Building a data ecosystem in developing countries: dLab’s experience in Tanzania

Stephen Chacha

Tanzania Data Lab (dLab), Executive Director

Data Ecosystem Building in Tanzania

For the past five years dLab has collaborated with local, regional, and international partners in building and strengthening the data ecosystem in Tanzania based on the gaps identified in the first data ecosystem assessment conducted in 2015. As part of Data Collaborative for Local Impact (DCLI) program, dLab adopted a data ecosystem assessment approach that looks at the supply and demand side of data, an enabling environment, and data technical capacity. Over time this has evolved based on constant changing data ecosystems, and the localization at the sub-national level to develop data readiness assessment framework for local government authorities.

A. Data Demand

This assessment criteria looks at how data is appreciated by different actors, demanded and used to inform policy and decision making at different levels. In efforts to strengthen the demand for data and to build a culture of evidence-based policy making and decision making, dLab focuses on data gap assessments, building data literacy, data driven innovations, and data roadmaps at both national and sub-national level.

i. Data Capacity Building

Over the last five years dLab has trained over 5,500 people coming from the public sector, the private sector, and civil society organizations on data literacy and data management as a way of nurturing data ambassadors and promoting data driven policy and decision making at different levels. dLab offers free online data courses for data enthusiasts. In collaboration with the Local Government Training Institute (LGTI) we developed data for governance curriculum for local government authority employees. You can explore the free online data courses to learn more.

ii. Data Tamasha

Data Tamasha is a biennial dLab flagship event that serves as a platform to promote the appreciation of the role that data plays in development by showcasing best practices, and facilitate sharing of knowledge and skills between different local and international data stakeholders. The first Data Tamasha was held in 2017 with the theme “Data In Action”, the second Data Tamasha was held in 2019 with the theme “The Power of Data for Inclusive Sustainable Development”, and the theme for the third Data  Tamasha in 2021 is “Unboxing Data for the Digital Economy”.

iii. Data Driven Innovations

In efforts to promote data driven innovations in Tanzania, dLab in collaboration with MCC-PEPFAR DCLI program, World Food Program (WFP) Tanzania, The Think Room, and other partners invested over USD 2 Million to ran five data driven innovation challenge windows, innovation scale up challenge window, and an innovation accelerator program benefiting over 63 local innovators/founders through funding support, mentorship, innovation acceleration, and incubation services.

iv. Data Gap Assessment and Data Roadmap

Through data roadmap processes at the national ad sub-national level, dLab has created demand for data by highlighting data gaps at both national and sub-national levels. In collaboration with the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) and the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data (GPSDD), dLab is actively engaging and contributing in the National Data Roadmap process in Tanzania. This includes a collaboration with the National Bureau of Statistics and PARIS 21 on a national data gap assessment for Tanzania using Advanced Data Planning Tool (ADAPT).

At the sub-national level, dLab conducted sub-national data readiness assessment of Kyela District Council, and Tanga City Council using Data Readiness Assessment Tool and used the assessments as the basis to develop sub-national data roadmaps in Kyela and Tanga in efforts to promote data demand, supply, and usage at the sub-national level. In collaboration with the respective councils, our partners (DCLI and Botnar Foundation), and data stakeholders in the respective councils we are using the findings from these assessment reports to strengthen sub-national data ecosystems.

B. Data Supply

This assessment criteria looks at how different types of data sets from different sources are made available, in what formats, standards, and their respective frequencies.

The national data gap assessment highlighted the existing data supply gap and confirmed that the official and traditional sources of statistics alone cannot address the existing data gaps.

dLab has been engaging in efforts to promote the supply of data to meet the current data demand in line with the implementation of the African Union Agenda 2063, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and Tanzania Development Vision 2025.

dLab is part of the national efforts led by the National Bureau of Statistics and United Nations Statistics Division (UNSD) on integrating non traditional data into official statistics in line with Tanzania Statistical Masterplan II.

i. Harnessing the Data Revolution

Data revolution calls for the supply of relevant, timely and usable data for countries to set development priorities, make informed choices and implement better policies for sustainable development.

dLab is seizing opportunities presented by the data revolution by investing in new data technologies and data production processes such as geospatial data, big data analytics, blockchain, machine learning and artificial intelligence. dLab is also leveraging strategic partnership through projects and partnerships such as Digital Earth Africa project, Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data (GPSDD), and Geo4ICT project in which dLab is a national partner in Tanzania.

