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You Can’t Make Bricks Without Clay: Importance of Data in Policy Decisions

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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Abdullah Ahmed

You Can’t Make Bricks Without Clay: Importance of Data in Policy Decisions

“Data! Data! Data! I cannot make bricks without clay.” – Sherlock Holmes.

The Copper Beeches What appears as pure magic to Dr. John Watson, Holmes’ colleague and associate, is, in fact, a very logical yet straightforward system. Gathering data and drawing inferences from it is crucial, given it qualifies specific pre-set criteria. Navigating policy issues in Pakistan has never been easy for politicians and technocrats. It is indeed a Herculean task for policymakers to formulate a well-informed policy and implement policy in the same spirit. Although evidence-based decision-making might not be the panacea to all our ills, it can alleviate many. Decision-making driven by evidence is crucial for governments. It provides a prominent picture of the problems and their context and sheds light on how they can be addressed.

For instance, the government has allocated Rs. 20 billion as a development budget for all districts in Pakistan. The government is also keen to spend a part of this budget in South Punjab. The intent is noble, but how will the government decide how much of the budget should be allocated to South Punjab? What areas need immediate aid from the government? Enter data. In this specific instance, the government will require data: surveys, records, census (population), literacy rate, and multiple metrics and indexes to measure the current state and needs of the region. After gauging and assessing the needs based on various metrics, the government will then allocate an appropriate piece of the pie for South Punjab.

This is an example of informed decision-making. The government will go on to measure the results of its decision by monitoring the same data sets it used to expedite a portion of the development fund. It shall look at healthcare, education, literacy, employment, etc., and see the effects. This process doesn’t stop here. With insights that the government will gather during and after the policy implementation, it shall see if the decision has been effective or not. It shall borrow help from data again. The policymakers will get concrete and quantifiable results that paint an accurate picture of the situation on the ground. Officials will be able to monitor and course-correct during the implementation. Data can also help bring more transparency and accountability in the policymaking framework. Another major aspect of utilizing data is that it helps in creating a more democratic ecosystem. Since data must be collected and reported from the grassroots level, it will encourage more citizen participation. Provided that the data quality is acceptable and authentic, numbers and charts will reflect the true needs and wants of the masses. 

Let your imagination run wild momentarily and scale the scope of data on a larger canvas: education policy, defense, economy, housing, trade, etc. “Data is the new oil,” it is said. You undoubtedly understand what it means. It means that not only is data an essential resource, but also the infrastructure that is required to extract, clean, refine, store, and use data. Unfortunately, for the longest time, Pakistan did not have the infrastructure to refine and use data. It has only recently become a part of the government’s priorities.

Nevertheless, its application still needs to be improved. New cohorts of policy professionals are aware of the importance of data in the public sector. Gradually, public awareness is also increasing, and demand for better government practices via data is surging. Effective use of data can guarantee improvement and sustainability of government decisions in the long run, not to mention preventing financial losses and corruption. As discussed above, data isn’t the solution to all our problems, but it is a solution to most of them. Policy professionals, both in the government and private sector, expect that the use of data will be mainstreamed. It is, however, heartening to see young people getting interested in data-related fields.

Lastly, data has become the cornerstone of effective decision-making in both the governmental and private sectors. By leveraging data analytics, organizations can move beyond guesswork and intuition, instead basing their choices on concrete evidence. This empowers governments to craft data-driven policies that address the needs of their citizens, optimize resource allocation, and improve service delivery. In the private sector, businesses can utilize data to understand their customer base, identify market trends, and develop targeted marketing strategies. Ultimately, data-driven decision-making fosters efficiency, transparency, and a greater focus on achieving positive outcomes across all sectors. However, it is crucial to remember that data is just one piece of the puzzle. For truly successful decision-making, human expertise and sound judgment must be applied alongside the insights gleaned from data analysis.

Therefore, policymakers in Pakistan specifically employ qualitative data before making informed decisions on legislation, administration, and operations. However, before this, it is also significant to raise the standards of the data-collection bodies in Pakistan, both in the public and private sectors. It is also essential to develop the capacity of professionals in the public and private sectors. These professionals will drive change in the public sector and make decision-making more effective in favor of the people. Policy professionals, the game is afoot! 

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