Overcoming the Data Roadblocks to Public Private Engagement to Improve Nutrition

By Lawrence Haddad, GAIN‘s Executive Director

I am sorry if this sound like a rather techy title, but I believe it touches on some of the most sensitive issues holding back progress on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Why?

At a recent meeting of public and private sector organisations I was asked to share some thoughts on the data gaps that inhibit productive engagement between the public and the private spheres to advance nutrition. The meeting was addressing how to push food systems to both feed AND nourish the world, and for this market actors (private sector) and policy setters (governments, development actors) simply have to work together for meaningful change. We are far from this.

My sense is that the data gaps that are inhibiting us all fall into at least five categories:


1.Having a joint goal. If you don’t know what you want to achieve, no partnership will succeed, no matter the partners.  What is the common objective?

2. Lack of a sense of opportunities. In the public private space in nutrition we tend to get blinded by the hotspots of breastmilk substitute marketing and products high in added sugar. These are of course vital issues to address, but there are many other issues too.

3. Demonstrated benefits from engagement. The perceived costs of engagement – exclusion, criticism, reputation – are very visible and quickly felt, but the potential benefits are less clear because they are rarely validated by independent and careful evaluations. PR is no substitute for evidence.

4. Lack of a data mechanism for building trust and ensuring transparency. This type of mechanism is important in any relationship. The Access to Nutrition Index (ATNI) does this well for major food and beverage companies every two years, but we need additional mechanisms which are lighter, can cover the major part of the food system, namely the farmers, entrepreneurs and local companies, and can be collected in real time.

5. Lack of a mechanism for sharing data and evidence. This is important because it provides examples to spur action. This could be a register of public private partnerships or a web portal that screens, curates and mobilises evidence in the public private domain on what works.


The table below provides more examples and detail.  These are issues we are working on at GAIN as one contribution to making it easier to engage across the public private divide to improve nutrition for all, especially the most vulnerable. Stay tuned, or better, share your ideas!

Roadblock to public private engagement to improve nutritionHow can data help overcome roadblockExamples
1. Lack of a joint goal - Identify key groups and dimensions of malnutrition where little progress is being made- Accelerating reductions in Anemia in women and children

- Improving adolescent nutrition
2. Lack of a sense of the breadth of opportunities- Collect data on firms by sector and product—who is doing what?

- Collect data on sales of different foods and food products—how is demand changing?
- Screening and segmenting SMEs that have nutritious foods at the heart of their business model

- Collecting data on the sales of packaged foods in low income countries
3. Lack of sense of benefits to a particular type of engagement- Independent evaluations of process and impact of public private engagements: by product type, market segment, engagement type- More independent evaluations commissioned and published

- Public research programmes on PPPs in nutrition
4. Lack of mechanism for assessing conduct and building trust- Evaluations of company performance

- Indicators of government efforts to create nutrition friendly enabling environment for food and which tracks businesses who want to do the right thing for nutrition.
- Initiatives like ATNI, SDG2 Scorecard

- Indicators to characterize the strength of the ecosystem support for businesses who are working in areas that could advance nutrition outcomes
5. Lack of a mechanism for sharing data, knowledge and evidence- Knowledge mobilization around what works to advance nutrition in the government-business sphere (and the types of benefits) and what does not work (and the risks and how avoided)- Establish a Knowledge Hub on Markets for Nutrition


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Published 9 October 2017

No More Missed Opportunities: Advancing Public-Private Partnerships to Achieve the Global Nutrition Goals