Through the Memorandum of Understanding with the National Bureau of Statistics in Tanzania, dLab is advising the National Bureau of Statistics and support its capacity building on emerging data technologies in efforts to promote the uptake and integration of new non-traditional sources of data into official statistics.

ii. Non-traditional Data Sources

dLab champions citizen generated data including its standardization and recognition as complementary statistics to official statistics. Over the years dLab has generated over 2.4 million community data points from its engagement with the communities in Tanzania. A recent collaboration with Open Map Development Tanzania (OMDTZ) on community mapping of the Kyela District Council which generated over 7800 community data points is a classic example of dLab’s citizen generated data work.

The efforts to integrate non-traditional data into official statistics also incorporates the integration of citizen generated data, civil society organizations data, and private sector data which dLab is leading under the auspices of National Bureau of Statistics in line with Tanzania Statistical Masterplan II.

iii. Data Science Products and Services

Through data science solutions dLab has developed over 240 data products and services to enhance the real time data capturing, data quality improvement, data analysis and data visualization to strengthen the data supply in the ways and forms that makes the data more user friendly to support its uptake and usage. Community Health Assistant Information and Decision Making Tool (CHAID Tool) used by Benjamin Mkapa Foundation is a good example of data science solutions developed by dLab.

iv. Open Data Access

Tanzania Data Lab is advocating for open access to data to facilitate data sharing, uptake, and usage. dLab’s data portal is an open platform for publishing and sharing of data from different data producers in different re-usable formats to make data more readily available in decision ready and user-friendly formats.

a. Enabling Environment

This assessment criteria looks at data policy, legal, regulatory framework, data infrastructure, data financing, and data partnerships and its impact on the data ecosystem.

Data Legislation and Policy Advocacy

dLab has been actively engaging in efforts to strengthen the enabling environment for data in Tanzania through advocacy and technical support towards: 2015 Statistics Act amendments; national ICT policy; open data policy; data protection legislation; national spatial data infrastructure; national Artificial Intelligence policy; and Tanzania Statistical Masterplan.

dLab is working in collaboration with the National Bureau of Statistics to enhance the enabling environment especially for non traditional data producers in Tanzania through the integration of non traditional data into official statistics.

dLab is a member of Center for Global Development, Governing Data for Development working group focusing on developing recommendations for good data governance in line with priorities, needs, and capacities of developing countries.

dLab is also a member of the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data (GPSDD), a global network using data to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, improving lives, fighting inequality, and promoting environmental sustainability.

C. Data Technical Capacity

This assessment criteria looks at data literacy, data technical skills, and capacity within the data ecosystem.

Recognizing the existing gap in data technical skills, dLab designed both short-term, mid-term, and long-term interventions to contribute to addressing the technical skills gap in data.

i. Long-term intervention

As a long-term measure, in 2018 dLab in collaboration with the University of Dar es Salaam launched the Master of Science in Data Science program, a challenged based course aiming at producing world class data scientists. The program is currently on its third cohort, and dLab through President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) support under the DCLI program has sponsored 14 students to pursue Master of Science in Data Science program. dLab is directly involved in running and managing the program by linking the students to real life data science challenges through practicum. The beneficiaries of the practicum include the Bank of Tanzania, JHPIEGO, Benjamin Mkapa Foundation, Financial Sector Deepening Trust (FSDT), and Inspire Ideas.

Through the support from PEPFAR under the DCLI program, dLab has sponsored 14 students (PEPFAR Scholars) to pursue Master of Science in Data Science at the University of Dar es Salaam as a contribution towards addressing data technical skills gap in the Tanzania data ecosystem.

ii. Mid-term and Short-term intervention

As mid-term and short-term measure dLab is conducting training courses for the public, tailored for individuals and organizations, and gender specific programs. This includes data management training, data visualization training, big data analytics training, artificial intelligence bootcamps, women in data programs (Women in Data Science, Girls Hack Data, Code Like A Girl, Smart Girls, and Data4Her), artificial intelligence inter-college debate, hackathons, and mapathons reaching over 5,500 people.

dLab also launched a tech database seeking to establish a community of practice for men and women working in data, technology, and innovation to facilitate networking, sharing of knowledge and skills.

To conclude, for data ecosystem building to be meaningful and to avoid unnecessary duplication of efforts it requires a thorough assessment and collaborative efforts involving all actors in the data ecosystem including the government, private sector, development partners, civil society organizations, and the general public.