“If we have data, let’s look at data. If all we have are opinions, let’s go with mine.”
I was recently reminded of this famous quote by Jim Barksdale, the former CEO of Netscape, in a discussion on rapid cycle monitoring. This quote brought to mind, two things:
First, it embodies the reason for and the importance of the work that SPARC does with its community of partners, gradually moving strategic purchasing discussions from the fringes (anecdotes and opinions) to mainstream health financing discussions, including the important work of building the body of knowledge and evidence around this concept. With more knowledge and evidence, policymakers will have access to practical tools and information about what works, when and why, providing the incentive for them to spend their political capital to strengthen strategic purchasing capacity (governance arrangements, functions, operating systems and policies), as described in our theory of change. Stronger operating systems imply, among other things, better information systems and data flows. The availability of the right quality data at the right time, championed by leadership can potentially, help create a culture of data use and a shared mentality across purchasing institutions that recognizes the importance of data in making purchasing decisions. This will lead to a situation where policymakers routinely demand for and use data to take those difficult decisions about priority services to purchase, who to purchase from and how to pay providers for service delivery, using the very limited (and further pandemic-constrained) funds available.
On the flip side though, the quote also reminds me of the reasons why frequently, opinions and intuitions, rather than data, appear to be the prevalent drivers for decision-making. It is because the data needed for timely and effective decision-making are not available, because of challenges with the data itself (e.g. poorly defined and unavailable data sets, poor quality, poorly analysed and poorly communicated data etc.), challenges with the feedback loops for data use (e.g. generated data are not used to test solutions, strengthen feedback loops, iterate and adapt) and challenges around the governance for the use of data. This sounds like a great area to dig into for future work as we continue to support governments to make more deliberate use of data for purchasing decisions.
On a personal note…
Two short years ago, I arrived in Kenya to continue the great work that SPARC had already started on the continent, supporting countries to make the best use of limited resources on their journeys towards universal health coverage. I am glad that in the two years that I have been here, we have been able to amplify that message, moving strategic purchasing from an abstract concept to a relatable, everyday term that supports countries in making better purchasing decisions. We have also put down the nuts and bolts of SPARC as an institution.
It is now time for me to move on – setting the stage for the next phase of SPARC’s growth and the unfolding of a new chapter for me.
I thank all of you for your support, individually and collectively, on this journey that SPARC has been on and especially, during my time here. I will forever be grateful for the friendships formed and new connections made.
My last day at SPARC will be the 31st of August. I have no doubt we will all meet again soon. Until then, please feel free to reach out to me on my personal email.
As I draw the curtain on my stay at SPARC, I am reminded that SPARC has started a movement – one that includes you, me and everybody, continuing to talk about how best to make use of limited resources, especially in these trying times with even more constrained fiscal spaces across countries as they juggle all the priorities within and outside the health sector. So, your voice is needed now, more than ever. Use it and continue to SPARC the change!