The issues hindering development in sub-Saharan Africa are many and complex, but one factor that stands out to scientists is the lack of reliable data from decades of development projects there.
The lack of information about what has worked and what has not made up for the lack of accountability among donor nations, host countries, and even development professionals. Donors in particular have learned little from past mistakes, and are impatient. When a project fails, as many people do, the tendency is to move on to the next idea.
Development experts know this, and data and analytics are prized today. In this issue (page 22) we examine the initial progress of a remarkable experiment in Africa. This includes the support of 12 African Millennium Research Villages, which are receiving a package of interventions at a maximum cost of US$110 per person per year, designed to lift them out of poverty and on a sustainable path.
The approach has drawn support from involved African governments and private philanthropists, who have pledged $100 million to a charity called the Millennium Promise, which aims to expand the program to an additional 78 villages over the next year.
Village projects administrators intend to measure 27 key indicators of project performance, primarily by closely monitoring the progress of about 300 households in each village.
They hope to learn three things: whether each intervention works, whether the relationships between the different interventions can be exploited, and whether the community is ultimately in a better position to manage its future. This includes ‘soft’ measures of capacity and stability, and will be both the hardest to monitor and achieve.
It’s still early days – the longest-running project in Sauri, Kenya, is just two years old – and there is some hard data available so far. But it is important that plans meet their research goals and that they draw positive or negative lessons from the data.