Bridging the data management gap in Africa

Stu Hamilton - Aquatic Infosystems , 15 November, 2018

Effective data management is a universal requirement for successfully linking water monitoring to beneficial watershed-scale outcomes. Lessons learned from East Africa illustrate several fundamental principles of water data management that any water monitoring agency can benefit from.

Data neglect can result from a simple lack of awareness of the importance of data management. For example, distrust due to non-delivery of data makes budget cuts easier, unshared data results in incomplete stakeholder engagement; and a lack of oversight of the state of the data results in an unhealthy reliance on ‘business as usual’. It is not uncommon for water monitoring programs to suffer loss of funding for lack of effective data management.

Legacy data—i.e., data we expect to provide an essential understanding of basic hydrology and also of the cumulative effects of land-use and climate change—often requires rescue from diverse, unsecure, sources. Large gaps can exist in the data and hydrographs can reveal episodes of time where the reported values are highly suspect thereby degrading confidence that any of the data are trustworthy. Such data problems can result in a culture of data suppression making all data inaccessible except to the most persistent investigators.

An alternative path is one where water data are valued and protected as a national asset. Best practices are followed; confidence is restored with data quality assurance; efficient workflows ensure timely and appropriate information; expertise is harnessed to create timely and useful knowledge products; and the needs of a wide range of decision-makers are addressed.

Managing the present, and preparation for the future, will require adoption of the principles and best practices for managing water information as a strategic investment. This paper highlights monitoring as a strategic asset and draws on experiences gained in the implementation of modern hydrometric data management systems in Africa.