Are we being driven by data?

‘We need more data and information to help us set a clear direction for us’, is an overused statement we hear in every nook and corner. We indeed believe that we have huge data emerging through various activities and interventions that are taking place around us and we have also gained the habit of calling […]

‘We need more data and information to help us set a clear direction for us’, is an overused statement we hear in every nook and corner. We indeed believe that we have huge data emerging through various activities and interventions that are taking place around us and we have also gained the habit of calling ourselves smart, meaning everything in our lives has become smart, starting from the city to a school and much more. Smartness also makes us believe that these days anything and everything is measurable! Is that true? Are we able to measure all resource footprints? meaning water consumption, energy usage, waste generation, employment, income and so on. And yes, it is not just about measuring the resources we generate, but also the losses we incur, be it economic losses from natural disasters, or any kind of recession we are going through.
These expectations of measuring all around us may seem overwhelming, but an approach that can help us rectify these things is a must. Having said that, we have to have clear data pertaining to all of these, otherwise it is easier said than done. And then, this is not all, getting the data is not enough, it needs to be communicated to the public as well, for their feedback and understanding. Almost everything we see around is filled with criticism, the traffic management, the electricity bills, water quality, the air pollution, the flooding of rivers, the congestion in transport facilities and what not. For everything that we see around we feel that the systems are not equipped to deal with a size of population we have in our country.
And it is almost every now and then that the inability to analyze future scenarios is being talked about. Almost every third intellectual reflects that the one and only solution for addressing this challenge is nothing but a trustworthy data, with intermittent risk assessments.
Quality and accessible data has the capacity to directly influence both the governments and people’s mindset to help formulate and execute effective programs. India being an emerging economy, it definitely has robust public data system, starting from the decennial Census, annual sample surveys, health surveys and various others that are thematic in nature. And when evidence-based planning becomes the bedrock of any country, it can pave the way for dynamic economic progress and resilience in the longer term.
When it comes to planning, it is the data that has so much to tell us; like children born in a particular state have better longevity than the neighbouring states; literacy rates of one region have influenced decision making among the youth as compared to any other region in the country. A report of NITI Aayog talks about statistics like, the number of murders reported per lakh population in India is 2.4; there are about 13 courts per 10 lakh population in India; for every 1 crore people in India, 34 corruption cases have been reported; while 15 states/Union Territories have achieved full birth registration, there is room for improvement, with Punjab leading at 99.2 percent, followed by Gujarat and Rajasthan at 98.7 percent.
This is indeed data that tells us about disparities in the country. However, it is these disparities and differences that help us in arriving at specific decisions on budgets, and further on monitoring the utilization of those budgets to ensure better generation of data on what has worked and what has not.
The other aspect on which we face criticism is the data collection methods which needs to be modernized, when compared with other developed and developing economies. Computerized surveys employing various modes like in-person, telephone, web, and text-based interviews, necessitate a different approach to questionnaire design. Because these methods not only deliver faster and better data sets, but also enable improved data quality monitoring through audio recording, interviewer prompts, and such other methods. We also should accept and acknowledge that India now is an inseparable part of the global indices which has been and will also be inflating and deflating India’s position on the global stage in years to come. And so it is also a time to increase monetary investment in data collection systems. Top of Form
The other aspect which cannot be overlooked at any cost is that India is currently undergoing a personal data revolution, driven by the widespread adoption of digital services. While personal data brings considerable value, it also introduces significant new risks. The substantial volume of personal data collected raises worries about potential consequences such as the loss of individual privacy, financial losses in the event of breaches, and the possibility of unfair discrimination, marginalization, or exclusion of individuals and groups.
The government has also undertaken various initiatives to establish extensive platforms for handling large datasets, necessitating the acquisition and processing of massive amounts of data. And indeed a classic example of data analytics is the governments crucial role in tax administration. Needless to say, the reality of timely reminders for advance tax payments, identification of mismatches in Income Tax Returns (ITRs) and potential high-risk transactions absolutely reflects that we are hugely leveraging data analytics. Undoubtedly, we have miles to go, but a set of steps have been taken which signify a commitment to enhance the quality and availability of data, for both policymaking and public dissemination, reflecting a forward-looking approach to information management and governance in India.

Dr. Benazir Patil is a Chief Executive Officer – SCHOOL.