Management Response: Independent Evaluation of the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data
Learning is a key part of how we deliver value to our partners and the network at large - both as a service and by evolving and adapting our approach to improve relevance, effectiveness, and efficiency. In this spirit, we very much welcome this evaluation and the rich insights it provides on the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data's (GPSDD) achievements, partner perspectives, and opportunities for growth.
This paper is the response of the GPSDD secretariat to the evaluation. We thank the Itad evaluation team for the long-term engagement and collaborative approach to this evaluation that provided us with iterative learnings and opportunities for reflection along the way. We thank the Evaluation Committee (EC) for its oversight of this evaluation and invaluable input and guidance along every step of the way. In particular, we appreciate both the evaluation team’s and EC’s flexibility to adapt the scope and method of the evaluation in response to the pandemic. We also thank our partners for their willingness and time to engage with the evaluation team and provide their perspectives and insights.
The evaluation report sets out the progress we have made in the first five years, as well as the challenges faced and areas to address to ensure that we meet our objectives. We accept the findings and recommendations set forth. These insights are timely as we enter a scaling-up phase of our work and are largely consistent with our internal learnings and validate the actions of ongoing efforts. The evaluation has been valuable in providing additional independent insights and evidence, particularly those from consultations with partners.
Evaluation conclusions and lessons learned
“In essence, GPSDD needs to continue to do the work it does at the country level and smartly integrate new networks and partnerships to scale results.”
We welcome the conclusion that GPSDD occupies a unique place in the data for development space, enabling us to work in a complementary way with partners and other networks, and highlighting our relevance as an organization. The evaluation draws two key conclusions: first that we have achieved impact through a unique combination of factors that have driven how we work together with partners; and secondly that we have built strong foundations for a scale-up of our activities which is expected and wanted by our partners and stakeholders.
In support of the central conclusion that we should look to increase the scale of our activities and impact, the evaluation highlighted eight conclusions and five lessons learned, which we discuss here, and made nine specific recommendations which we respond to in the following section.
Conclusions 1-5 & 8: Scaling up GPSDD’s impact
- GPSDD has made important contributions to all intermediate results set out in its current strategy, and is making important steps towards achieving a global or ‘at scale’ ambition – though this has not yet been achieved.
- GPSDD’s strategy is relevant and highly aligned to national, regional and global objectives. However, the current strategy lacks specificity about how GPSDD will achieve the ambition of the scale required to meet the SDGs in 2030. Key informants under both workstream two and workstream three believe there is an opportunity and need for GPSDD to scale up its strategy
- The interplay between the levers of change and the different types of contribution of various partners is clear and supportive, at this level, of the GPSDD Theory of Change (ToC). There remain however gaps in thinking in the existing ToC about how pathways between the intermediate results and the overarching objectives lead to the overall goal.
- A key strength and added value of GPSDD within the data for development sector lies in its ability to work on strategic objectives across the national, regional and global levels and the potential to transfer lessons emerging from activities on one level to others.
- Many of the countries with whom GPSDD has had a broad-based and sustained engagement (e.g., Ghana, Kenya) have capable institutions and evident political will for reform. In addition to managing multiple models of engagement, a challenge for GPSDD going forward will be to find ways of reaching institutions in countries where this capability and political will is less evident to help ensure they are not left behind
There is the potential for GPSDD to better leverage its niche at the global and regional levels to support the ecosystem to sustain progress already made and move towards global solutions for data use. There is a risk that, if interventions or initiatives do not ‘graduate’ from GPSDD in the right way, then the longer-term impact of GPSDD’s efforts could be diminished.
We are pleased that the evaluation found that our strategy to-date has been both broad and flexible enough to accommodate the needs and interests of the diversity of our partners, and the validation that the three levers of change (supporting changemakers, creating incentives, and developing learnings) are effective in achieving impacts. The evaluation details the ways in which GPSDD’s work has made an impact over the last five years across national, regional and global levels. The evaluation highlights a clear demand for GPSDD to scale up our impact by achieving results across a wider set of geographies and sectors, and some of the ways that our strategy and Theory of Change need to be updated to provide a framework for this.
The evaluation highlights our three pathways to generating impact at a greater scale - global policy advocacy, learning and knowledge sharing and the engagement, advocacy and brokering we offer at country level. We are developing strategies for increasing scale in each of these three pathways.
We will seek to have impact in more countries, across more issues, and over more elements in the data value chain. However, this does not mean simply doing more of the same things in the same way. We are looking to our strategic partnership brokering, our learning, and our policy advocacy to drive adoption of our approach and insights among organisations in both public and private sectors as the route to scaling our impact without requiring a proportional growth in our organisation. To this end, we will give greater focus on learning and policy advocacy in this next phase, while continuing to develop partnerships that create impact at country level to demonstrate success and directly create impact.
