What do Ethiopian civil servants know about the districts they serve?

That’s the question asked in a new paper by Daniel Rogger and Ravi Somani.  In a VoxDev writeup of the piece, they find that civil servants are often fairly far off the mark about even basic facts like the size of the districts where they work.  A few key findings:

47% of officials claim that their district’s population is 50% bigger or smaller than it is.

The mean error in estimates of the proportion of pregnant women who attended ANC4+ during the current pregnancy (the ‘antenatal care rate’) was 38% of the benchmark data.

Agriculture officials overestimate the number of hectares in their district that are recorded as used for agricultural purposes by almost a factor of 2.

Why so many misunderstandings?  Part of it apparently has to do with how officials are getting their information.

 We surveyed 1,831 public officials across 382 organisations spanning all three tiers of Ethiopia’s Government.

The most frequently cited source of information for these officials was ‘Formal field visits’, with 63% of officials stating that this was a key source of information. Discussions with frontline colleagues, and informal interactions with colleagues in their organisation were the second and third most cited sources of information, with 51.9% and 45.9% of officials stating their significance respectively.

Only 12.8% of officials state that they use management information systems (MIS) as their primary source of information. Field visits and informal interactions are therefore three times more likely to be in the top three most important sources of information than MIS, and ten times more likely than external media sources.