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January 2020

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Sierra Leone uses big data analytics for national economic research

A new, economic data analytics tool released by the Government of Sierra Leone hosts time series data on national inflation, foreign exchange, imports, and exports. The Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation said the Sierra Leone Economic Data Analytics Tool (SLEDAT) ushers in a new age of local research capability driven by the New Direction’s agenda to take Sierra Leone from guesswork policymaking to data-driven decision making.

SLEDAT  (www.edat.dsti.gov.sl) was launched in Freetown today with partners; Ministry of Finance, Statistics Sierra Leone, and the Bank of Sierra Leone. The three institutions provided the datasets that will enable citizens and researchers to use the tool to analyze economic trends. A ten-year economic data report based on the visualizations and analytics garnered from the SLEDAT has also been published to kickstart a national conversation on economic data and research.

The tool was developed as a direct response to citizen demands for answers about the country’s economy. Sierra Leoneans know that foreign exchange rate fluctuations have a direct and real impact on the price of everyday goods. Decision-makers know this too. However, this is the first time that researchers, government leaders, and citizens will be able to access, probe, and analyze economic data across the government’s leading data institutions. For now, SLEDAT shows the relationship between the Consumer Price Index (CPI), Import and Export Values, and Foreign Exchange Rate for foreign currencies against the official Bank of Sierra Leone “buy”/”sell” rates. While the tool doesn’t explain why prices rise “dip” or rise “peak,” it allows users to get a bird’s eye view of the country’s economic outlook in real-time. 

According to Dr. Yakama Manty Jones, Director of Research and Delivery Division, Ministry of Finance this is just the beginning of a massive national effort for government-led research on issues of national development. 

A cross-section of DSTI partners at today’s launch of SLEDAT at the Minister of Finance in Freetown – 30 January 2020

“It is the collaboration with DSTI, Stats-SL, Bank of Sierra Leone that makes the development of tools such as SLEDAT possible.  Continuous engagement with both data producers and users enables us to create comprehensive, accurate and timely data in user-friendly formats,” said Dr. Yakama Jones.

“Across Government, especially at the Ministry of Finance, research uptake is increasing.  We seek to ensure that data and evidence inform our policy formulation and implementation processes but to do so we must collaborate. We are committed to research although big data analytics is only just emerging in Sierra Leone.”

The ability to access and visualize datasets makes the government more open and transparent. While DSTI is committed to supporting ministries, departments, and agencies with technology design, creating tools that increase citizen engagement, and accountability is part of what drove President Julius Maada Bio’s vision when he established the Directorate of Science in the first instance.

“Data is important but only if and when it is used for making critical decisions that affect people’s lives,” said Dr. Moinina David Sengeh, Chief Innovation Officer.

“When the Government is this transparent with its data and invites citizens and researchers to engage openly, it builds our confidence in supporting national development. Everyone matters and every action counts- that’s why we must share, link and analyze data openly.”

Mohamed James – DSTI Data Scientist

DSTI’s lead data scientist for SLEDAT, Mohamed James, said that users should consider the tool as the first model-version 1.0 with improvements already in the pipeline. The more people use and engage with the tool by asking questions the more information DSTI will have to make it better.

“When our team at DSTI created SL Economic Data Analytics Tool as with all of our applications, we thought about the end-users: policymakers, researchers, and citizens. How can we create a solution that will change and improve the way everyone understands the economy? How can we simplify these datasets for them?” said Mohamed James.

The Ministry of Finance just adopted a digital public financial management system developed by DSTI. These efforts move Sierra Leone closer to realizing a digital economy- a major pillar of the National Innovation and Digital Strategy (NIDS)

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DSTI Sierra Leone’s Human Capital Development Incubator awarded 1,050,000 CHF grant to improve quality education

Geneva-based  UBS Optimus Foundation and the Peter Cundill Foundation have awarded a 1,050,000 swiss francs (10,5 billion leones) grant to the Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation (DSTI) to support the Education Innovation Challenge (EIC) on its quest to improve learning outcomes at primary schools. The EIC is under the technical supervision of the Human Capital Development (HCD) Incubator at DSTI.  President Bio launched the HCD Incubator in December 2018. 

