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Africa conference on mobile technology considers citizen involvement in collecting structured data for statistical processes

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Dr. Dozie Ezigbalike - UNECA
Dr. Dozie Ezigbalike – UNECA

A regional conference on the use of mobile technology in collecting data for statistical processes is considering the widespread use of African citizens in collecting structured data for statistical processes.

Speaking at the opening of a workshop preceding the conference Tuesday October 13, 2015 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Dr. Dozie Ezigbalike of the African Center for Statistics of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) acknowledged the fact that the importance of statistics for decision making has been well understood in Africa. He also noted that Pan-African organizations like the ECA, African Union Commission and the African Development Bank have been supporting statistical development on the continent.

“UN agencies have been involved in collecting statistical data and building capacity in Africa. International financial and development partners have also invested heavily in statistical capacity in Africa,” he said.

Noting that so much progress has been made in statistical capacity building in Africa, he said, “one of the problems of collecting data is the low technology base and reliance on paper-based methods.” These methods he said were prone to error.

Dr. Ezigbalike, therefore argued that the permeation of mobile phones even in remote rural areas of Africa presents an opportunity for African countries to explore data collection methods that employ mobile devices.

He said as national statistical offices or institutes already have some experience with using mobile devices in their statistical processes, the institutions now look at building the capacities of whole countries in a meaningful way, by working to build trust between academic institutions and governments towards extending the training to their citizens.

“The other new thing we brought to the table was the concept of ‘citizen data collector’. We all know about big data, crowd sourcing, web scraping and other modern concepts of data collection, but ours is to have the citizen to supply structured data in the course of normal economic activities – the sort of data that the statistician would have gone to interview the person to collect, since we don’t have enough statisticians to do all the work that society expects them to do.”

So far six countries are doing pilots of this ‘citizen data collector’ project. They are Cameroon, Ethiopia, Tunisia, Kenya, The Gambia and Zimbabwe.

The projects are using an already existing application which is customized to a country’s specific needs and given to citizens engaged in some economic activities to collect the data the way that the statistician would have and then turn that data over to the statistician to analyse.

By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

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