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How Examining Data And Evidence Can Help Enhance Policy Making

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Generation Alpha Data Center (GenAlphaDC) at IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute organised a talk under The State of Statistics – #DataDiscourses on the topic Practitioner Reflections on the Data and Evidence Ecosystem.

Abhirup Bhunia.

The speaker of the day was Abhirup Bhunia, an independent development practitioner and supports evidence-based decision-making through research and monitoring, evaluation and learning (MEL).

He has worked closely with bilateral/multilateral donor agencies, the private sector and governments in various developmental sectors covering a diverse range of policy matters. He has a Master’s from the University of Sussex, U.K. The event was chaired by P C Mohanan, Former Acting Chairperson, National Statistical Commission, Government of India.

The lecture began with the basics of public intent data, private intent data and administrative data. The chairperson elucidated how World Bank’s report for the year 2021 chronicled around the topics of data too.

The excerpt on the official website’s publication reads:

“Today’s unprecedented growth of data and their ubiquity in our lives are signs that the data revolution is transforming the world. And yet, much of the value of data remains untapped. Data collected for one purpose have the potential to generate economic and social value in applications far beyond those originally anticipated. But many barriers stand in the way, ranging from misaligned incentives and incompatible data systems to a fundamental lack of trust.

“World Development Report 2021: Data for Better Lives, explores the tremendous potential of the changing data landscape to improve the lives of poor people while also acknowledging its potential to open back doors that can harm individuals, businesses and societies.

“To address this tension between the helpful and harmful potential of data, this report calls for a new social contract that enables the use and reuse of data to create economic and social value, ensures equitable access to that value and fosters trust that data will not be misused in harmful ways.”

There are also other government announcements like The Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019, introduced in Lok Sabha by the then Minister of Electronics and Information Technology, Mr Ravi Shankar Prasad. It seeks to provide for the protection of the personal data of individuals and establishes a Data Protection Authority for the same.

In a world where data has taken centre stage and claims of centre-sponsored surveillance are seeing upticks, building discourse of ethics around the same is crucially important. We cannot do away with the paradigm of big data because it is integrated into the evidence generation process, but the conceptualisation of the same can be enhanced.

“With the e-commerce space expanding, marketers have the ability to use the data to feed us more tailored products.” – Abhirup Bhunia.

The information asymmetry and coordination challenges make us circle our discussion over three questions:

  1. Discoverability.
  2. Accessibility.
  3. Equality.

Data journalists should ask difficult questions and seek answers for whether data has the potential to generate structured evidence for policy, how forthcoming the district and state administrations are going to be in data sharing, the missing data in unstandardised formats, and how to not deprive those who are touchy about having their personal information being handed over to websites to be able to ingress webpages.

The government agencies are opening up to introduce various governance policies electronically and periodical filings to regulate and control the industries are done through electronic means, so much so that even bookkeeping is being digitised.

To end poverty, reduce the jarring reverberations of capitalism, collation of primary quantitative data on inter-loaning, provision of microcredit in Grameen banks, reliable financial history, the status of funds’ utilisation, timestamps of transactions can prove out to be helpful.

Example Of Self Help Groups (SHGs)

money rupees on laptop
Representative Image. (Source: pxfuel)

The National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) has embarked on an initiative of strengthening and positioning the Self-Help Groups as crucial pillars in financial inclusion. Internal transactions MIS and regular operations are being made digital, with manual entries, and so on.

There are no new processes, with simply existing ones being leveraged, making the management quicker, with fewer chances of errors due to standardisation. There is now real-time monitoring of SHG performance and finances so that specific policy questions can be answered. For credit history generation, other external actors like banks, DSPs, etc., are roped in.

Previously, one of the hurdles the banks faced while extending credit was the absence of credit history of the SHG members. Now, the digitisation coverage spread across 50+ districts with linkage to a NABARD portal “e-shakti” so that any movement in an account is automatically conveyed to the portal.

Actionable data and evidence can transform how financial service providers, NGOs and social enterprises expand and adapt their services to meet customers’ needs.

There were also deliberations on indicative quantitative indicators, namely SHG demographics, financial performance like the status of savings, inter-loaning nature, reasons; fund receipt utilisation and anomalies; enterprises profiling (revenue, income, profits), non-financial meetings, discussion topics, time/duration, meeting frequency; functionality and non-functionality, locational and other variations.

When examining if evidence operates in bubbles, the interplay of politics, timeliness, incentives, interests, power dynamics and social norms are imperative to consider.

“Real Work” complexities entail complexities in pathways to change, the multiplicity of stakeholders, varying interests and many unknowns. There are many logistical issues and operational questions with surveys too, not only are they laborious for respondents, and even co-designing being easier said than done. Therefore, the first port of call should not be surveyed.

Other takeaways from the session were more tapping into existing data, capacity building to have quality admin data in place, evidence to be situated within complex real-world policymaking context, co-design research processes geared to answer policy questions, nuances of qualitative research like stakeholder interviews and consultations, primary surveys with considerations given to the length of the questionnaire, what variables are useful while analysing/generating evidence, the data-points that are available, and more.

Mahima Kapoor, from IMPRI, questioned whether we have enough infrastructure to collect vast data, the capacity at ground level and the financial feasibility underscoring the same.

Arjun Sujit Varma, an economics major at OP Jindal University, queried over the deployment of satellite imagery, and Dr Arjun Kumar shared his insights over microdata penetration and more.

Acknowledgement: Priyanshi Arora is a research intern at IMPRI.

IMPRI Team

Featured Image via flickr
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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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