Better data can help the UK deliver on its ambitions to be a global force for good

The UK’s Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy has set out a renewed commitment to the UK as a force for good in the world, and stresses the importance of an integrated, cross-government approach to realising its aims. Measuring what Matters for Global Britain sets out why success also depends on having access to the right data.

Better data, more coherent policy

The UK can be more effective in implementing a coherent foreign and development policy if it understands the effect of existing policies, and not just those owned and delivered by the FCDO, on its international objectives. Making this data available openly will also support accountability by allowing Parliament, the media and the public to understand what government is doing, recognise progress and hold it accountable for its actions. 

Conversely, data gaps mean that poor policies and poor policy implementation can go unnoticed. As a result, opportunities for advancing the UK’s global aims may be missed, or worse, policies may work against the UK’s interests. 

There are examples of good data on the UK’s international interactions – such statistics on international trade in goods and aid spending. The Government has also stated its intention to collect data in other areas, for example to monitor implementation of a new law to prevent illegal deforestation in the supply chains of UK businesses. More generally it has committed to improving the quality and use of data across government in its National Data Strategy. But there are also many data gaps which could be addressed. 

Six example gaps

Development Monitor’s briefing outlines six examples of data deficiencies that are relevant to the UK’s global ambitions, outlines how these could be fixed and what the benefits would be of doing so. These examples cover:

  • Arms exports: Collecting and publishing data on arms exported under open licences.
  • Export finance: Publication of loans and loan guarantees to other governments, with interest rates and repayment schedules.
  • Commercial loans to governments: Ensuring that UK companies implement IFF principles on debt transparency.
  • Money laundering: Improved statistical information on Suspicious Activity Reporting, broken down by country
  • Stolen asset recovery: Regular reporting on progress in returning stolen assets, broken down by country.
  • Foreign direct investment: Earlier publication of statistics providing a breakdown of UK investment in Africa.

Policies in these areas can have a significant impact on the global challenges, including countries (such as those in Sub-Saharan Africa) on which the UK wishes to focus.

The practical steps to fix these gaps vary. However, the costs of doing so are likely to be small compared to the benefits of more effective and coherent foreign and development policy. Better policies, beyond aid spending, would also enable the UK to more effectively tackle global poverty and advance the Sustainable Development Goals. 

Audit the gaps, measure performance

These examples are just a starting point. There are opportunities to improve data in support of the UK’s global ambitions in many other areas, including better data on the economic, social and environmental impact of UK companies overseas.

To realise these opportunities, the Government could start by auditing the data necessary to support its international objectives and defining an appropriate framework for measuring performance. This would provide a consolidated, cross-government view of the UK’s global impact. A similar approach is used for the UK’s environmental performance, another area where a coherent cross-government approach is needed to realise the UK’s ambitions. Such a framework is not enough on its own. It would need to be complemented by effective use of data across government, and cross-departmental accountability mechanisms, but it is an important first step towards success.

Read the full briefing on Measuring what Matters for Global Britain