RDI: Takeaways from First Ghana Country Visit

The Results Data Initiative (RDI) team visited Ghana in late 2015 to kick off our country study of results management data and supporting monitoring and evaluation (M&E) systems. Our purpose on this visit was to meet senior officials in government and donor agencies to learn more about how Ghana is approaching the many challenges of collecting, using, and sharing data on the outputs and outcomes (results) of its policies and programs in health and agriculture sectors.

Beyond being delighted with the warmth and hospitality we enjoyed from all we met, we came away with a rich set of observations, and with real excitement about what further interviews (being conducted by Research Trust Limited) at the local level will tell us.

Here are some of our initial insights about the situation of results data in Ghana:

Ghana is building a long term vision of expected results. Under the leadership of the National Development Planning Commission (NDPC), Ghana is now engaging in countrywide discussions around a long term vision for Ghana’s future, mapping out goals over a 40-year time horizon within which successive medium term plans will be developed. Our team was pleased to be invited to observe one of ten regional level consultations that the NDPC is managing to develop and frame the vision. In each of these meetings, a wide and diverse set of stakeholders – parliamentarians, traditional authorities, and representatives of a range of interest groups (including youth and the disabled) – come together to discuss and elaborate a vision of priorities for the future.

The major motivator for the approach is to develop a robust vision that reflects consensus and commitment among all stakeholders to future directions, including reductions of inefficient expenditures and better allocation of government resources to agreed priorities. For example, discussions of agricultural goals focused on i) increased domestic production, with a subsequent reduction in importation, and ii) the modernization of the agricultural sector from subsistence/manual production to a more commercialized and mechanized sector. This goal also connects to the need for more sustainable production systems to increase resilience to climate change, better land use and management of forests – which in turn includes addressing land ownership and access to land by the rural population (the consultation highlighted the role of youth in this regard).

In addition, the consultation highlighted the need for adequate logistical support, resources, and stakeholder involvement for M&E. There was a particular emphasis on the value of geospatial perspectives on planning priorities, as well as a need for investments in core information systems (i.e., national identity, civil registration, and vital registration). Representatives of all six of the major parties spoke at the consultation, pledging to overcome the disruptions to long term investment and development strategies through committing to a vision that would be “long term in nature, binding on all successive government but flexible enough to allow each government the space to carry out its manifesto promises.”

This consultative and participatory process will be followed by the publication of a Long Term Development Plan in 2017 (NDPC. “Black Star Rising…A Basis for a Long-Term National Development Plan in for Ghana.” Brochure. November 2015.). The statement will provide an excellent articulation of envisioned results, and there is clearly a commitment to ensuring that government and other stakeholders are able to regularly and transparently track progress toward these expectations.

Ghana is working to strengthen the systems and data used to monitor and evaluate major policies and programs. The government and its many partners are working to strengthen and improve the quality and utility of systems for monitoring results achieved through policy and programs in health, agriculture, and other sectors. Recent discussions that took place to develop the JASMES (Joint Agenda for Strengthening Monitoring and Evaluation and Statistics) initiative are indicative of this national commitment. Currently, data collection and reporting are initiated at the district level by line ministries through decentralized staff supported by other district staff (e.g., GSS District Statistical Officers have been deployed in more than 30 districts). The NPDC collates this information at regional level through the Regional Planning Coordination Unit, and line ministries collate the national level data in line with the NPDC templates.

The NDPC has prepared and tracks accomplishment of 20 key results indicators to capture a picture of overall development linked with the medium-term expenditure framework. Line agencies are also responsible for annual reports on progress which are provided to NDCP for the overall National Report Performance Report. In addition, the NDPC’s monitoring and evaluation unit develop and disseminate guidelines and templates to guide regional and district-level planning officials in the preparation and implementation of monitoring and evaluation plans. NDPC and line ministry officials are realistic in recognizing that i) progress in using these tools is uneven, ii) budgetary allocations remain limited, and iii) budget allocations are unlikely to increase in the present climate. However, officials remain eager to find ways to strengthen the quality and utility of monitoring systems going forward.

The health sector is making significant improvements in the quality and timeliness of routine health information collection and management. This has been achieved through the District Health Information System (DHMS2), a suite of software and data management tools that significantly reduces the time and reporting burdens of multiple paper-based tools at local and district levels. Efforts to improve information flow from teaching hospitals are also being developed.

The rollout of the DHIS2 system was achieved with considerable speed and efficiency, and coverage is steadily improving. The system now operates in all districts, and work to link with teaching and tertiary-level facilities is underway. There is scope for managers at various levels to access data from the system and construct the reports to suit specific needs. The Ministry of Health and its partners are justifiably pleased with this accomplishment.

Use is the toughest problem. Although DHIMS2 is a remarkable achievement, experience thus far helps to highlight challenges to improving the collection, sharing, and use of routine administrative data. The implementation of DHIS2 highlights logistical constraints to collection and sharing at the local level, not the least of which includes constrained connectivity, difficulties with transport, and significant training and supervision costs. The solutions to these constraints are relatively straightforward, though identifying and committing the resources needed to overcome them will demand additional financial support. But, as observed by one of the pioneers in the introduction and successful expansion of DHIS2, the toughest problem is finding the right mix of tools, training, and especially motivation to more actively use the data DHIS2 makes available to improve program efficiency and effectiveness – especially at the local level.

In the agricultural sector, the need for clearer, more explicit links between results data and the national policy agenda is recognized and has been well articulated by both the Joint (government/donors) Agriculture Sector Review and the NDCP. The need for better statistical data is also recognized. Better basic agricultural data at the district level (e.g., area cultivated, yields) needs to be complemented by improved analytics of imported food commodities (e.g., rice) to provide the basis for evidence-based decision-making and resource allocations. The support now being provided by donors to the Ministry of Agriculture to enhance the Ghana Agricultural Production Survey is a key first step. This has also included a recognition by al stakeholders of the need to ensure that any enhanced M&E system for agricultural sector results is sustainable (in terms of financial and human resource allocation) and attentive to the key decision parameters: food security, domestic production, environmental sustainability, and producer/household income. In this regard, some of the results management initiatives being developed by donors in the sector (e.g., IFAD) offer insights into both choice of indicators, supportive IT systems, and the fora for dissemination of results information.

How much does monitoring mean in the absence of adequate budget? Though the findings of RDI’s initial interviews are still being analyzed, some feedback about the challenge of encouraging use of data is becoming clear. One major blocking point, and a challenge beyond the reach of purely technocratic solutions, is the unfortunate reality that decision makers at district levels and below often lack sufficient funding in their resource envelopes to make it possible to carry out basic data collection and analysis and, subsequently, to respond to findings and observations from routine data. As an example, the RDI team learned that releases from the 2015 budgetary allocation for M&E at regional level had been substantially delayed, limiting the timeliness and effectiveness of basic data collection.

Another constraint impeding use is lack of staff with analytic and visualization capabilities to help users at local levels better employ routine information to i) optimize limited resources, ii) advocate for greater allocations from local parliamentary, government, and traditional authorities, and iii) manage performance across a range of facilities and service goals.

Going Forward

The RDI team, both at DG and at Research Trust Limited, is now tapping into the experiences of 120+ local-level government and NGO managers to further understand and expand on these initial observations. Our first visit provided a useful “big picture” look at how government and donors collect, share, and use results data at the central level. Our next steps will focus on learning more about how local governments, NGOs, and other development actors are collecting, sharing, and using results data.

Image Credit: International Institute of Tropical Agriculture CC BY-NC 2.0