Existing institutional framework and data pipeline facilitating timely response in The Gambia


Telecommunication regulator; 2 MNOs; National Statistical office; The World Bank, The University of Tokyo.


The partnership on the use of CDR data in The Gambia started in 2019 to explore the use of big data to create an evidence base for policy and project design in the context of economic and social development (Arai et al., 2021). Once COVID-19 hit The Gambia in March 2020, all parties agreed to revisit the focus of the collaboration, which originally focused on internal migration, and explore the use of CDR data to respond to the health and economic crisis. In light of limited testing and health facilities, the government announced a national health emergency with profound restrictions on human mobility (Hale et al, 2020). As part of this dialog, it became clear that prolonged social distancing would bear a high cost for households and firms (Gottlieb, Grobovsek, Poschke, & Saltiel, 2020), and there was interest to create an evidence base for smart containment measures. The analysis then focused on the use of CDR data to understand patterns of human mobility during COVID-19.

Insights on this approach

This project highlights the significance of the existing institutional framework including institutional data access in disaster contexts. It not only facilitated the timely response to the sudden onset of COVID-19 but also helped minimize the reporting burden on MNOs, facilitating compliance.

Key steps taken for developing the institutional framework and analytical pipeline

  • The existing institutional frameworks helped partners utilize the data pipeline and code already in place for responding to the sudden onset of COVID-19. Prior to the onset, partners agreed on strengthening technical capacity and ensuring knowledge transfer to foster the sustainability of the initiative.
  • Efforts were directed at strengthening existing data collection protocols between the MNO and the PURA to include the necessary indicators rather than building a system from scratch. It was done through introducing open-source frameworks, which also could accommodate the limited availability of hardware. The system was built on a virtual environment, which did not require a high-end machine to initiate analysis.
  • Prior engagement, including a series of workshops and training helped build trust and offered an opportunity to discuss lessons learned from other countries. It helped to establish a platform to continue the work during the following month when all interactions between the counterparts in The Gambia and the team of researchers shifted online.

Areas of improvement and challenges

  • Data extraction from MNO was done manually where data were de-identified and shared with the regulator in secured protocol. The development of an automated data pipeline, which can inject MNO data to the analysis system, is ongoing.
  • Presentation of findings in an easily accessible format such as maps and charts, and identification of specific policy recommendations strengthened the support and the interest in the project. It created an entry point for dialog with a technical and non-technical audience. Automation of the process could also help reduce reporting burden and facilitate quick decision-making.

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