While I was at a facility in Lilongwe this week, piloting a study about data use for the Kuunika project, I was inspired to create a little photo essay. I asked some of the facility staff a very simple question: “Why is data important?”
Each person’s eyes lit up when I asked them this question. Having just participated in the pilot for our survey, they were very engaged and really wanted to discuss the importance of data and how to improve data systems.
So, I wrote down the first thing they said in response to my question and asked them to hold it up for a photo:
Although I’m typically sitting in a room full of people who all care deeply about data, getting to why they care can be more complex and nuanced than you might think. I’ve worked in global health for several years now and have been focused on data systems, but I’m guilty of taking this basic question for granted. So, this also got me thinking about the question. Why do I think data is important?
For me, data is important because it makes people count.
It makes the patients who come to the facility and are entered into the register or electronic medical record system count. It makes the work of the healthcare workers count. They spend hours caring for patients and tallying the numbers of patients they’ve seen. The tally sheets are sent to decision-makers who are challenged with figuring out how to treat large numbers of people in an equitable way despite resource constraints. It makes the decision makers at the district, national, and international levels accountable to the people whose lives they are trying to make better, people who might otherwise not be counted.
Data is important because it represents people who are important. At the end of the day, behind those numbers are people that matter. People who come to the health care clinic for services that they desperately need to stay alive. These people are important, and that is why data is important.