Multisector nutrition information systems (NIS) are gaining traction at national and global levels. In 2021, WHO-UNICEF Technical Expert Advisory Group on Nutrition Monitoring (TEAM) released guidance on national NIS, and partners, including DataDENT, are supporting diverse aspects of NIS development.
Costing and financing are critical – but too often overlooked – elements of NIS development. A successful NIS is only possible when adequate financial resources are mobilized and sustained. However, DataDENT’s 2019 review of SUN national costed plans and 2021 review of official development assistance (ODA) found shortfalls in planning and budgeting as well as donor financing for NIS.
DataDENT has started to address barriers to NIS costing and financing through our work in Nigeria and Ethiopia. In 2021-2022, we collaborated with Nigeria’s Federal Ministry of Health (FMOH) and data collection partners to design a costing framework that supports decisions around whether and how to collect nutrition indicators through periodic survey and administrative data systems. This costing framework was used by the FMOH and other stakeholders in Nigeria to develop official recommendations for nutrition data coordination in the health sector. In 2022, we partnered with the Ethiopian Public Health Institute (EPHI) to conduct a landscape of financing for nutrition data to support the planning and implementation of Strategy 12 of Ethiopia’s Food and Nutrition Strategy (FNS) which focuses on data and evidence priorities.
Below, we share three insights from our work to date to guide others who are developing multisector NIS. In the simplest terms, countries must have a multisectoral nutrition data strategy and implementation plan which are costed and financed.
1. Comprehensive national nutrition data strategies and implementation plans are needed to ensure data investments are prioritized, coherent, and coordinated within and across sectors and stakeholders
Effective coordination is essential for successful multisector nutrition action and yet many countries lack a consolidated plan or roadmap to guide investments in and coordination of nutrition data. Strategic plans for nutrition data should address all core NIS components defined in WHO-UNICEF national NIS guidance – people who build, run, and use the system; data that are collected and processed; processes and procedures to support the system; and technology which drives the electronic information system. Data needs should also be compared against data availability to assess how frequently information should be collected. Relevant stakeholders must be effectively sensitized around the plan to clearly establish roles and responsibilities and ensure functionality of multisectoral coordination mechanisms.
The Government of Ethiopia has developed a high-level nutrition data strategy that reflects core NIS components. The content is embedded in the broader Food and Nutrition Strategy. We found that most government agencies, donor organizations, and development partners are familiar with Strategy 12 and want to support it. However, there is still a need to engage partners around the strategy’s annual implementation plan, so they can more effectively contribute to its objectives.
2. Nutrition data plans must be costed to ensure sufficient resources are available to implement the plan including collection of high-quality data
Costing the nutrition data plan is needed to ensure the resources required for implementation are clearly defined and ultimately available. The costing process should be inclusive of the full nutrition data value chain, including costs to support data use and capacity strengthening. Ideally costing efforts show where resources are currently available and specify gaps to be prioritized for resource mobilization.
In Nigeria, DataDENT developed a cost considerations framework for nutrition data collection which includes cost-related questions to guide decisions around adding or removing indicators in existing survey and administrative data collection platforms (see Appendix 4 here for more information). The framework reflects costs across five phases of integrating indicators into data platforms including planning, data collection, data transfer, data analysis, and dissemination. Importantly, it includes both monetary and non-monetary costs. An example of monetary costs are expenses incurred to train enumerators to collect anthropometric data, while a reduction in data quality that may occur when a survey becomes more complex is a non-monetary cost. As we highlighted in a previous blog post, cost considerations also vary by the specific data source and complexity of the indicator.
3. A clear financing strategy must accompany the costed nutrition data plan to ensure sufficient and sustainable financial resources are available to support it
Costing the plan is important but does not guarantee funds will be mobilized for implementation. A clear financing strategy that reflects both domestic and donor resources must be developed in collaboration with stakeholders.
In Ethiopia, DataDENT and EPHI’s landscaping found a mismatch between what is included in Strategy 12 and what is actually being financed. Some funding is channeled to nutrition data activities articulated in the strategy, however other activities in the strategy received no funding, while other funded activities were not in the strategy. A clear financing strategy is needed to ensure planned activities are intentionally budgeted and financed. Several takeaways about financing from our Ethiopia work may be applicable to other contexts:
- Specifying annual financing targets can help focus partners on shared resource mobilization priorities,
- Regular financial tracking against targets is needed to ensure funding is available to support timely implementation of the plan, and
- Alternative financing options which complement current domestic and donor support may be used fill NIS resource gaps (e.g., pooled funds within health and other sectors).
This is just the beginning of DataDENT efforts to sensitize the nutrition community to the importance of considering costing and financing in NIS development efforts. The current evidence base around costing and financing of NIS is limited; we hope our early learnings may be beneficial to other stakeholders.
We would love to hear from you – let us know in the comments below about your experience with costing or financing of nutrition data or NIS and what additional information you need to support these efforts.