Human Capital Development Incubator Team at DSTI including (L-R) Wilsona Jalloh, Elizabeth Smith, Aissatou Bah at a community engagement meeting in Makeni, Northern Province at the launch of the Education Innovation Challenge – October 2019

The Peter Cundill Foundation was established in Bermuda in 2012, following the death of its founder, Peter Cundill. In low to middle-income countries like Sierra Leone, PC Foundation supports organizations that are increasing learning adjusted years of schooling (LAYS) through wider access to and/or quality of basic education.  

The UBS Optimus Foundation is a grant-making foundation working to break down barriers that prevent children from reaching their potential by funding leading organizations to improve the health, education, and protection of children. 

“UBS Optimus Foundation has previously supported education work in Sierra Leone through various partners. However, this direct investment in government through DSTI enables us to drive evidence-based policymaking and research in the educational sector,” said Dr. Moinina David Sengeh, Chief Innovation Officer.

“The only way we can transform education- through data, innovation, and policymaking-is to focus on the learning outcomes for the children. This grant will support DSTI and partners to evaluate learners directly and also test new innovations and programs that will support the government’s flagship program in education.”

The government of Sierra Leone launched its Free Quality School Education Program in August 2018; the first year focused on access. Year two, which began in August 2019, is where the Education Innovation Challenge (EIC) comes in.

In October 2019, five organizations in the education sector were chosen through a competitive process to implement their innovative approaches to improve learning outcomes in Sierra Leone. 

Save the Children-Sierra Leone, Rising Academy Networks, EducAid, National Youth Awareness Forum Sierra Leone (NYAFSL), and World Vision International, are working in 170 schools randomly selected across all regions for the 2019-2020 school year. 

The Human Capacity Development Incubator is a hub for local start-ups, private, public, and academic organizations to collaborate on projects that will help citizens access government services and information more efficiently. At the HCD, partners share data, build models, develop hypotheses, and test pilot projects to inform government investments in human capital.

In July 2019,  the HCD Incubator received a $582,626 grant from the New Venture Fund for Global Policy and Advocacy.  In November, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation awarded the HCD Incubator a $773,476 grant for DSTI’s Integrated GIS Portal.

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Scientists at DSTI go the extra mile to make it easier for children to get to school

Mike Fabrikant, a software developer from Washington D.C., is embedded within the data science team at the Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation (DSTI) to support systems delivery. His work with DSTI is made possible through an ongoing partnership between DSTI and UNICEF Sierra Leone’s Technology for Development program. This collaboration between DSTI and UNICEF Sierra Leone strives to improve the quality of life for children in Sierra Leone with the use of technology and innovation.

“I’ve been focusing on two kinds of software: applications that provide insight around mapping vulnerability, and open-source data analytics tools for non-technical people,” said Fabrikant.

Scientists and developers at DSTI built a school bus stop visualization tool to support decision making in education policy for the Government of Sierra Leone. Geo-data was collected to make it easier for local government officials to decide how best to meet the transportation needs of students using newly allocated school buses.

To map out the bus routes, Fabrikant, Kumba Musa, and Ibrahim Bayoh went on a six-hour drive at night to 89 proposed bus stops and plotted their geo-coordinates. Geo-coordinates are a set of numbers and symbols that show the latitudes, longitudes, and directions of every location on earth.

The outcome is this interactive visualization that shows every school and every school bus stop in the Western Area Urban and Rural districts of Sierra Leone. Each school is a point where its size represents the total number of students enrolled, and the color represents the distance between it and the nearest bus stop. The data that supported this was provided by the Ministry of Basic and Senior Secondary Education from the 2018 Annual School Census.

“If we can bring open data sets, like the locations of communities, health facilities, and schools, along with private sector data, like cell tower coverage, into decision making, then there’s powerful potential to make an impact through improving how the government allocates resources,” said Fabrikant.

The School Optimization Tool is just one of many ways that DSTI continues to support decision making and service delivery to citizens. DSTI Sierra Leone and UNICEF’s Technology for Development program will continue to collaborate to develop technological solutions to address the most significant challenges faced by children in Sierra Leone.

Blog

Sierra Leone at the 2020 Education World Forum

Dr. Moinina David Sengeh, Sierra Leone’s Minister of Basic and Senior Secondary Education (MBSSE) and Chief Innovation Officer of the Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation (DSTI) led Sierra Leone’s delegation to the Education World Forum held in London on 19-22 January. EWF is the largest annual gathering of education and skills ministers and policy analysts.

