Big data dilemma.

WITH its potential to bring huge benefits to the state and businesses, big data has been attracting increasing international interest over the decades. Can Pakistan, the fifth most populous country in a world of over eight billion people, harness big data to smartly manage human capital and boost national economic growth? The opportunity to do so is certainly there.

At the moment, we have a fuzzy picture of population numbers in various categories - the delay in carrying out the promised digital census has not helped. Without all the data, understanding the country's population dynamics becomes an arduous task. But we do know, for instance, that the majority of the people belong to the working-age category.

The shortage of decent job opportunities, which is one of Pakistan's biggest challenges, and the current recessionary trends require major policy decisions. This requires policymakers to take decisions rooted in a variety of data and comprehensive analyses of the information collected. True, there are multiple programmes that are operating at the same time that collect huge data that can be used to make interventions. International non-profits, with their respective areas of specialisation, are also in the picture. And yet, regardless of all the efforts, the larger picture of population dynamics in Pakistan is not a cohesive one and seems to be missing a major part.

Pakistan is a signatory to several international conventions and declarations and has made some progress in attempting to make good on its commitments. It continues to work on mainstreaming the 2030 SDGs and incorporating them in its policies and strategies. However, a great deal remains to be done.

Working in silos will prevent the larger picture from emerging.

The initial step is to manage and streamline the immense data that is already being collected. This can only happen if we digitise data and if institutes are held accountable for the quality and completeness of the information they provide.

Nadra is the custodian of our national data and its multipronged goals of providing digital solutions to facilitate the public, while keeping data confidential, has even led to international recognition. However, the data that Nadra has is only registered information and does not represent the complete picture - this limits the benefits that our national data repository can provide.

One of the areas where this is most visible is healthcare. For instance, the federal health ministry...

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