Thinking and working beyond credible evidence: Is it simply matter of trust?

This sharing was inspired by the very informative discussions during Africa Evidence Week that ran from 13 to 17 September. I was particularly impressed by the webinar input of the Western Cape Government on “Time to talk Data”. All the speakers were excellent as they unpacked the rationale for creating a centrally coordinated Data Office to enhance accountability and better decision making in the province. They used the case of the safety data surveillance system to illustrate the types of data that can be collected from the forensic services that relate to violent crimes, the data from the police and data about population density that can assist decisions about resource provision and other security related intervention measures. This case example was very relevant as it exemplified the principles underlying the guidelines for data sharing outlined by one of the speakers. This coordinated effort by the Western Cape Government, to generate credible data that can inform evidence-based decision making is applauded and augurs well for policies, regulations and services by the state that will benefit those that require the services. 

On the day I commented that the Data Office should also embrace external and independent reviews and not only rely on internal data generation capabilities across the different departments. One reason for making this comment relates to a tendency in administrations and governments across to globe to set up systems of compliance with benchmarks and performance indicators that satisfy political principals at the expense of those that need services. I want to believe that this is not what this initiative is about, and I am convinced that the Data Office will collaborate widely.  However, as part of our reflections on credible data for good governance, we need to situate our solutions in our very own historical-socio-political contexts that will determine how such efforts will be taken up by citizens of this province. We cannot assume that because we used rigorous methodologies to generate data, we packaged the data into useful chunks of information with visual aids using appropriate media and mediums because of that, people will accept what we produce or the actions and policies that derive from the data.

We find that the evidence-linked actions, measures, precautions, and policies that emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic have increased people’s scepticism about evidence and what counts as evidence.  Even highly credible sources of data such as the World Health Organisation (WHO) and professional health councils are being challenged.  Why? Because evidence-informed decisions and actions have resulted in death, hunger, poverty, unemployment, mental health problems, personal and collective suffering, and we need to be cognisant of the perceptions that developed consequently. Similarly, governing administrations like the Western Cape government need to be particularly aware of how allegations and evidence of corruption, of state capture, and of historically poor service delivery have cemented attitudes about governance and administration in this country. People question the sources of information like the police stations where police officers have been regularly implicated in corrupt practices and government officials have been found wanting in service delivery efforts across the Western Cape Province. There are questions about who stands to benefit from the generation and presentation of the evidence as well as who paid for the evidence.

These concerns certainly go beyond party political allegiance to the ruling ANC party or regional DA party as we have entered and are experiencing an era of information and data overload, the availability of a plethora of data sources, of concomitant misinformation, of manipulation of big-data for political and financial gain, and of the creation of fake-news, that has engendered doubt about the reliance on the scientific methods for generating evidence. This complicates a simple logic of the collection of good data and evidence leading to evidence-informed decisions benefiting those most in need.

How do we change the negative perceptions of governance and service delivery in the Western Cape, in South Africa, and in Africa?  Maybe this the vexing question that should drive the intentions and outcomes of the Data Office in the Western Cape government noting that the perceptions have been ingrained over many generations. We were informed during the webinar of how the Western Cape government drew on international security intervention models (Cardiff and Glasgow) to inform related intervention strategies. This was very instructive. informative and encouraging because we need to learn from best practices and available information. We must use this information not just to replicate but to develop our own strategies. I think we have the capabilities and people to make this happen.

The Western Cape government, located at and responsible for the bottom tip of Africa can/should/will provide us with guidance for entities to collect data timeously, to collect appropriate data, to store data safely and to ensure that information is shared using the most effective media. It stands out as a progressive regional structure on the African continent – this impetus must/could be shared in structures in the AU.  The challenge is for the WC Data Office to reflect on and go beyond the generation of credible data. This will enable people in this region to trust the data and evidence-based decisions. I am pleased that we are ahead of the curve – whatever that means.

My apologies for not detailing or commenting on any of the other AEN sessions that I could attend they were all amazing, well done.

Mark Abrahams

One thought on “Thinking and working beyond credible evidence: Is it simply matter of trust?

  1. Great post Mark, thank you. I am going to share it with ON Think Tanks, perhaps you want to write an article for their blog in this?

    Regards, Dena

    *From:* SAMEA Western Cape Network [mailto:comment-reply@wordpress.com] *Sent:* Monday, 20 September 2021 09:43 *To:* dena@southernhemisphere.co.za *Subject:* [New post] Thinking and working beyond credible evidence: Is it simply matter of trust?

    Mark Abrahams posted: ” This sharing was inspired by the very informative discussions during Africa Evidence Week that ran from 13 to 17 September. I was particularly impressed by the webinar input of the Western Cape Government on “Time to talk Data”. All the speakers were exc”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s