Also, in Sierra Leone’s delegation to the Education World Forum was Ms. Aissatou Bah, Head of Global Partnerships at DSTI and Ms. Grace Kargobai, Executive Assistant to the Minister and CIO. Supporting the delegation in the UK was Ms. Elizabeth Smith, embedded within DSTI from the Tony Blair Institute.

Dr. Sengeh and his team engaged with high-level leaders including the UK’s Department for International Development Chief Economist and the CEO of the Education Outcomes Fund.

The team focused on partnerships with the Education Workforce Initiative (on teacher training and assessments); Education Development Trust (on policy and research), expanding Education Outcomes Fund to Sierra Leone as well as education research with the Brookings Institute already in progress at DSTI.

Dr. Sengeh also participated in the UK-Africa Investment Summit 2020 as part of Sierra Leone’s delegation led by His Excellency President Julius Maada Bio.

(L-R) Elizabeth Smith, who is embedded within DSTI from the Tony Blair Institute, Grace Kargobai, Dr. Moinina David Sengeh, and Aissatou Bah of DSTI at the Education World Forum, in the UK.

Blog

Sierra Leone adopts electronic public financial management system – no more lost PETS forms!

Ministry of Finance adopts a new Electronic Expenditure Management System developed by DSTI Sierra Leone

In a memo sent to all government institutions on 6 January, Sierra Leone’s Ministry of Finance announced it had replaced its heavily paper-based public financial management system, Public Expense Tracking Survey (PETS) and the Payment Voucher and Commitment Control Forms with a new Electronic Expenditure Management System (EEMS) developed by technologists at the Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation (DSTI). 

The Directorate is developing Sierra Leone’s first national financial data architecture with embedded automated financial tools to be deployed within all MDAs and government-funded institutions. The goal is to consolidate all government spending into one seamless, transparent digital system. The current roll out features implementation in all government ministries. DSTI is working with the Ministry of Finance to roll out EEMS to all departments and agencies by 1st April 2020.

PETS were initially put in place to improve accountability and service delivery; however, the previous paper-based system was inefficient. The EEMS will improve the Ministry of Finance’s drive to strengthen and improve Public Financial Management (PFM). Although initially commissioned to digitize only the PETS system, DSTI’s approach to delivery: ideation, design, prototyping, testing, and evaluation – expanded the scope of the work to include other related components such as Vouchers and Commitments and Control Forms at the Accountant General’s Department. 

The words ”financial management” appear in 2018 and 2017 Auditor General Reports a total of 76 times, underscoring its importance to government operations. In the last eight years, Sierra Leone’s Auditor General Reports said that the government’s PFM was ”weak.” Ministries, Departments, and Agencies (MDAs) rarely adhered to the recommendations made in the annual audit. Each year they made the same mistakes, further eroding public and donor trust in state institutions.

According to the Audit Service, Sierra Leone will improve its PFM when it makes “value-for-money” investments, and implements “sound systems and processes for internal control, and asset management.”

Furthermore, donor partners place a high premium on PFM for effective and sustainable economic management and public service delivery.

Before the adoption of EEMS, the Ministry of Finance and DSTI trained all ICT and finance personnel from across all of the government on the use of the EEMS tool, all the budget officers, senior budget officers and budget directors, all the Permanent Secretaries, all the Ministers, and the Deputy Ministers.  Additionally, the DSTI team developed a User Manual, Instruction Video, and a Standard Operating Procedure with the Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Justice.

“The system allows for tracking, which is the one major constraint public servants at MDAs face when making budget requests, ” said Bineta Diop, Business Analyst, DSTI Sierra Leone.

”The EEMS that we have developed in partnership with the Ministry of Finance tracks where the PETS forms are at every stage of the approval process. We will know when a budget request has been reviewed and where the form is at any given time in the approval system.” 

The EEMS which automates the generation, submission, and processing of PETS forms, Vouchers and Commitment and Control forms is one part of the National Financial Data Architecture project  at DSTI. 

“In the past, MDAs have made PETS requests that disappeared. This means that critical project funds could not be allocated in time, ” said Anthony Maada Sallieu, Budget Officer, Budget Bureau, Ministry of Finance.  

”With this new electronically generated form, there will be no more lost PETS. It will be easy to keep track of them, and we will save time. This system also creates more accountability.”

