The Evidence Map: A Big Step Forward in Assessing Policy-Relevant Data in the G-20

Pew and The Economist Group launch online tool to help policymakers evaluate data availability and accessibility

The Evidence Map: A Big Step Forward in Assessing Policy-Relevant Data in the G-20
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Last October, The Pew Charitable Trusts and The Economist Group—publisher of The Economist—with our long and distinguished histories of pursuing truth, joined forces to create The Evidence Initiative. Our collective purpose was to bring attention to the critical importance of evidence-based policymaking and provide support for its expanded use at all levels of government. Or as Rebecca Rimel, president and CEO of Pew described it at the time, our organizations are collaborating “to help ensure that facts and data are the underpinning of sound decision-making.”

Achieving this goal requires rigorous research, the ability to make data understandable and accessible, and, most important, a commitment to serving the public interest. Today, Pew and The Economist Intelligence Unit, The Economist Group’s research arm, take the next step toward this vision of ensuring that policy decisions are based on sound data with the launch of the Evidence Map.

The Map is a free, online, interactive tool that focuses on five key policy areas or “domains” critical to the G-20 nations: aging and retirement, digital inclusion, disaster risk, financial inclusion, and youth unemployment. Within these domains, the Map analyzes the availability, accessibility, and core characteristics of expert-defined international, national, and subnational policy indicators—that is, data that can be used to understand trends and inform policy decisions. In conjunction with the online Map, the Evidence Initiative team produced a comprehensive report outlining the Map’s methodology and examining its key findings, which include:

  • None of the G-20 countries collect more than 60 percent of the policy indicators, leaving significant data gaps that were particularly acute in certain domains, most prominently youth employment, and to a lesser degree financial inclusion.
  • Data gaps were identified by looking at multiple, related policy indicators. Few of the pressing challenges facing G-20 nations and other countries can be adequately understood or addressed based on a single indicator. Taking a holistic view across all relevant indicators helps to illuminate the most acute gaps.
  • A nation’s economic development level does not appear to determine its degree of data availability or data characteristics. Some countries had high scores for data availability and did well on data characteristics in several domains, even though the World Bank does not consider them “high income.”
  • International data sources frequently earn higher marks than national ones, especially in accessibility and ease of use. This finding does not indicate an inherent flaw in national-level data generation. Rather, international organizations, such as the United Nations and the World Bank, often have greater resources and sometimes clearer mandates to collect, standardize, and make publicly accessible data on major issues. International actors are crucial stakeholders, especially for benchmarking and developing cross-country comparisons.
  • Data are often free and well-documented, but visualization tools are comparatively scarce. Only 54 percent of international and 41 percent of national data sources have visualization tools, even though they are increasingly valuable for making data useful to the public and other stakeholders.

In developing the Evidence Map, our objective is to offer policymakers and stakeholders more insight about the data available in G-20 countries. However, collecting data is not the same as harnessing data, a fact that has gained acceptance among policymakers and stakeholders in recent years. Data are strategic assets that can help policymakers and officials make decisions and manage programs more efficiently over time, but we must first start with understanding the data we have, and what we need, in order to develop responsive, effective, and innovative policy over time.

Susan Urahn is executive vice president and chief program officer of The Pew Charitable Trusts.

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