How Data Literacy is Shaping Sudan

By Nawal Omar

I have been working in the research and insights industry for over three years now. In this time, I have noticed changes in the research industry in Sudan, with people and businesses becoming more aware of the value of data in decision-making in each and every aspect of their lives, whether it’s for personal, career, or business development. Sudan has been ruled for over thirty years by parliamentary government, military, and dictatorship regimes and one of the main strategies and tactics used by this regime was to keep whole nations oblivious and isolate Sudan from the outside world. In 2019, a new transitional government was installed for three years, following which democratic elections will take place.

Access to data and information was very difficult, no public data was available. Research for educational purposes was a struggle for every scholar in Sudan, and any social research studies were very hard to complete and get reliable data from, due to the difficulties of collecting data in fragile and conflict settings.  People perceived risks of participation in research activities resulting in high non-response rates on data collection for public service ratings and development and political issues. Such data deficiencies contribute to state fragility and exacerbate constraints on the capacity to provide basic services, public security, and the rule of law.  With more information comes knowledge and when people learn new information, they become aware of things they weren’t aware of before empowering them and pushing them out of their comfort zones; and that went against the past regime’s agenda which was to keep the public oblivious and ignorant.

The past regime’s policies resulted in a lack of information and data sharing in every sector in Sudan, and promoted a culture of false information sharing, misinformed decisions, and fear of sharing data and information among the public (since that can get you in trouble with the government and you might have a national security agent at  your doorstep the next day). Another factor which contributed to creating this culture of fear, is the US sanctions that have been imposed on Sudan in the past regime. Again, access to open data, software and information or research tools was not an easy task for a Sudanese citizen. Many data and information resources have been blocked from Sudan; people were struggling either personally or professionally from this. As a result, a data illiterate society has been inherited as a consequence of the past regime’s actions.

Another major challenge facing research and intelligence companies in Sudan is that the underlying technology infrastructure of organizations (either public or private) is not mature nor built with keeping data utilization in mind; this has resulted in scattered, disconnected, unreliable data across and within public and private organizations.  

Recently and due to the current political and economic changes, and the delisting of Sudan from the US sanctions list, the research and intelligence landscape finally came into its own. More and more organizations are discovering the power of data in improving the delivery of products and services to clients, better managing their workforce, and deriving meaningful insights from their data resources. Moreover, the public sector and NGOs are in need for data and research to improve their social development efforts. While private and public organizations across Sudan are trying to make more effective use of data, analytics, and information, a key impediment is holding them back: the lack of a culture that truly values the data/analytics capability and the superior decision-making that can flow from it.

Data literacy is often described as a critical skill for the 21st century (Bryla 2018). By last year, Gartner had estimated that 80% of organizations would have started rolling out data literacy initiatives to upskill their workforce to overcome extreme deficiencies, according to their fourth annual chief data officer survey. I’m not sure if that goal or prediction was met, but I do see the urgency for such initiatives in places like Sudan, where fear, lack of data-awareness and misinformation have limited the progress of its people.

Recognizing the power of data in driving better decision-making, designing better programs and delivering more effective services to citizens, both in the public and private sector can better serve the Sudanese people and work in improving the livelihood of each citizen.

Data literacy can also help in shaping the democratic transition in Sudan. By equipping people with basic data literacy skills, the Sudanese people can better understand public opinion studies and their impact, developing new policies and governmental initiatives, responsiveness to policy change, political polls, etc. Aided by data literacy, the people of Sudan can also understand and assess data laws and policies imposed by the government, data privacy and processing rules and interpretation of those rules and implications on their basic human rights. Here are some benefits I have found of raising data literacy levels among Sudanese people and organizations :

  • Improved public and private services
  • Greater public value from data
  • Greater usability and availability of data
  • Protection of individuals’ information and privacy by design
  • Trusted and sound governance of data, which are treated as valuable strategic assets
  • Evidence-based decision-making
  • Better reporting on results
  • Increased intra and inter-governmental /organizational collaboration

So where do we go from here?

I believe that Sudan is a country full of resources that are under-utilized and opportunities that are untapped. To better utilize our resources, the Sudanese people require the skills to derive meaningful insights that best serve their goals. Many initiatives and much work is  being done in elevating the research and intelligence field in Sudan, mainly led by entrepreneurs and youth driving innovations and introducing the latest tools and techniques from business and social intelligence tools to AI. Such entrepreneurship is obvious in initiatives like 249 Startups , Impact-Hub Khartoum, Sudan’s evidence-base and data literacy program launched by the World Bank and the AMD Research’s data literacy program.

 It is a continuous and collective effort of the people, the private and public sector, to create a data-driven society. By raising public awareness levels about the importance of data, and then increasing the people’s capacity to read, interpret and manage data, we can uplift people, improve the flow of organizational information and improve data competency levels. This will encourage openness and ongoing learning and ensure commitment to some common standards and best practices while driving progress. The results will ultimately contribute to the development of Sudan and the well-being of its people.

Nawal Omar is a Research Manager at AMD Research.

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