The electronic payment and expense systems were developed in partnership with the Ministry of Finance Finance, National Telecommunications Commission, Ministry of Works (including the Sierra Leone Roads Authority), Ministry of Technical and Higher Education, Accountant General’s Department and the Ministry of Information and Communication. 

Blog

DSTI and UNDP team up to accelerate Sierra Leone’s national innovation strategy with artificial intelligence and evidence-based approaches

The Directorate of Science Technology and Innovations (DSTI) and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU)  to continue collaboration on applied artificial intelligence for governance, entrepreneurship, and social good.

The MoU signed in Freetown last week provides a framework of cooperation and collaboration for both institutions to contribute to the successful implementation of the National Innovation and Digital Strategy (NIDS), especially in areas of common interest. 

In October 2019, the UNDP Country Lab also known as the Accelerator Lab for Sierra Leone was launched to examine and explore emerging untapped resources to speedup national SDG performance. The UNDP Accelerator Labs are a network of 60 labs serving 78 countries with the collective aim of finding new evidence-based approaches to problem-solving with the use of artificial intelligence, testing, mapping, and experimentation

“DSTI and UNDP have been engaging since Day 1. However, this particular agreement focuses on how we can continue to make significant inroads in the implementation of the National Innovation and Digital Strategy,” said Dr. Moinina David Sengeh.

“When the government and partners collaborate, we can identify specific areas of application to accelerate Sierra Leone’s achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. The leadership of both institutions and the technical staff are already working in this vein.”

Although the MOU makes the collaboration official, joint efforts by DSTI and UNDP were already underway as of last year that led to the delivery of a successful national UNDP Social Good Summit, and mapping of the local technology and entrepreneurship ecosystems.

“This MOU signing symbolizes UNDP’s commitment to the philosophy of the National Innovation and Digital Strategy and is a tangible evidence of our organization’s readiness to undertake the 10-year journey in partnership with the Directorate of Science, Technology and Innovation to accelerate the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030,” said Dr. Samuel Doe, UNDP Resident Representative.

DSTI has an open-door policy for knowledge sharing to support the work of organizations in public and private sectors seeking to use technology for development. Since its inception, DSTI has built partnerships with local and international leaders on technology and innovation, including MIT, Statistics Sierra Leone, The Gates Foundation, eGovernance Academy, and UNICEF Sierra Leone.

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Sierra Leone’s Chief Innovation Officer to participate in BBC CrowdScience Debate

Dr. David Moinina Sengeh, Sierra Leone’s Chief Innovation Officer, will participate in BBC’s CrowdScience debate on the theme: “Can digital technology transform West Africa?”. The debate will be held at the British Council Tower Hill Auditorium in Freetown on Friday 24 January at 5:00 PM. This is part of national activities planned by the Government of Sierra Leone as part of the International Day of Education 2020.

Joining Dr. David Moinina Sengeh in the debate on how artificial intelligence is changing West Africa is Dr. Chika Yinka- Banjo from the University of Lagos and Ms. Nyalleng Moorosi from Google Artificial Intelligence in Ghana. These experts will explore how robots, drones, and machine learning tackle issues in agriculture, education, health, and governance in the sub-region.

BBC CrowdScience is a radio show that takes questions about life, Earth, and the Universe to researchers hunting for answers at the frontiers of knowledge. This will be the first of such debates held in Sierra Leone. Entrance for this event is free with registration. 

Crowd science opens up pathways for pursuing unconventional research ideas, blurs the boundaries between institutional science and civil society, provides opportunities for volunteer engagement in science, and enriches science communication. Crowd science also raises questions concerning data-driven approaches to scientific discovery as well as the development of mechanisms for automated quality assurance and feedback.

Blog

DSTI Policy Brief: A Spatial and Temporal Assessment of Cases Reported at Local Courts in Sierra Leone Between 2009 and 2018

This DSTI policy brief addresses biases that may result from variation in access to the local courts by geo-spatially mapping all local court locations to determine if they are optimally located and whether the distribution gave most people the chance to access them. We also collected information on the cost of accessing each of these courts from the record books, and the length of time to resolve cases in these courts (recall information from court clerks). Acknowledgement Note: This is research was funded by the International Growth Center (IGC) in collaboration with the Directorate of Science, Technology and Innovation. Lead Researcher: Henry Musa Kpaka – DSTI Fellow.

Download the brief here

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