Lebanon Opportunities: Getting data to life
Many years ago Lebanese journalism had always maintained a “reputation for excellence” and accordingly had a luster as a center of journalism. Historically, Lebanon was the first country in the region to have newspaper publishing, where the first was published in 1858. In the first half of the 20th century, hundreds of newspapers were published across the country, giving Lebanon its unique role in bridging East and West and making the history of the Lebanese press surrounded by analysts all over the Middle East.
Press Martyrs’ Day is an occasion that has been commemorated on May 6 in public and private spheres throughout the country for many decades to honor journalists and activists killed in the name of free speech.
This occasion has always been a great opportunity to salute the Lebanese press and to praise the country’s media. It is a catalyst of hope to foster freedom and democracy and an eternal remembrance of journalists who sacrificed their lives for the country to survive and for the Lebanese people to live in peace.
How did the Lebanese press assist the state in highlighting challenges and opportunities? Journalism in Lebanon has always been at the forefront of promoting social and political change. Twenty years ago Lebanon Opportunities, a leading business magazine, had “dreams abound of a modern country, fair to its citizens, hospitable to its returning or visiting expatriates and to tourists, enabling business to thrive and protecting the weak strata of its people” and committed itself to the “side of doers” as stated in the special anniversary issue of Lebanon Opportunities.
For 20 years, Lebanon Opportunities published every month, a magazine about “what is working, how it is done, where the opportunities are and how to face obstacles,” as presented by its publisher and editor-in-chief, Ramzi el-Hafez. Few words say everything about the hard work that has been delivering optimism and investing in hope throughout the last two decades.
The 20th anniversary issue takes us in a “journey” of fulfilling a national promise of progress and development, backed up by statistics, analyzed and visualized data, generating a story of social change with strong impact on engaging audiences and promoting civic activism. It compares in a real and figurative sense the situation at the time the magazine started in 1997 with today’s situation, highlighting major national achievements in addition to emphasizing measures of success and failure.
The magazine has been taking the lead on the challenge of completeness, accuracy and usability of existing data, trying to determine unavailable data or analysis needed. Equally important, it has been working hard toward reaching benchmarking performance and finding innovative approaches in the areas of data interpretation, analysis and dissemination. The role it has been playing is much more than providing policymakers with the data they need, but in the form that is useable for their purposes. The availability of up-to-date, in-depth, nonpartisan analysis of data has been always its battle.
Data is the “lifeblood” of decision-making and the raw material for accountability in any society. It is almost impossible to design, monitor and evaluate effective policies if high-quality data, the right information on the right things at the right time, is missing. However, the data landscape is continually changing. New ways to address important data gaps are essential for developing effective policy recommendations.
Developing innovative solutions and approaches that help policymakers better engage with research and increase its use in policymaking. A 2009 OECD report on how science can help achieve “better governmental policies, programs, regulations, treaties and infrastructures for dealing with complex systems” said, “In a complex system, it is not uncommon for small changes to have big effects, big changes to have surprisingly small effects, and for effects to come from unanticipated causes.”
People, organizations and governments are excluded and marginalized when they lack access to resources, knowledge, capacity, opportunities and most importantly data. As a 2014 U.N. report on data said, “There are huge and growing inequalities in access to data and information and in the ability to use it.”
Lebanon can learn from economist Timothy D. Hogan’s observations about data in the U.S. state of Indiana: “Indiana’s public policymakers and administrators, business executives and nonprofit leaders require convenient access to accurate, timely data and analysis concerning the state, its communities, its citizens and its economy to carry out their responsibilities properly.”
This month the Lebanese people are celebrating both the “Press Martyrs’ Day” and Lebanon Opportunities’ 20th anniversary. It is the occasion to reflect on the role of media in development and ask which media and what approach will help in achieving progress and development as well as meet contemporary challenges? How can media become an instrument of social transformation toward a better society?
How can media outlets collaborate with research and academic institutions in tracking reliable, real-life data that can bring decision-making back to reality?
Rubina Abu Zeinab-Chahine is executive director of the Hariri Foundation for Sustainable Human Development.