Skip to main content
Graffiti depicting city with code underneath

How Much Development Data Is Enough?

The data revolution offers enormous potential for improving decision-making at every level of development policy. But gathering data is not enough; the information must also be managed and evaluated – and doing this properly can be far more complicated than the effort to collect it.

NAIROBI – Rapid advances in technology have dramatically lowered the cost of gathering data. Sensors in space, the sky, the lab, and the field, along with newfound opportunities for crowdsourcing and widespread adoption of the Internet and mobile telephones, are making large amounts of information available to those for whom it was previously out of reach. A small-scale farmer in rural Africa, for example, can now access weather forecasts and market prices at the tap of a screen.

This data revolution offers enormous potential for improving decision-making at every level – from the local farmer to world-spanning development organizations. But gathering data is not enough. The information must also be managed and evaluated – and doing this properly can be far more complicated and expensive than the effort to collect it. If the decisions to be improved are not first properly identified and analyzed, there is a high risk that much of the collection effort could be wasted or misdirected.

This conclusion is itself based on empirical analysis. The evidence is weak, for example, that monitoring initiatives in agriculture or environmental management have had a positive impact. Quantitative analysis of decisions across many domains, including environmental policy, business investments, and cyber security, has shown that people tend to overestimate the amount of data needed to make a good decision or misunderstand what type of data are needed.

We hope you're enjoying Project Syndicate.

To continue reading, subscribe now.

Subscribe

Get unlimited access to PS premium content, including in-depth commentaries, book reviews, exclusive interviews, On Point, the Big Picture, the PS Archive, and our annual year-ahead magazine.

https://prosyn.org/CWbck4v;
  1. roubini130_GettyImages_iphonehandstealingpiggybank Getty Images

    The Great Crypto Heist

    Nouriel Roubini

    Cryptocurrencies have given rise to an entire new criminal industry, comprising unregulated offshore exchanges, paid propagandists, and an army of scammers looking to fleece retail investors. Yet, despite the overwhelming evidence of rampant fraud and abuse, financial regulators and law-enforcement agencies remain asleep at the wheel.

  2. ghosh11_GettyImages_thiefworldmoneybag Getty Images

    The Exploitation Time Bomb

    Jayati Ghosh

    Worsening economic inequality in recent years is largely the result of policy choices that reflect the political influence and lobbying power of the rich. There is now a self-reinforcing pattern of high profits, low investment, and rising inequality – posing a threat not only to economic growth, but also to democracy.

Cookies and Privacy

We use cookies to improve your experience on our website. To find out more, read our updated cookie policy and privacy policy.