Want to know where all the health centers are in Apa, Nigeria? There’s a map for that. In fact, the same map has data on water points and schools for that village and more than 700 local government authorities across the country. An internal system designed to help determine where and how to allocate funding in Nigeria is now out in the open.
The Nigerian government recently published what it is calling the MDG Information System. Data points, marked on a map of the country, provide information from the number of full time teachers in a school to whether a water point is working to whether a health center provides family planning services. All are a part of opening up data about the country and working to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.
“This dashboard really helps us a lot and is essential when trying to spend money,” said Sara Sievers, Senior Director at Columbia University’s Earth Institute and partner with Nigeria on the dashboard, in an interview with Humanosphere.
Money is not a part of the data, but it is key to the dashboard.
The forgiveness of Nigeria’s debts in 2005 came with a condition – the roughly $1 billion meant to pay off national debts would have to be spent on health and education in the country. A plan was developed through the Office of the Senior Special Assistant to the President on the Millennium Development Goals (OSSAP-MDGs) to provide matching grants to local governments for improving health and education in the country.
Each request for money must be approved before it is disbursed. Part of that requires making sure that the proposed project is needed. Preventing corruption is one aim, but it is more about making sure the money spent well.
“You can have money spent very ethically on a dumb idea,” said Sievers.
Initially it was developed for internal tracking, but OSSAP-MDGs head Dr. Precious Kalamba Gbencol made it available to the public. The Earth Institute team lobbied early on for it to be made available. Sievers expressed encouragement about the decision and its potential uses by civil society, journalists, other government offices and groups she never considered.
The data collected represents three years of work. All parts of the country were surveyed in-person, except for the dangerous parts where Boko Haram poses security threats. Sievers estimates that the majority of health centers, water points and schools are on the platform, but said they could not investigate every singe place mentioned.
“A big part of the goal of this program was to make the bureaucracy perform,” she explained. “We wanted to answer the question, how do you make sure the money goes where it is supposed to go and how do you make sure it is well spent?”
Knowing where things are physically as well as details about them helps make answering that question easier. Further opening up information to the public will hopefully increase accountability. She is also concerned with making the information better. The data are wonderful, but they are unable to overlay it against population data in order to know accurately where gaps exist.
What comes next is the unanswerable question. Nigerian officials are meeting soon to discuss how to put the platform to work for various needs. The possibilities at the moment feel limitless.
“I am very excited to see how people are going to run with this,” said Sievers.