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Fiscal Data Governance: Forging the Path to Data-Driven Fiscal Operations

The IMF’s Regional Capacity Development Center for Southern Africa (AFRITAC South), in collaboration with the Africa Training Institute, recently hosted a workshop on Fiscal Data Governance (FDG) for 13 countries of the region. This followed other regional events on FDG including a February 2023 course at CEF in Slovenia. The primary focus was on the importance of high-quality fiscal data for optimizing the outcomes of PFM digital solutions.

Despite substantial investments, the performance of PFM information technology (IT) systems often falls short of management expectations. An important causal factor is the poor quality of fiscal data that are not able to support data-driven decision making. As a result, many ministries of finance use data collection methods that are cumbersome and unreliable. These methods undermine the potential of the countries’ frequently sophisticated IT investments.

Reasons for poor data quality often lie in weak FDG practices, covering areas such as the legal and regulatory framework for PFM, data architecture, interoperability, data strategy, data governance technology, institutional arrangements, and internal controls. These practices can be synthesized into an FDG Framework that was introduced to the participants.

During the workshop, participants explored the use of Fiscal Data Quality Indicators (FDQIs) in assessing the quality of fiscal datasets within PFM digital solutions. Through hands-on exercises, the participants applied these FDQIs to assess the quality of fiscal data in a hypothetical "Republic of Dataland”. They also prepared recommendations for refining these indicators, classifying data quality into specific categories, and prioritizing reforms to be included in a fiscal data quality improvement program.  

Building on this foundation, the workshop further explored individual FDG practice areas. The session on legal and regulatory frameworks, for example, encouraged participants to analyze how data privacy laws, PFM regulations, and interoperability frameworks impact and potentially shape FDG practices.

Subsequently, technical sessions by the World Bank illustrated the crucial role of Data Architecture in designing new systems and optimizing existing ones to enhance data quality. Discussions on data governance technology and interoperability architecture underscored how these elements can help break down information silos and facilitate seamless data flow across various PFM digital solutions. This is a particularly pertinent consideration given that the participating countries typically manage between 3-10 such systems.

Presentations from the Information Technology Department of the IMF discussed recent trends in data-driven decision-making and demonstrated how robust FDG practices can strengthen cybersecurity and data-driven decision-making. A presentation by the IMF’s Statistics Department underscored the role of data quality by sharing lessons learned from the Data Quality Assessment Framework (DQAF).

Finally, country presentations on how open data initiatives can be used to improve service delivery were made by Statistics Mauritius; Vulekamali, the budget transparency portal of South Africa; and the Government Service Bus of Zambia. These presentations led to an exchange of ideas amongst country teams on the design and implementation of different FDG practice areas. 

Against this solid theoretical grounding, participants were tasked with linking good FDG practices to their potential impact on FDQIs within the “Republic of Dataland”. Once areas of improvement were identified, participants engaged in a stakeholder and system analysis using pre-designed templates. This analysis aimed at identifying specific actions to include in a comprehensive Fiscal Data Governance Program tailored to the needs of the Republic of Dataland.

Implementing such an FDG Program in a real country would extend beyond enhancing the FDQIs. It would support on-going monitoring to ensure sustainable data quality and encourage the adoption of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning (AI/ML) in the digital transformation of PFM processes.

The insights and knowledge shared during this workshop should help drive the evolution of FDG programs across member countries and contribute to better data-driven decision-making and fiscal operations.