Citizen-generated data: Facilitating the follow up and review process of the Sustainable Development Goals

On Sunday, 15 January, the first ever United Nations World Data Forum (WDF) officially kicked off in Cape Town, South Africa and will continue until 18 January, 2017. This inaugural WDF provides an excellent opportunity to reflect on the commitments world leaders made just over a year ago, upon the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Here, diverse data communities from government, private sector, civil society, academia, and techies, among others will engage the rest of the world to share their data and statistics related experiences, ideas, innovations, challenges, learning, and opportunities for collaboration across sectors.

The agenda of the WDF shows that planned side events will focus on a vast array of subjects – all related to the role that data and statistics is playing, or will play in supporting the delivery of the ambitious 2030 Agenda. The level of enthusiasm for this event as demonstrated by its oversubscription is a sign of a new awakening – an awakening that it is difficult to talk about concrete actions and interventions that can lift the world’s poorest out of poverty, in the absence of high quality, timely, relevant and usable data and statistics.

It is important at this point to remind ourselves that the Ministerial Declaration of the 2016 High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development pledged that no one should be left behind, especially the most marginalised people, as we implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. ‘Leave no-one behind (LNOB)’ must now move from paper to a practical reality; our mantra to hold governments across the world to this promise. After all, the Ministers underscored that the 2030 Agenda is people-centered, universal and transformative and that its goals and targets are integrated, indivisible and balance the three dimensions of sustainable development – economic, social and environmental.

There’s a caveat to LNOB. As we focus on marginalised citizens let’s not forget there’s an even higher risk to leave behind a special category of people that hold the real power and resources to quickly do something about the World’s poorest; especially in least developed and developing countries. These are members of parliament, political and economic power brokers, elites that control the political class, and technocrats in powerful government ministries, departments, and agencies that are seldom seen as relevant to mainstream development discourses, but who in real terms control entire economies. There’s no better time to bring them on board and target them with the message of change.

The burden of monitoring and reporting on SDGs lies with national governments, and that of compiling data and statistics with National Statistical Offices (NSOs). We are however, fully aware that due to existential challenges it will be impossible for any of them or any other single body to meet the data requirements needed to populate monitoring frameworks and adequately track progress. We must therefore embrace other data communities in order to harness new sources of data in the National Statistical System (NSS). This will build a more robust and accurate picture of progress at all levels, from local to national. Ensuring a more participatory approach that includes people, communities and diverse sectors is one major way of harnessing new, valuable sources of data.

Citizen-generated data (CGD) is one such source. CGD is data that people or their organisations produce to directly monitor, demand or drive change on issues that affect them. Its data generated by citizens that falls outside the remit of official data for example administrative or civil registration, and statistics gathered from formal government processes like censuses or household surveys. In most cases its production is initiated by citizens or non-state actors through research, social audits, crowd-sourcing online platforms, mobile phone and SMS surveys, phone calls, reports, storytelling, social media, and community radio.

DataShift in partnership with the Open Institute, Chief Francis Kariuki (AKA the Tweeting Chief), and Restless Development Tanzania have been exploring the use of CGD in Kenya and Tanzania. We aim to empower citizens to better understand their development landscape and leverage the SDGs to engage local governments in order to target resources towards their priorities. Our entry point is SDG 5; ‘Achieving gender equality and empowerment of all women and girls’. One of the learnings so far is that CGD is able to convey unique perspectives and reveal issues that may be imperceptible from analysis of other sources of data. Qualitative evidence provided by CGD will be needed to supplement and complement quantitative data, especially that coming from official sources.

We believe creating partnerships at all levels, especially between civil society organisations (CSOs) and National Statistical Offices (NSOs) through the National Statistical System (NSS) will help to fill data gaps, strengthen capacity for data gathering and statistical analysis, raise awareness and encourage knowledge-sharing around the targets and indicators and strengthen advocacy work. Taken together, all of this could help better coordinate efforts around monitoring and tracking on progress on SDGs.

We also hope there will be an opportunity at the WDF to talk about the challenges; challenges that have and continue to plague governments, development partners, civil society, private sector, and academia, among others. It is the only way we can all learn and effectively transform the world’s development and governance discourse over the next 14 years of the Agenda 2030.

Please join us for two these DataShift hosted events at the World Data Forum, where we’ll be exploring how citizen-generated data can contribute to closing data gaps and facilitating the implementation and tracking of progress on SDGs:

Making citizen-generated data work for sustainable development: Incentives, obstacles and the way forward

Day: Monday, 16 January

Time: 17:00 – 18:30

Room: MR2.41

Gender Data: An integrated approach to plugging the gaps with citizen-generated and other data sources to leave no one behind

Day: Wednesday, 18 January

Time: 10:45 – 12:15

Room: MR1.41

Follow our conversations on Twitter @SDGDataShift and #DataShift

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