Ghana is adopting a data-driven approach to fighting poverty

ACCRA, Ghana — On a blistering hot day last week, a team of Ghanaians clambered out of vans into Agbogbloshie, a

ACCRA, Ghana — On a blistering hot day last week, a team of Ghanaians clambered out of vans into Agbogbloshie, a

A census taker interviews an administrator at Accra Psychiatric Hospital.
Jordi Perdigo / Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data

Ghana is spending $84 million to carry out the 2020 census, Forson said, compared to $54 million in 2010. Adding the new technological bells and whistles is a big investment, but the government considers it worthwhile because census data is the bedrock upon which so much policy rests.

On the night of March 15, enumerators will go out and endeavor to count all the people sleeping outdoors. They’ll wake up the sleepers and run through an abridged questionnaire with them, then give them a certificate to show they’ve been counted.

The “leave no one behind” agenda also means that enumerators will go to hospitals to count the people there. I tagged along with them to the Accra Psychiatric Hospital, a resource-strapped institution currently treating 379 patients, some voluntary and some involuntary, who are dealing with issues ranging from depression to psychosis. Due to lack of space, some patients sleep outdoors in a courtyard, where a motley collection of hospital beds and old-fashioned wooden beds are draped in mosquito nets.

Here, enumerators can’t survey patients directly. So instead they interview the hospital staff, who look through the patients’ records to provide answers about them. The main challenge for the enumerators is that sometimes these records are spotty and don’t contain basic pieces of information, like the patients’ ethnicity.

Nevertheless, the enumerators go from locked ward to locked ward to interview nurses and administrators, who sit behind desks piled high with paper records and go through them one by one. On their tablets, enumerators record the precise location of each building they’ve visited.

It’s painstaking work, but Forson said the lessons Ghana learns from this process will be passed along to other African countries like Sierra Leone and Senegal — signaling perhaps the growing embrace of evidence-based thinking and data-driven approaches in developing countries.

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