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Interview with Mark Irura, Project Manager and Technical Analyst, Development Gateway

  •  January 26, 2017
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How is your organisation involved in the humanitarian aid and development sector?

Development Gateway (DG) is a digital development organization, providing leading-edge technology, advisory, and research solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges. From Development Gateway's hubs in Washington, Dakar, and Nairobi, they work with over 35 national and sub-national governments, to support evidence-based policymaking, strong public financial management, and transparency initiatives; with bilateral and multilateral development agencies, to support the use of data visualizations, GIS, and information management solutions for greater effectiveness; and they partner with private sector firms, foundations, and universities to push the boundaries of policy innovations. 

What are the key initiatives, programmes and projects that are implemented in the region? 

Development Gateway works across the continent spans technology, advisory services, and applied research. DG’s Results Data Initiative (RDI) - active in Tanzania, Ghana, and Sri Lanka - empowers local officials with the right data, policies, and processes to connect resources to results. Lessons learned thus far from RDI have helped inform the development of a suite of technological tools - including an M&E Management Information System for the Young African Leadership Initiative (YALI), and an SDG Monitoring and Analysis tool for national and subnational governments.

Uniquely, Development Gateway have longstanding relationships with over 20 African governments - many begun through their Aid Management Program, which combines enterprise software, training, and advisory support to improve public financial management. 

What is Mark's role at Development Gateway and priorities for 2017?

Mark Irura leads DG’s work across East Africa - from leading client relationships, to tool specification and program management, to partnerships and business development. Currently, Mark is designing the data model for Development Gateway SDG Tracking Platform, and managing the M&E MIS implementation for YALI; supporting partnerships development for RDI, and contributing to the Kenya SDG Roadmaps process. He recently finished implementing the Tanzania Open Data Dashboards, and wrapped up an evaluation of UNICEF’s ICT4D innovations portfolio in Eastern and Southern Africa Region. Mark's main priority over the coming year will be supporting decision-makers at the local and national levels with the data, tools, and policies they need to ahieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

What will your panel at Aid & Development Africa Summit 2017 address and why is it important for those attending to engage in this topic?

Development Gateway's panel will address the data behind the SDGs - how they can collect, share, and use this information to achieve the 2030 Agenda. DG have more data, international momentum, and wherewithal to achieve sustainable development than ever. But, in order to do so, they must ensure they collect the right data, share information effectively, and empower the right people with the skills and resources to use this information in for decisionmaking.

What are key trends and future developments in data collection and management?

Development Gateway is seeing a greater appreciation of - and demand for - local, disaggregated information that allows for more accurate and inclusive decision-making. There’s also a growing expectation that tools will be open source, built with interoperability in mind, and incorporate data visualizations, maps, and other tools to ensure audiences can interact with and analyze data more effectively.

However, something that came to light from our RDI research is a need to better prioritize and resource the data we collect. Many times DG (at headquarters level) are asking colleagues in local clinics and towns to gather reams of information, that are not useful or used to make decisions. We need to be better at understanding our own needs, and the needs of local decision-makers, when it comes to data collection and management. 

In your opinion, why are shared platforms and data exchange of importance to the aid and development stakeholders? 

We’re all seeking to achieve common goals, and we don’t live in a vacuum! The technological innovations over the past 2-3 years alone have made it much cheaper and more feasible to share tools, lessons, and data - let’s use them. 

What are the main barriers you’ve come against in data sharing and open source knowledge solutions? What is necessary to address these challenges?

One of the key barriers Mark has come across is a desire to collect as much data as possible - without a clear sense of who, how, or why it will be used. Our work has shown that, without a clear use case, the motivation for data quality declines -- which then further hinders use. If we work on becoming more precise in defining users and use cases, this can help us become more effective, and improve data quality.

Technologically inflexible systems - built as a one-size-fits-all, without interoperability or future scaling in mind - also limit the transformative capabilities of ICT. Similarly, designing (and budgeting) for the scaling and sustainability of technology solutions remains a weak spot in many project designs. Being more aware of the associated costs of and strategy for ICT - and the importance of designing for (often) unpredictable environments - will be important to the future of our community.   

What is your impression of the upcoming Aid & Development Africa Summit 2017? 

Mark is very much looking forward to meeting colleagues from around the world at the upcoming AIDF Summit! In order to meet the 2030 Agenda, fostering collaborative networks, sharing lessons learned, and amplifying our community’s successes will be critical. The summit has brought together a diverse group of key stakeholders from across the continent and around the world - Mark is very much looking forward to sharing and learning from these colleagues.

To summarise, what is the key message or learning from your work you’d like to share with AIDF audience prior to the Summit?

To achieve the SDGs, Development Gateway must ensure the right data are collected, shared, and - critically - used for effective, nimble policymaking. 

Mark Irura is the project manager and technical analyst for Development Gateway.

Mark will speak in the panel on Data Strategy to Support SDGs at the 2nd annual Aid and Development Africa Summit, taking place on 28 February - 1 March 2017 in Nairobi, Kenya. For more information about the conference, please visit africa.aidforum.org

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