How good is the data for monitoring government schemes?

3 Jun

Recently, a news item brought to attention a crucial but not often discussed matter on the quality of data collected at various levels of the government. It quoted a report from the Planning Commission’s think tank, Institute of Applied Manpower Research (IAMR) which found that the data on the government’s many flagship schemes was either incomplete or inconsistent.

Here’s a quick summary of the report.

The report examined the Management Information System (MIS) of 13 flagship central government schemes. MIS is a tool to collect data for a particular scheme or organization to help evidence-based programme management. The 13 schemes this report focused on are:

Total budgetary allocation for all these schemes is Rs 1,71, 582 crores.

Findings

  • The study ranked PMGSY and MNREGA in the top bracket in the design of MIS. NRHM, NRDWP, RGVY and TSC were ranked in the next category because they have recently started designing a more effective MIS. However, key schemes such as SSA, MDM, JNNURM and ICDS had poorly designed MIS and needed to take steps to strengthen the process.
  • A very important criteria is the reliability of data. Therefore, reliability and validity checks of data should be done at the district level. However, RGGVY, JNNURM, rural telephony and irrigation checked the data at the state level. Also, many of the data was not up to date.
  • The connection between implementation and outcome was weak for most schemes except MNREGS and PMGSY. There was also inconsistency in data. For example, ICDS and the National Family Health Survey are inconsistent with respect to data on level of malnutrition for each state. Since there was no effort to conduct an independent external verification or authentication of the data, there were discrepancies with the outcome/output data in the MIS and the sample survey data carried out by independent organizations.
  • Lack of use of data was a key weakness of the MIS of flagship programmes. Each scheme used the MIS data to get approval for next year’s budget and action plans but not for course correction.

New initiatives

Under the 12th Five Year Plan, the government has proposed new initiatives for effective management of centrally sponsored schemes. It proposed use of real-time technologies to monitor schemes. Furthermore, it planned to provide each beneficiary with a Unique Identity Number (Aadhaar) linked to his biometric data. This would make it easier to monitor whether the targeted beneficiaries actually receive the benefits. By 2014, about 600 million citizens are likely to have Aadhaar. Currently, there is no information on whether MIS data has been used to achieve the desired outcomes or if the implementation strategy has been modified with the help of MIS data. The 12th Plan intends to change this by focusing on outcome sustainability.

Implications for India

While statistics may not tell the whole story, it is well established that governments need timely and reliable facts to design effective policies. If the database is weak, resource allocation may get distorted and policies may not respond to the real needs of the community. Therefore, India’s lack of robustly designed data collection systems may be one of the reasons why innumerable government schemes fail to actually achieve the stated objectives.

Some experts have raised alarm bells about the lack of reliable data (see here, here and here) in various sectors and how it has hampered policy making. However, the government has not displayed major signs of urgency about tackling this problem. If concerned stakeholders are able to convince the government that designing a robust data collection system is going to give the government more bang for their buck it may actually take steps to address the problem.

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