The World Bank is calling for strengthened national data systems in order to realize the full potential of the data revolution to transform the lives of poor people.

More data is available today than ever before, yet its value is largely untapped, according to the new World Development Report 2021: Data for Better Lives.

Data is also a double-edged sword, requiring a social contract that builds trust by protecting people against misuse and harm, and works toward equal access and representation, the report notes.

“Data offer tremendous potential to create value by improving programs and policies, driving economies and empowering citizens. The perspective of poor people has largely been absent from the global debate on data governance and urgently needs to be heard,” said World Bank Group President David Malpass.  “Lower-income countries are too often disadvantaged due to a lack of institutions, decision-making autonomy, and financial resources, all of which hold back their effective implementation and effectiveness of data systems and governance frameworks. International cooperation is needed to harmonize regulations and coordinate policies so that the value of data is harnessed to benefit all, and to inform efforts toward a green, resilient, and inclusive recovery.”

Data collected for public or commercial purposes, by traditional or modern methods, is being used, combined, and reused in ways that delivers benefits to more people and provide information with greater accuracy.

Better data are reportedly enhancing governments’ abilities to set priorities and target resources more efficiently.   

Innovative data methods are also empowering people to make better decisions leading to public service improvements, the report says. 

COVID-19 has dramatically highlighted opportunities and challenges associated with newfound uses of data, according to the report.  Countries have reportedly repurposed mobile phone data to monitor the virus -- but have had to provide protection against harmful misuse of such data.  The abrupt shift to virtual work has also exposed a digital divide between those with access to technology and those without, serving as a reminder of the need to work toward equitable access to mobile phones and the internet for the poor and for low-income countries.  Virus containment has hindered basic data collection in numerous countries, underscoring the need for investments in infrastructure, data systems and statistical capacity.   

However, the more data is used, the greater the potential for misuse.  Careful design of regulations to strengthen cybersecurity and protect personal data is essential to engender trust.  In a global survey of 80 countries, only 40 percent had provisions for best-practice data regulations, including fewer than one-third of low-income countries, although many are now beginning to adopt them. 

For all of data’s potential for development, the benefits of the global data system are, for now, skewed to the better off. Improved representation in, and access to, data for marginalized people is a priority. 

The report acknowledges the wide range of views related to data, and an uncertain policy environment. To reap data’s full benefits and create opportunities for all, renewed efforts are required to improve data governance domestically, as well as through closer international cooperation. The cost of inaction is high, leading to missed opportunities and greater inequities. Forging a new social contract for data—one grounded in principles of value, trust, and equity—will ultimately make the difference.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Economic Development and Trade of Tajikistan (MoEDT) has recently noted that poverty rate in Tajikistan has fallen from 31.3 percent to 26.3 percent.