Data science and its influence on policy development – The New Times

Data science is the future. It impacts our day-to-day lives in big and small ways, and it can also help shape how governments make policy. That’s certainly true here in Kigali, a place with big tech ambitions. I’m delighted that the United Kingdom is supporting Rwanda in this field. We are working closely with National Institute of Statistics of Rwanda to modernise official statistics. A journey we are on ourselves.  Our aim is to ensure that statistics are produced efficiently and are more accessible to users.

I know Rwanda is keen to be a regional leader. It is no surprise then that heads of statistics organisations, and their data science experts are meeting in Kigali this week to discuss how they bring the Data Science Regional Hub for Africa to life. This is a United Nations designated hub at the National Institute of Statistics of Rwanda. The hubs will help national statistics offices globally to share code and data science practices. Again I ‘m proud that the UK is a core funder of this, work Data Science is key to enhancing the official statistics that we rely on to make important policy decisions. It helps the public get better services and enables development partners to deliver better programmes. That leads to improvements in the lives of ordinary Rwandans.


Data Science is already playing a big role here in Rwanda. For example, banks, some government agencies and innovative start-ups have harnessed data science to allow customers to access services through their computers or mobile phones. This has removed the need to visit those offices in person, thereby freeing up time for customers. Examples of this in action include the Irembo platform for paying for government services. On the private sector side, there are various bank apps and services like Vuba Vuba and Nokando, just to mention a few.


In the UK, data science proved invaluable during the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic. We used machine learning and artificial intelligence to measure the effectiveness of public health initiatives encouraging people to stay at home. Data from traffic cameras as well as satellite imagery was used to measure traffic volume and estimate how many of the trips people were making were for essential travel. Electronic billing machines in shops provided valuable information to the government on how the retail industry was being impacted and how government should help. While shipping data to informed on the impact the pandemic was having on international trade. These techniques provided real time data used to shape timely policy to combat the negative impacts of the pandemic.


What pleases me most is that, all these techniques can be linked directly to the Sustainable Development Goals to help Rwanda and development partners improve the lives of people without leaving anyone behind.

For instance, we can use satellite imagery to measure what proportion of Rwanda is arable land, helping inform those working on agricultural policy on how best to support farmers. The images can also be used to identify and classify crops allowing government to assess whether farming practices are in sync with its food security policy. Satellite imagery and mobile phone data can also be used to produce poverty maps. These can help policy makers come up with the right interventions. Other uses include determining where to build schools that will best serve multiple communities. In the area of health surveillance, the Rwanda Biomedical Centre has already shown what data science can do in informing government and citizens on infection …….


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