How the Government of Sierra Leone is improving its Education Data Hub

Sierra Leone’s Education Data Hub is designed to make school-level data more useful in decision making. Nine months into its launch, MBSSE and DSTI were keen to understand who was using the Data Hub, the kinds of decisions it informed, and where improvements were needed to ensure that non-technical users, including policymakers, teachers, parents, and students could access and use the data. These are critical questions for MBSSE and DSTI to be asking, not only to inform the continuous development of the Data Hub but to achieve the goal of data actually being used to inform decisions that have an impact on learning outcomes. 

To help MBSSE and DSTI answer these questions, the EdTech Hub partnered with Public DigitaI in May 2020 to conduct research that would shed light on how users experience the Data Hub. We interviewed users from government, civil society, NGOs, and multilateral organizations and share a few of the things we learned below:

  1. High praise for the Education Data Hub. Before the Data Hub, there was very little official data on education in Sierra Leone that could be readily accessed online. User sentiments are that “anything is better than nothing” and that the Data Hub is a modern and efficient way to deliver information.
  2. Users want to download data. The ability to download data is central to the definition of open data. Many users feel that the existing graphs provide a useful overview and sense check, but what they are really after is data in a format that would allow for more sophisticated manipulations and analysis.
  3. Metadata are critical to building data trust and transparency. Users want to know the backstory behind the data, namely where it’s from and how it’s been verified. Basic background information about the education system and a glossary to define key terms were also cited as features that would improve how the data is understood and used.
  4. The more granular the data, the better. Users indicated a need for more detailed data, for example, disaggregated by gender, and including information like student dropout rates, or teacher attendance data that would allow for more accurately targeted decisions and interventions.
  5. Users often need support in accessing and understanding the data. It is important for users to have a way to raise questions, flag missing data or inconsistencies, and signal performance issues. This may not seem like a major finding but user support signals a strong commitment to making data accessible and could help to facilitate and promote a broader culture of data use in Sierra Leone. 

While most of these insights are specific to our interviews with people who are accustomed to dealing with data, we also uncovered challenges for less experienced users. We learned, for example, that current data visualization tools and graphs are difficult for users to decipher, even for advanced users with data analytics skills (see to the right a screenshot of a sample graph from the Data Hub). 

Some of our recommendations for MBSSE and DSTI include that they should have a clearly stated mission and goals defining who the Data Hub is intended for.  Then, they need to create and continuously update a roadmap that can guide them on how best to reach different user groups and appropriately target communications, to improve awareness and drive the use of data.

Our user research findings were produced just in time for the start of the Education Data Hub’s improvement phase. You can learn more about our methodology, findings, and recommendations here. MBSSE and DSTI have been working with data visualization partner, Beyond Words Studio to introduce several updates based on the recommendations that emerged from this research. We encourage you to visit the Education Data Hub soon to see these updates!

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