory development that leaves no one behind. 

Critical data for global, regional and national development policymaking needs to be included. Many governments still need access to adequate data on their entire populations. It is particularly true for the poorest and most marginalized, the very people leaders will need to focus on to achieve zero extreme poverty and zero emissions by 2030 and to ‘leave no one behind’ in the process.

Big data can shed light on disparities in society that were previously hidden. For example, women and girls, who often work in the informal sector or at home, suffer social constraints on their mobility and are marginalized in private and public decision-making.

The private sector collects much of the big data with the most potential to be used for the public good. As such, public-private partnerships are likely to become more widespread. The challenge will be ensuring they are sustainable over time and that a clear framework clarifies roles and expectations on all sides.

The data revolution directly depends upon the process of technology. It is an essential part of the administration to make vital decisions. However, the public sector in Pakistan needs to be put up to the task in terms of data collection, management and presentation. The essential technological data tools, projects and applications are rare. Data management is not only an education but also a practical skill. Universities must start providing qualitative data management skills to the students so that private and public human resources can be recruited. Data management is an essential part of the administration now. Hence, data management must be a part of administrative reforms in Pakistan.   

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