As we do so, our approach is guided by the following insights:
- As the evaluation notes, there are challenges to increasing scale while remaining a catalyst and broker rather than an implementer. We are aware that we are a network that achieves change through catalyzing collective action rather than through direct implementation, and it is an element of all of our strategies for scale in different areas.
- We also note the key lesson in the evaluation of the importance of prioritisation, and will continue to refine our approach, identifying where the GPSDD can best provide added value and what is best left to others.
- While these are three distinct pathways, there are also important linkages between them, and we will continue to see our work holistically, joining up work across the pathways and at country, regional and global levels.
The evaluation has highlighted that while a great deal of thinking has been produced on how GPSDD can help to deliver impacts through the learning and the engagement pathways, there is less clarity on the policy advocacy pathway which is an essential element of scaling our impact. We recognize the importance of this finding, which reflects our own learning over the last five years. The team is in a phase of internal learning and development, and we plan to build on this by integrating a policy advocacy pathway more clearly within our theory of change, early next year. This will include our approach to policy advocacy at national, regional and global levels, and the linkages between them, building towards the global solutions identified in the evaluation.
More immediately, we have launched the Data Values Project, led by the Technical Advisory Group, as a partnership initiative to mobilize our network around policy advocacy, and within our new country engagement strategy have clarified how advocacy helps to support outcomes at country level.
Learning and knowledge sharing
We are pleased that we have demonstrated our ability to generate and respond to learning and are well positioned to make learning available at scale. The evaluation highlights the value of documentation and sharing learnings on partnership approaches and processes to enable replication.
During 2020 we worked with one of our core donors, Children's Investment Fund Foundation(CIFF), and with Accenture Development Partners, to understand how we can best add value and leverage our partners’ expertise to create a strong network-based learning offer. We now plan to implement and develop the findings through stronger audience research and by expanding our learning and knowledge sharing offers and impact through more targeted, relevant, and accessible technical and non-technical resources, covering both specific topics and our partnership approach more broadly.
Capacity development with partner countries is a specific dimension of our learning work. Given the timing of the evaluation interviews, the bulk of the capacity building work included was related to satellite data-related insights via the Africa Regional Data Cube (ARDC) in Ghana, Kenya, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Tanzania, and demonstrated that our approach has generated impact as part of our overall approach to the ARDC. However, over the past year we have increased our technical capacity building portfolio to support our partnership work in other areas, including data science and leadership. There is high demand and strong engagement in the initial roll out of this new program. To ensure that we continue to learn and evolve in line with evidence, we are developing information management systems to efficiently understand and track impact.
Country level brokering and advocacy
While we have made contributions against all our intermediate results, the evaluation finds that we have made the greatest contributions to government decision-making outcomes at national level, primarily through in-depth brokering and advocacy in a small set of countries.
GPSDD’s convening power has been central to successful country engagement, as well as to our ability to generate political support for data, and a highly adaptive and complementary approach which was appreciated by our partners. One lesson highlighted in the report is the need to seize the critical moment, and our highly flexible approach has been a further factor in our success.
We are pleased that the evaluation recognizes that "the different types of contribution GPSDD makes and its influence over a causal package of factors strongly point to GPSDD as the partner of choice in these complex and complicated situations."
This is something we are keen to build on, and identify how to maintain the essential elements of the model while achieving outcomes in a larger number of countries. Through our recent Covid-19 response work, we have demonstrated that it is possible to engage with a much wider set of countries, building on strong focal points at country level and the development of program level packages among our implementing partners. We will be building on this success as we scale, while also noting that the evaluation highlights the need to invest time in relationships as a key lesson from the work of the first few years.
The team is currently developing a new country engagement strategy which will identify the objectives, principles, approach and activities to guide how we scale up our work at country level, and how we build strong linkages between activities and levels to transfer learning. The strategy will outline a new, streamlined approach to our country level brokering, built around two programs (Data for Now, Data for Equity), and a number of sector-level partnerships (e.g. Data for Climate Action, Inclusive Data Charter and others). Within this framework, we will work with focal points in countries, and with implementing partners, to create sustainable partnerships to increase the production and use of data to meet specific policy challenges, in line with our new Partnership Principles.
