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J-PAL — Using Data for Effective Decision Making by Governments – A Health Insurance Use Case

By Rachna Nag Chowdhuri, Senior Director (Analytics), and May Lew, Investment Associate  |   Posted 8th February 2021

Globally, over the last decade, we have seen tremendous growth in administrative data collected for government programs without growth in its use for decision making. The need to promote data sharing and use by governments is a foundation of effective policy development as has been made clear as the COVID crisis has accelerated the need for administrative data use for quick and efficient decision making. Even before the pandemic, this evaluation of the World Bank’s efforts to produce and use data, showed a key constraint to achieving this has been the lack of reliable data in usable formats that can drive decisions.

Over the past decade, widespread digitization of data systems has led to the availability of large volumes of data and India is one country that has made significant investments in data infrastructure.  Even so, India is yet to realize the full potential of its untapped reservoirs of data. This is especially true for the ‘data-rich’ health sector  in which administrative data is used for routine process reporting but rarely deployed systematically for strategic planning or course correction. This is a lost opportunity to create value from data, better allocate resources, realise efficiency gains and improve the delivery of health services.

To help address this through innovation, J-PAL South Asia’s IDEA Lab is developing a ‘Health Insurance Data Use project’ to demonstrate how leveraging existing administrative data can generate actionable insights on how to improve program delivery. GIF is partnering with JPAL on this two-year project to centre around improving the implementation of an Indian Government health insurance programme launched in 2018.  The programme aims to provide the poorest 40 percent of the population, roughly 100 million families, with access to secondary and tertiary care.

This IDEA initiative aims to help policy makers make better informed and more timely decisions and to develop ways of institutionalising these practices. JPAL will use GIF’s $700,000 grant to further develop innovative government partnerships and create a demonstration case for how administrative data can generate actionable information to improve public services for the poor.

The innovation will engage government leaders to identify critical program efficiency gaps and priority policy questions, perform data diagnostic assessments and understand data-use culture and produce insights using administrative data to address the gaps and priority questions. The project will also work to implement a shift toward a data use culture by documenting effective data use practices and processes.

There is momentum from governments building up for optimizing data use has been accelerated by COVID-19. The pandemic has shown the importance of real-time and reliable data to plan and deploy response efforts and this crisis has spurred governments to use data creatively for planning and resource allocation with many sub-national governments developing track and trace apps. Against this backdrop, the J-PAL innovation will contribute to improving COVID-19 response in the medium to long-term in India and build resilience in the health sector.

The long-term vision for GIF is to create the building blocks for culture shift in data use. Decision making in governments is a complex process, a product of politics, resources, groupthink and various other systemic incentives.  J-PAL’s vision is to co-create a culture in which valuable and actionable data insights can be surfaced at the right level and at the right time to inform decisions.  Shifting culture necessitates longer term, sustained engagement. J-PAL’s expertise in working with governments uniquely positions to lay the groundwork, that can facilitate culture change over time.