Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) is a global movement founded on the principle that everyone has the right to food and good nutrition. It has plenty to say about accessing open data and using it effectively to improve the lives of millions of children and adults around the world.
SUN has a network of 56 national governments who have all pledged to improve their nutrition information systems. It helps governments, researchers and non-government organisations participate in providing routine data as well as contributing to stakeholder mapping on the state of nutrition.
From available data, SUN members are developing a simple to follow dashboard, capturing key information that can be used for decision making at national or regional level. It all helps countries scale-up their strategic plans that improve nutrition levels.
Despite these developments SUN is candidly honest about the ability and willingness of some countries to manage and share good quality data. “It is important to be realistic, and to ensure that expectations are in tune with capacity,” the Summary Report warns, from SUN’s Network Facilitators’ Meeting in 2014. The report also points out that civil society organisations are ahead of many government in their ambitions to highlight the importance of open data.
But against these concerns linked to accessibility and delivering high quality data on nutrition, SUN can boast that many member countries have a forward thinking approach to data capture and distribution.
Insights from the work conducted in Madagascar illustrates the ambitious approach to using open data. The team representing Madagascar, Jean Francois, National Coordinator, National Nutrition Office and SUN Government Focal Point member and Ralambomahay Lova, Head of Development Partnership and Nutrition Watch, National Nutrition Office, jointly describe their country’s progress with data collection systems and sharing sources of information.
“There are several information systems that collect nutrition related data in Madagascar. Sectoral ministries, civil society organisations, the private sector, United Nations system and donor agencies each have their own information systems. Sometimes, these systems create duplication when they collect data from the same sources, which is wasteful of resources. At the same time, there are still omissions in information.”
But despite the Madagascar team’s concern about gaps in the country’s nutrition data, it is resolutely creating a multi-sector and multi-stakeholder nutrition information system owned by all stakeholders.
The representative of the Rwandan Government, takes up this theme in his report to SUN, emphasising the need for cross sector data collection in the fight against malnutrition. Getting to grips with the reasons for poor nutrition is a complex matter and fixing the problem requires attention to detail and a determination to get different ministries, experts and regional authorities to collect exchangeable data.
Fidele Ngabo, Director of Maternal and Child Health for the Government of Rwanda says, “Food security and vulnerability are monitored through the food security and nutrition monitoring system conducted every six months and the comprehensive food security and vulnerability assessment and nutrition survey conducted every three years. These surveys are conducted by the Ministry of Agriculture in collaboration with the National Institute of Statistics in Rwanda and the World Food Programme and are complemented by the agriculture management information system which collects routine data.
These data are disseminated through bulletins and reports provided to all stakeholders for use in decision making, strategy development and programming.” Dr. Ibrahim Assane Mayaki, Chief Executive Officer of the Secretariat of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development encapsulates SUN members’ fundamental commitment in the fight against malnutrition, “It is my singular belief that every sector must be held accountable for their performance and delivery of food and nutrition with very clear indicators monitored and evaluated annually.”
Even so, some SUN members remain cautious about being overly ambitious. The meeting of the SUN Donor Partner Network, held at The World Bank offices in Washington, D.C, in 2014, reflected upon the quality of present data bases. For data to be of value, it was argued, the inputs need to be trusted and for this to reach an acceptable quality threshold requires collaboration with research partners with applicable experience.
Members also considered the trade-offs between an open data approach versus greater control of the data, and the decision of whether or not to share data between countries in order to increase country buy-in.
Andris Piebalgs, former European Commissioner for Development attended SUN Movement Lead Group meetings and says, “Countries must be sure that the information is of sufficient quality to serve as a basis for decision-making and for indicating progress. Taken together, it’s proof that officials in SUN countries are organising their national information systems for nutrition in ways that engage all relevant sectors and makes the best possible use of data that are already available. Such multi-sectoral analyses require access to data from all relevant sectors, addressing all levels of the causal pathways that can lead to malnutrition.
This data can usefully be organised into a common data base that will be designed and managed by national governments.” It is clear from SUN activities that good nutrition outcomes are achievable but actions cannot be limited to public health interventions.
Preparing high quality data is important, while improving access to open data is fundamental - critical to eliminating malnutrition.