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25th October – Minding the gaps in India’s digital data infrastructure

Much of the data quality discussions in the past have erupted when politically sensitive results around topics such as GDP growth rate or poverty rates have been released and partisan bickering allows for little room to think about data collection systems.

How can we improve data collection?

If we are to move towards developing a more robust data infrastructure, subscribing to the following core principles may be a good start.

  1. Set realistic goals – First, set realistic goals and use creative strategies. With a variety of small area estimation techniques available for pooling data from diverse sources to obtain robust estimates at district level, it may make sense for us to think of alternatives and to make sure that we obtain required local government directory identifiers in each aspect of government data, including Census, sample registration system, and Ayushman Bharat payment systems to ensure that these data can be pooled and leveraged.
  2. Ensuring quality – Second, adapt to changing institutional and technological environment for data collection. Some of the initiatives undertaken by the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation for developing training programmes for investigators offer a welcome improvement but stop far short of the radical restructuring of data collection oversight. Where interviewers make a mistake, they must be retrained. Concurrent monitoring using technologically-enabled procedures such as random voice recording of interviews, judicious back checks, and evaluation of agency and interviewer performance on parameters such as skipping sections, inconsistent data and consistent misreporting may be needed to ensure quality.
  3. Need for exclusive units – Third, establish research units exclusively focused on data collection and research design. An innovative research institute on the lines of NSS could be undertaken as an associated unit of the Indian Statistical Institute.

Way forward –

While research on data collection methods has stagnated, research methodologies have changed phenomenally. Telephone surveys via random digit dialling or selection of respondents using voter lists are increasingly emerging as low-cost ways of collecting data.

Conclusion –

Unless we pay systematic attention to the data infrastructure, we are likely to have the national discourse hijacked by poor quality data as has happened in the past with a measurement of poverty or inconsistent data on GDP.

SourceThe Hindu

QUESTIONData collection by government agencies to formulate social welfare schemes have come into criticism from many quarters questioning the authenticity of the data. How can we ensure accurate data collection to formulate right policies at the various levels of government?

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