Advocacy,  Data value chain

How can we better support countries to build and maintain nutrition data and information systems?

The first Global Nutrition Report (GNR) in 2014 called for a “data revolution” in nutrition, recognizing that data investments are needed to enable countries to design and implement effective policies and programs, mobilize resources, and monitor progress. While some progress has since been made to improve nutrition data, current efforts are still insufficient.

The 2020 Nutrition for Growth (N4G) Summit in Tokyo will be the next significant milestone for donors and countries to make global commitments towards achieving World Health Assembly Nutrition Targets and Sustainable Development Goals for nutrition. Our team conducted a review of national nutrition plans for 58 Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) countries to better understand how countries are planning for and estimating the costs of their nutrition data and information systems (NDIS). The findings will inform recommendations for N4G participants around commitments to invest in nutrition data.

Our review revealed: there is a critical need for more comprehensive and strategic approaches – including the planning for and financing of – NDIS in countries.

Why a common framework for costing nutrition data and information systems is critical

There is no existing framework that helps define NDIS costs. DataDENT developed the framework below for our analysis of NDIS resource requirements, and to help guide countries and partners’ efforts to strategically plan for, resource and finance NDIS.

The status quo: how data is currently captured in national nutrition plans

We found that not all SUN national nutrition plans are costed, and these plans often do not include explicit data and M&E sections. Of the countries reviewed, less than half of those countries had costed plans with data and M&E sections.

Of the plans that do include nutrition data and M&E sections, our initial estimates show costs for data systems ranged from 0.1%-12.9% of total plan costs1 with significant variation across data system components.

 • Limited information  on components and costs of nutrition data and M&E systems beyond a single or limited number of high level item lines  with little detail on the intended activities

 •​ No information on components  critical to the development and maintenance of data systems, e.g.  planning, design, and coordination; data quality assessment, equipment/infrastructure; and  measurement innovations

 •​ The Demographic Health Surveys (DHS) and Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS), despite being critical to data collection in nutrition, were rarely included as strategic activities 

 •​  Routine tracking of resources invested towards delivering the plan, which is a critical activity to effectively mobilize and secure funding regularly, was only included in one national nutrition plan

However, some countries do stand out. Based on our review, the Kenya plan provides a good example of a plan with strong costed data and M&E sections. It allocates approximately 6% of the total estimated resource need for nutrition towards data and M&E, including the following components:

 • Periodic data collection: Major nutrition-focused surveys including SMART, MIYCN KAP, and other coverage surveys are explicitly mentioned; as well as surveys in other relevant sectors such as social protection

 • Routine/administrative systems: besides line items on the strengthening of routine HMIS systems, the plan also has content on the integration of data systems for nutrition services delivered through HIV and TB programs.

 • Information synthesis & decision-making: the plan explicitly includes the costs for the development of nutrition dashboards, scorecards, or other electronic data visualization tools, as well as for the systematic utilization of nutrition information to inform program quality improvement

 • Planning, design, and coordination: Kenya has a dedicated planning section in its M&E plan that outlines the need to review and update the Kenya M&E framework and to support the development and progress of other multi-year plans

 • Measurement innovations: investments in “emerging technologies” for nutrition assessment and diagnostics for HIV/TB patients are included; as well as a focus on “adapting technologies” in body composition analysis, lipid profile testing that improve nutrition diagnosis and optimize treatment options for HIV/TB patients

 • Nutrition resource tracking: at the sub-national and national levels for resource mobilization and accountability purposes is included

Looking ahead: initial recommendations for supporting nutrition data & information systems

To appropriately strengthen and finance NDIS, much more needs to be done at the country and global levels.

At the country level: comprehensive nutrition data plans, ideally with investment cases – which could be standalone documents or part of existing costed national plans – are the first critical step needed to articulate, cost, and advocate for data needs across sectors. These investment cases will also be the foundation for any resource mobilization planning and implementation efforts to secure needed funding.

Funding remains a significant challenge: a large increase in financial investments is needed to strengthen NDIS. The nutrition sector is not alone in this challenge. Global data initiatives along with the health and agriculture sectors have also been calling for or are currently developing calls for more investments in data and M&E systems. The Global Fund for AIDS, TB, and Malaria (GFATM) has a strategic framework for country data use and improvement, and plans to invest approximately 4.2% of its total approved amount from 2018 to 2020 in data management systems. This is also further corroborated by similar analyses of 4% data and data systems disbursements from the Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance’s investments. Our analysis of SUN country plans above showed that a costed national nutrition plan with a comprehensive and explicit M&E section (Kenya) may estimate that 6% of the total nutrition resource need should be directed to nutrition data activities. More research is required, but this suggests that an appropriate benchmark for national nutrition plans data related activities might be in the range of 4-6% of the plans total costs.2

Beyond data strategies or plans, NDIS costs need to be systematically incorporated in relevant sectoral plans and budgets to ensure costs are appropriately integrated into existing annual planning and budgeting processes.

Finally, capacity building needs in countries will be critical and will vary by country, potentially ranging from support on developing the data plans to strengthening activities throughout the data value chain. Capacity building efforts will need to be considered as part of the planning and implementation processes.

At the global level: beyond guidance for countries on how to incorporate and plan for nutrition data in a more systematic way, the N4G Summit offers an opportunity to develop new innovative ways to support and mobilize financing for nutrition data systems.

We’d love to hear from you!

Recognizing this is an area with limited research, we hope our work is the beginning of an important discussion to help decision-makers come together and reflect on solutions needed to finance and strengthen nutrition data and information systems in countries.

If you are engaged in multisectoral nutrition planning at the country or global level, please let us know the following:

 • Does our NDIS framework align with your experience? What core data components currently missing? Why?

 • What key recommendations might you have to support countries to strengthen and finance their nutrition data systems?

The authors gratefully acknowledge comments on this blog post from Rahul Rawat (Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation), Rebecca Heidkamp and Tricia Aung (Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health) and Augustin Flory (Results for Development)

  1. Total plan costs are the total costs estimated by the plan for all its costed components
  2. Financing for Data Thematic Working Group.  Mobilizing commitments for Financing for Data: A Review of Global and Country Experience.  Unpublished working paper prepared for the in-person meeting of the Nutrition for Growth Thematic Working Group Leads, July 2019, Seattle, WA

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