Mini-documentary: Viet Nam’s data revolution is well on its way

The international community rarely calls for a revolution. In this case, it has. A data revolution,
says UNU-WIDER Director Finn Tarp.

Viet Nam has seen large changes to its economy since the advent of doi moi, the new beginning, in the 1980s. Poverty levels are significantly down and large numbers of people are moving from agriculture to more productive sectors like manufacturing and services. To continue making progress, the country — like many others — needs the right information to design and implement policies that support its people’s well-being and ensure that no one is left behind. 

Our new mini-documentary takes a close look at how Viet Nam, as it goes through structural transformation, is responding to the UN’s call for a data revolution to start making sure the right information is available to its policy makers. The global call is aimed to bring about the collection of the data needed for informed decision-making by countries, international agencies, and the private sector, and ultimately track progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals

Watch 'Viet Nam's data revolution', part of the new 'How to build a data revolution' series available in English and Vietnamese.

Long-term commitments lay the groundwork for informed decisions

The systematic analysis of data means that well-informed decisions can be made now and well into the future. Large reductions have already been made to poverty in Viet Nam and the country has, in many ways, developed quickly. While agriculture continues to play a pivotal role in rural areas, continued movements from farming into more productive sectors are expected. The question of how to continue pressing forward is better answered when quality data can be relied on. 

A focus of the new mini-documentary is the Viet Nam Access to Resources Household Survey (VARHS), which has tracked how rural households in the country are doing since 2006. The survey considers how household access to resources and related issues, such as land use and ownership, intra- and interregional migration, technology adoption, and social capital, play a role in agricultural production efficiency and how households respond to the socioeconomic and institutional environment. 

Long-term commitment to collecting and analyzing this important data with Vietnamese partners means that the economic well-being of rural households is being charted over time. This has facilitated constructive dialogue with policy makers – leading to policy impact. 

For instance, UNU-WIDER research stemming from VARHS showed in 2011 that land use restrictions prevented crop diversification. Subsequent policy changes have allowed, in some cases, for using the land in more productive ways, and further modifications are being considered.

Partnerships crucial in mobilizing data

Collaboration with local and international partners has been crucial to the successful implementation of the VARHS survey, which would not have been possible without long-term commitment from all sides. Vietnamese partners CIEM, ILSSA, and IPSARD have been instrumental in realizing the biannual survey, while international partners including UNU-WIDER, the University of Copenhagen and others like Trinity College Dublin have brought needed expertise to the table. Danida provided significant and much appreciated financial support for an extended period of time.

New open-access book tracks Viet Nam’s course

Want to know more? A more complete story of Viet Nam’s data revolution and the changing life and work of rural families across the country can be found in the new open-access book, Structural transformation and inclusive growth in Viet Nam. Based on VARHS data from 2006 to 2014, the findings shed light on the overall course of rural families, including ethnic and poor rural households that have been relatively excluded from traditional growth processes. The data used in the book is also freely available for replication. 

You can also find more information on the project that motivated the book and mini-documentary here


The views expressed in this piece are those of the author(s), and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Institute or the United Nations University, nor the programme/project donors.