The new strategy will also outline our approach to graduation, and how to ensure the impacts achieved through our country engagement are sustained over time as GPSDD withdraws. There is a specific challenge in graduating initiatives which have been catalyzed by GPSDD but which need to become sustainable in their own right. The evaluation highlights the lesson of the ARDC/DEA transition, and the need to ensure that graduation happens in a way that preserves the essential elements of the model, and this is something we are working on as we plan for the future with our partners.
Conclusions 6-7: Developing the organization
- The Secretariat leverages value for those working in the ecosystem because of its complementarity. It has established a niche for itself. It has the potential to generate learning at scale from this complementarity, not only about the technical initiatives it has supported, but also about the way it supports multi-level multi-stakeholder institutional linkages.
- By investing more in follow-up or operational monitoring, more and better opportunities for achieving GPSDD objectives could be identified and enabled.
We are pleased that the GPSDD secretariat’s shared values and institutional agility are recognized in the evaluation, and have been key to our healthy and resilient organizational performance. It is our strong team that can deliver on the demand in our network for the scale-up envisioned in our strategy, and the evaluation shows that we are well placed to deliver on it. In particular, we note that the importance of branding and communication emerges as a lesson from the evaluation, and will continue to invest in communications as a part of delivering our strategy across all areas.
As the evaluation notes, achieving greater maturity and scale brings new challenges, amid rising expectations. This includes balancing the need for efficiency with the open, responsive, and collaborative approach which is a key part of our effectiveness to-date; and the balance between efficiency and inclusivity, principles and ethics as we broker partnerships.
All of these challenges are underpinned by the need for increased delivery against limited resources with a small team. We understand the results of the 7s (shared values, strategy, structure, systems, staff, skills, and style) organizational assessment show that the key adjustments required are clarity of approaches and strategies, such as the country strategy and policy advocacy pathways, and strengthened operating systems (monitoring systems, Customer Relationship Management (CRM), etc.) to more efficiently manage the broader scope and increased demands.
As well as the strategy development processes outlined above, we are also evaluating how our organisational functions can adapt to remain robust enough to support the increased ambition, particularly in the area of follow-up and monitoring. A small restructuring during 2020 led to enhanced and strengthened financial and impact management functions, with two new posts at Associate Director level, and a new junior post created to support monitoring, and we will continue to develop the team as needed to support both our direct impact and our learning as we grow.
It is also worth noting that, while the evaluation does not touch on this directly, any increase in scale or growth in the secretariat team are contingent on an increase in funding, as the evaluation does not suggest there are any areas we should deprioritise or where results have been disappointing that could be the basis for savings. We are working to increase the diversity of our funding base and to explore options for cost recovery on some of our activities. The evaluation has proved the value of our work, the role we play in the data ecosystem and the impact we can create - we hope that this will inspire new funders to see us as a way to grow the impact of their own portfolios.
The GPSDD is poised to enter an exciting new phase. The evaluation shows clearly that we are ready to scale up our activities and impact, and signposts the areas we need to consider as we do so. The evaluation also makes a number of specific recommendations, and our response to these is addressed below.
Response to recommendations
Extending and scaling-up contributions through policy advocacy work
Recommendation 1: Update the ToC to reflect policy advocacy as a critical mechanism for scale up at the regional and global level, then develop and implement a deliberate policy advocacy agenda with specific outcomes.
We acknowledge the lack of specificity in the current strategy on our policy pathways of change. We are conducting internal consultations to review our policy advocacy work to-date to more clearly distill and articulate how change occurs. This will then be incorporated into our M&E framework, to ensure that we are testing our approach and have the information to adapt and learn. We aim to incorporate these articulations into the theory of change narrative by early 2022.
Recommendation 2: Mobilize the GPSDD network in support of the policy advocacy agenda.
We have recently launched The Data Values Project, a policy consultation and advocacy campaign that will push for the data norms that we need to achieve the SDGs. This will mobilize our network to set a new agenda and build a global movement on responsible data use, paving the way for policies that harness the power of data for better life outcomes.
Recommendation 3: Made (bounded) adjustments to the structure of the Secretariat to ensure it is properly aligned with the policy advocacy agenda and any associated strategy updates.
As we expand our policy work, we will need to ensure it is properly resourced and that there are strong linkages and complementarities between all our areas of work, without overlaps or competition. We will keep this under review, adapting structures and responsibilities as needed, and ensuring that good communication is maintained across the team at all times.
Mobilizing the network for scale-up
Recommendation 4: Emphasize GPSDD’s ability to leverage partnerships, adopt an advisory role and catalyze change (e.g. through work like Data for Now).
