Wednesday, January 15, 2014

"THE PURSUIT OF IGNORANCE"

I listened to Stuart Firestein presentation on "The Pursuit of Ignorance." It was really interesting. His argument primarily is that: in knowing, we become more ignorant. Fortunately, this does not make us stop, it should rather propel us to understand the whats, whys, and hows of a phenomenon or our existence. Therefore, any discerning individual in search of knowledge should be asking himself/herself the questions including: what do I know? What more do I need to know? and how can I get this knowledge? It is such motivations and questions that help man to unravel the mysteries of this world according to Stuart Firestein. 

Why do I show interest in this notion? Well, I cannot help but appreciate the immense need and importance of information for planning and development. It is amazing how important information is in today's decision making process. For many countries, particularly, developed countries, information is treated in a similar fashion as gold. The ability to generate reliable, timely and verifiable information form the substructure of all agencies and institutions. As a matter of fact, information is systemic and systematic in the everyday process of government business. Significant efforts are made to ensure that every single action is informed by reliable and factual information-- there is an awareness that misinformation has cost implications and that for any change to occur, one needs to appreciate the known in order to promote the unknown (the change). Today, there is what we call the big data and so much information is made available at easy pace due to the evolution of technology and analytical tools. Spatial, quantitative and qualitative information are being presented in seemingly unique, complex as well as simple ways for the greater transparency and accountability in governance. For every investment that is made, efforts are made to establish its impact in society, to anticipate the effects; both negative and positive; who will benefit and to what extent they can benefit. As much as human behaviour is dynamic and make certain predictions difficult, I really admire the continuous effort to appreciate, understand and document the dynamics of society. 

In contrast, for many developing countries with emphasis on Ghana, information is treated as a privilege for the elite class. It is virtually a mirage to even attempt to appreciate the impacts of decisions and policies. The capacity to document and disseminate information is inadequate and sometimes absent. Aside national censuses, it is virtually a challenge to appreciate the number of individuals affected by national policies. Payrolls are fraught with ghost names, programs and projects are not able to document beneficiaries accurately and timely, and the implementation of governments projects and policies are seemingly impossible to track as information are not made readily available to the public. At a point in time, government claimed to be generating employment and yet could not provide the figures to show for this; and when some information was provided, they were not verifiable. 

So when a friend posted about "The Best Map Ever Made of America's Racial Segregation," all that came to mind was how Ghana is developing her own capacity to track development trends and dynamics. The questions of how Ghana was tracking the progress in the implementation of her polices, programs, and projects? Where interventions are taking place? Among many others preoccupied my mind. Unfortunately, I find that the enthusiasm that are exhibited by developed countries are not in consonance with that of developing countries. It seems that for developing countries, there is a deliberate effort to stifle information flow between governments and the general public. Therefore, this has given room to mistrust, miscommunication, and misinterpretation of government statistics that are put forward. 

As the MDG reports continue to lament, developing countries are still faced with the challenge of being able to generate the needed information about their development. Roy Carr-Hill in his "Missing Millions and Measuring Development Progress" article critiqued the methods for tracking the MDG targets as either under estimating or over estimating achievements. Roy estimated that about 250 million people are missed by the measuring frameworks adopted by the United Nations and developing countries.

I find this lapse critical to the development of developing countries including Ghana particularly because as Stuart Firestein puts it, we must be aware of what we know before we can, in a way, pursuit the unknown. By implication, developing countries should have a grasp of their state of development before they can adequately pursue the policies and programs that inform a structural change in development outcomes that they so demand and need.

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