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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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Sierra Leone’s leading agencies for data, innovation sign MoU for knowledge ​sharing

The Directorate Of Science, Technology, & Innovation (DSTI) has signed a MoU with Statistics Sierra Leone (Stats-SL) to formalize ongoing collaborations on projects of national significance. The two agencies were lauded by the Minister of Planning, and Economic Development (MOPED), Mrs. Nabeela Tunis for combining their expertise for the advancement of the State.  

Dr. David Sengeh (l) CIO, DSTI, Madame Nabeela Tunis, Minister of Planning & Economic Development (MOPED), Prof. Osman Sankoh, Stats-SL, Mr. Robert Chakanda Dep. Minister, (MOPED)

“DSTI and Stats-SL are already implementing terms within the MoU showing their commitment to providing the Ministry of Planning with necessary data to make policies that will have a measurable impact on the lives of Sierra Leonean citizens,” said Mrs. Tunis.   “It is clear that there are minimal overlaps, meaning that the collaboration is efficient. The Ministry of Planning welcomes and supports this partnership.” The MoU is a commitment by both agencies to share information, and knowledge that will strengthen the problem-solving capacity of statisticians and data scientists at both organizations. “I already know this is a true partnership because even before DSTI showed any results using data we shared, they came to us to present the information. We jointly asked research questions and provided input into the analyses, ” said Prof. Osman Sankoh, Sierra Leone’s Statistician General. ”That’s what true partnership is about!”

Prof. Osman Sankoh, Statistician General (l) and colleagues with Dr. David Sengeh (r), Chief Innovation Officer, Directorate of Science, Technology & Innovation

The two agencies have made inroads on projects ranging from an integrated national GIS solution to map government services and an interactive education dashboard that will allow policymakers to see how different indicators and facilities affect learning outcomes across the country. Mr. Robert Chakanda, Deputy Minister, MOPED, provided guidance and leadership to DSTI, and Stats-SL to ensure that projects are in line with the national agenda. By sharing data, Stats-SL enables the Data for Decision Making pillar of DSTI Sierra Leone. This partnership also further strengthens the innovation ecosystem across government and international development partners. “This is essentially a Memorandum of Action because DSTI and Stats-SL have already been working together on several projects and developed prototypes together,” said Dr. David Sengeh, Chief Innovation Officer, DSTI. “I hope that we continue to share not just data, but also the knowledge that will drive Sierra Leone’s development through action.” President Julius Maada Bio commissioned the  Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation in October this year. One mandate of DSTI is to transform Sierra Leone into an innovation nation.
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