We have already started testing and implementing processes to deliver on these recommendations. Key to leveraging partnerships, adopting an advisory role, and catalyzing change at scale is an ability to effectively and efficiently understand data needs and solutions across a broad range of partners. As well as providing advisory services and market information to individual partners and governments (and increasingly looking to this as a potential source of earned revenue), we are also continually adapting our offer and ways of working to more effectively leverage partnerships and respond to needs as they emerge.
In order to deliver across a broader set of country partners interested in capacity building activity, we are developing a capacity-building program to identify common needs and areas of interest such as data science, earth observation data skills, and data management skills. Similarly, to source solutions from a broader range of partners, we are conducting virtual briefing sessions during which we present opportunities for involvement in partnerships or initiatives to allow partners to ask questions and express their interest. In addition, we are continuing to identify emerging areas of common interest by establishing collaboratives such as the Administrative Data Collaborative and Civil Society Organization (CSO) Collaborative on inclusive data to mobilize collective action.
Emphasizing our catalyzer and advisory role, which comes with limited enforcing power, we recognize the importance of ensuring that all relevant stakeholders are operating under a common set of principles and expectations in developing and implementing data partnerships. To support consistency in adherence to ethical norms and standards across a growing number of partnerships within umbrella initiatives such as Data for Now and bespoke partnerships, we have developed a set of Partnership Guiding Principles. The principles outline the actions the Secretariat will take to support each principle and throughout 2021 we will develop and strengthen our internal processes to operationalize them.
Recommendation 5: Place an intentional focus on expanding institutional partnerships with organizations who have a country presence and a local comparative advantage that aligns with GPSDD’s multi-stakeholder brokering.
We are continuing to build on our regional partnership with UNECA and UN RCs across Africa to expand our reach and develop our capacity building program. Similarly, we will explore strategic partnerships with institutions and organizations with existing networks and presence in countries along specific thematic areas such as climate change, to enable more efficient identification of data needs, facilitation of connection to implementation partners, and connection to policy processes.
Documenting and applying learning to scale sustainable and effective solutions
Recommendation 6: The Secretariat could consider ways to maintain and communicate high-level mapping of partner initiatives against GPSDD’s objectives
We understand recommendation 6 to highlight the need for the Secretariat to share more accessible information about existing and potential ways for partners to get involved. We have recently undertaken a review of our work and developed a new, clearer way of communicating how our initiatives are grouped by sector and topic, in order to improve our communications and enable stronger connections between work areas to increase impact in line with our objectives.
Additionally, as well as the partner briefings mentioned above, we plan to action this recommendation by publishing and maintaining a live list of brokered strategic partnerships on the website. We will also be improving how information is structured and accessed on our website to illuminate the brokering activities of the secretariat and live updates on data partnerships. This will include more user-friendly materials and enable easier navigation to identify strategic priorities, relevant resources, and opportunities for engagement.
Recommendation 7: Reflect on evidence and learning generated by the Secretariat to date and document the Secretariat’s most current understanding of how change happens with reference to the current ToC.
In response to recommendation 7, we are in the process of mapping out the various models of operation we have developed to achieve change across our workstreams. Throughout 2021, we plan to build on this work to clearly articulate pathways of change, including the policy advocacy pathway of change described above and bringing them together in an operational strategy.
Recommendation 8: Prepare a how-to guide on brokering, convening and supporting effective multi-stakeholder collaborations within the data for development ecosystem.
While we appreciate that we have a responsibility to share what we have learned about how to support multi-stakeholder collaborations, we do not feel that a single how-to guide is the best approach to this. Rather than focusing on one product, we will continue to work with our partners to develop a range of learning products that offer guidance and lessons on specific areas. To increase the value of these products, we will continually iterate with our network to improve the content and design of our learning materials, ensuring that they are tailored to specific target audiences and are relevant and accessible to them. This includes more targeted audience segmentation, diversification of media and formats, and translation into relevant languages.
Recommendation 9: Amplify the voices of Digital Earth Africa’s African stakeholders and help DEA management adopt a more responsive and collaborative approach
We will continue to support the implementation of DEA and build on the learning from the ARDC. Understanding that many plans were set back by the pandemic in 2020, we look forward to working with our partners to ensure that it offers a service that is both useful and used to create impact across the continent.
Our next steps
We hugely appreciate the time and energy of the ITAD team and our partners who contributed their insights and expertise to build our whole partnership. Reflecting on the lessons and using the findings to guide our strategy will be a priority for the GPSDD team over the coming months, and we will be consulting widely and setting out our plans and assumptions in a transparent way as we do so.
The whole secretariat team looks forward to working with our partners as we move to the next phase of GPSDD’s evolution as an organisation, and to sharing ideas and plans as we grow our impact together over the coming years.