The key to building CSO confidence working with CGD

by Ryan Winch

When working with citizen-generated data (CGD), there’s one hurdle many civil society organisations (CSOs) struggle to overcome. This hurdle holds back many CSOs from generating, analysing and communicating CGD in a meaningful way, even though in some cases they may already have many of the skills they need to do so.  The hurdle: confidence.  

Fortunately, based on our experiences providing direct support to CSOs in Tanzania, we’ve found there’s one method for building this confidence that is more powerful than any other – learning through doing.  Nothing else can impart confidence like having done something before, overcoming challenges along the way and seeing the positive results that result from this process. Working with CGD is no exception.  

In my experience, organisations shy away from work they are not completely confident they can do correctly – working with data often falls into this category. Many of us have been in this situation before. When making decisions such as what the focus of an upcoming report will be, deciding whether to include certain data in a grant proposal or report or determining whether new advocacy campaigns should integrate CGD components, it is easy to decide to exclude data and take the ‘easy’ route of leaving it out. On the other hand, organisations that are confident in their ability to collect and analyse data won’t see the inclusion of CGD as a difficulty, rather they’ll see it for what it is: an integral tool in their toolbox; one that can make new projects and applications for funding significantly more successful, while at the same time working to make their CSO part of a growing international network using and sharing CDG and related resources.

So how do we get CSOs to the point where they have this confidence, a point where the decision to include CGD in their work has become nearly automatic? The key, we have found, is learning through doing, often known as experiential learning. Through providing opportunities to work with data in real-world situations and through ensuring CSOs receive constructive feedback throughout this process, CSOs can quickly gain confidence working with data, while at the same time improving their knowledge of how to integrate CGD effectively into their programmes. This is a process I have seen first-hand and a process which DataShift is working to facilitate for our partners.

One case that has clearly demonstrated the value of learning through doing has been our direct support with a partner organisation in Tanzania who was looking to launch a new advocacy campaign. Before launching this campaign, they needed reliable CGD to identify and narrow their target audience and messaging for the campaign. Together we developed an initial survey, going back and forth until our third draft, when we both agreed we had a workable survey.  

I suggested that at this point they conduct a small pilot of the survey, so they could gain experience administering surveys, while also working to flesh out any issues with the survey we had designed. I was pleasantly surprised with what they returned with. Not only had they administered more surveys than we had initially discussed, they came to our next meeting with a series of suggestions for improving the survey and insights about how they could better administer surveys in the future.

One major challenge they brought to the meeting was that respondents were consistently expecting money in exchange for their participation. They had initially grown frustrated with this ,but decided that at the beginning of each survey they would explain to respondents the value of the information it would generate and how respondent’s participation would benefit their community as a whole. Once they began doing this, the change was immediate. Respondents began to consistently agree to participate and questions about money largely stopped.  

During our meeting we discussed this lesson, as well as a number of others they brought to the table and together we determined how these lessons could be incorporated into the survey going forward. As a result, the organisation now has a field-tested survey that they know will work and this learning took place only because they got out into the field. Even better, following this process, they were excited to make these changes and to get out into the field again to conduct the improved survey.   

While this was a great success it’s important to note that experience looks different to different organisations and must be customised based on their current capacity, their topical focus and the eventual goals of each organisation. Learning through doing though, however this takes shape, is the fastest and most effective way of building confidence within CSOs to generate CGD and to get them excited to continue working with it going forward.

Direct support therefore, should be just that: support. It should work by providing the tools and filling the gaps necessary to get organisations to the point where experiential learning is possible. Once at this point, if our experiences in Tanzania are any indication, CSOs capacity to work with CGD and their confidence in doing so will grow exponentially. To others looking at similar capacity building projects, our experiences indicate an emphasis on learning by doing is a must.   

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