GHANA DATA ECOSYSTEM DOCUMENTATION PROJECT: MY REFLECTIONS FROM A NON-STATISTICAL PERSPECTIVE – PART ONE: THE POWER OF VIDEO DOCUMENTARIES
A Blog by Cyrus Kwesi DARPOH
“If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants”.
– Sir Isaac Newton, renowned English mathematician, physicist and philosopher
~ ~ ~
As a member of Ghana Statistical Service (GSS), one memorable thing I associate with the years 2015 and 2016 is the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in September 2015, and the subsequent adoption of the indicator framework in March 2016.
This influenced the entire direction of GSS as the Leader/Coordinator of the National Statistical System (NSS) of Ghana, as GSS was compelled to creatively begin a process to determine the data availability in the NSS in order to report Ghana’s progress, and help achieve the SDGs.
This journey led GSS to initiate a series of processes to address three key priorities: (i.) Fill data gaps; (ii.) Intensify usage of data for development and policy planning; and (iii.) Strengthen the entire data ecosystem of Ghana.
The initiative of GSS has so far received a plethora of commendations and has been cited by many international organizations, including the United Nations (UN) and the World Bank, as a model for emulation by others in the quest to increase the generation and the use of evidence in decision making.
How did GSS do it? How is GSS still doing it? Those are the fundamental questions that led to the birth of the Ghana Data Ecosystem Documentation Project, a multimedia documentation project GSS is implementing in collaboration with Mpuntusem Foundation, a leading Pan-African development communication NGO based in Accra which specializes in multimedia documentation, research and advocacy on national and continental issues. The purpose of this collaboration is to produce a number of communication content, namely, documentaries, audio-visuals, blogs, and a book, among others, on the work to strengthen Ghana’s Data Ecosystem from 2015 to date.
The Ghana Data Ecosystem Documentation Project is premised on a permanent marriage between science and art, wherein the statistical nature of the entire data revolution superintended by GSS is being brought to light via a non-statistical approach or methodology through creative writing, video documentation, and photography. From the GSS side, I had the privilege of being selected to be the Project Focal Person by the Project Strategic Lead, Mr. Omar Seidu.
Sir Isaac Newton once said: “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants”. This aphorism aptly encapsulates the new experiences outside the statistical world that the Ghana Ecosystem Documentation Project has exposed me to as the Project Focal Person. And these are my personal reflections on the project.
Acquisition of Knowledge on the Power of Video Documentaries
My first reflection is on the deluge of knowledge I have been exposed to on the power of the video documentary. Did you know that memorable documentaries tell compelling stories, and interviews are the keystones for great stories that encourage us to think, feel, interact, or take action? I learnt all this and much more through the mentorship received from Mpuntusem Foundation’s Team as we worked together on the Ghana Data Ecosystem Documentation Project. However, I am briefly focusing on three fundamental advantages of the video documentary I have learned on this journey:
- Video documentaries are powerful communication and educational tools
I have learned that documentaries are powerful tools for communication and education. Remember the adage: “a picture is worth a thousand words”. In this context, it is often easier and more effective to show something in a picture or a video documentary than to describe it reports (i.e. words). For example, the Project Strategic Lead, Mr. Omar Seidu, had the opportunity to play short documentaries of various aspects of the work being undertaken by GSS at international fora. Within the space of a few minutes, very compelling stories were told on the training and work in the area of Administrative Data that GSS is driving. Never before has such a compelling impact been made after the presentation of a “report” on a project. As a result, GSS has received a deluge of requests for the short video documentaries from National Statistical Offices (NSOs) from all over the world.
- Video documentaries help in how we debate on life’s important issues.
There is no doubt that video documentaries often address important issues and current affairs. Take for instance our quest for adequate data to achieve the SDGs as well as other global and local goals: by bringing these issues to light in a picturesque and illustrative way in the documentation process that is being undertaken in this project, the vividly captured issues are stimulating a much-needed awareness and debate nationally and internationally, bringing a valuable perspective that can help change the way we think about challenges of data production, etc. To illustrate this, a short video documentary on how GSS has started training staff of the Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies (MMDAs) in Ghana on how to effectively collect vital administrative data to augment data from traditional sources such as censuses and surveys has ignited the debate that GSS needs to be further resourced to enhance its work.
- Documentaries often offer a detailed look at important historical events
There is no doubt that documentaries can provide a valuable service by shedding light on important historical events. By bringing these events to life, documentaries can help us understand them in ways that dry, written histories often cannot. Take for example the issue discussed in the previous paragraph. In the administrative data training video, participants relate the history of how their quest to mine data from the MMDAs had been a huge challenge until GSS started its pacesetting work to mine data from non-traditional sources. This documentary provides the platform for eyewitnesses, participants, and experts (facilitators/trainers) to give their perspectives. This gives us a much clearer picture of the events in question. Incredibly, the video documentaries further help to bring forgotten or neglected stories to light. In this way, they remind us of shared history and how important it is to learn from the past in order to inform the future.
Conclusion: Recommended Way Forward
In brief, this is the knowledge about the power of video documentaries I have learned on this journey. My personal but informed opinion is that the impact being made indisputably indicates that the Ghana Ecosystem Documentation Project should be a perennial undertaking. There are uncountable learnings and lessons GSS has garnered over a period of time – and is still in the unending process of garnering – that could be shared with other NSOs. Ghana’s Data Ecosystem Documentation Project has barely scratched the surface, for day in, day out, new projects, together with their concomitant new experiences, are happening. If we are to see further, we ought to stand on the shoulders of giants. The Data Ecosystem Documentation Project is the giant or springboard to help us see further to achieve greater results in the data revolution.
About Ghana Statistical Service
Ghana Statistical Service (GSS) is legally mandated by the Statistical Service Act, 2019 (Act 1003) with the responsibility of providing leadership, coordination and governance to all official statistical activities undertaken within the National Statistical System of Ghana. GSS also leads in the collection, processing, analysis and dissemination of official statistics, including conducting censuses, and surveys and leveraging Big Data for knowledge production.
For more information, please visit: https://statsghana.gov.gh/
About the Author
The author, Cyrus Kwesi Darpoh, is a member of the Social and Demographic Statistics Directorate of Ghana Statistical Service, the National Statistics Office of Ghana, and has the specific responsibility of managing/coordinating the Ghana Data Ecosystem Documentation Project under the direction of the Project Strategic Lead, Mr. Omar Seidu, who is the Ag. Director of the Social and Demographic Statistics Directorate of GSS, as well as the Coordinator of Data for the SDGs.
For more information, please contact: email@example.com