The Power of Participatory Methods in Collecting Actionable Data

Often data is collected without an understanding of citizens’ everyday experiences nor is designed to meaningfully involve citizens in reflection and collective action. This motivates Kinara for Youth Evolution, as a civil society organisation working at the grassroots, to help fill those gaps and to empower citizens to build their own capacities to contribute to progress on the SDGs in their communities. Kinara is working with CIVICUS and the DataShift initiative to learn about the process of using a participatory workshop approach to collect data on the indicator questions for SDG 16.7.2, but the approach is applicable to many SDGs.


Based on our experience, we found the following elements to be critical for successfully collecting and using data generated in a community-based participatory approach.

  1. Use your trusted relationships. Kinara works with different groups in the community through ongoing projects, for example, Strength of Mothers which we formed to educate their fellow mothers about teenage pregnancy and our team of youth Community Change Agents for water data collection and advocacy. We ran the workshop with these groups first. We found that the trust and good faith built through our interaction in their projects lead to more open and in-depth discussions. This is especially true when asking people questions about a sensitive topic such as the government where it can be difficult otherwise to have people from unfamiliar groups speak freely. Participants from our own groups were also able to connect the SDG questions to our ongoing work together.
  2. Always ask for consent. We always ask for permission before starting data collection including stating why we are asking and how the information will be used. This helps to make our participants feel ready and safe to provide their information. For our organisation’s safety, we gain the consent of the local government authority to do this work through the proper levels from Municipal to Ward to Street.
  3. Data sharing and analysis builds understanding. The steps of collecting each other’s data in pairs, sharing the pair’s data in groups of four and then analyzing the quartet’s data for similarities and differences progressively built each participant’s comfort level and confidence working with the topic. Through this process, they were able to verify their understanding of the topic with other participants (and Kinara facilitators when needed), including clarifying terms and meanings. By the time of the large group discussion, participants were freely debating about the issues and proposing possible solutions.
  4. Who asks who makes a difference! Giving participants the opportunity to ask each other questions gave them the freedom and helped build their confidence in explaining the question as an interviewer. It gave them the responsibility and need to understand, raised their interest level in discovering how others experience the specific issue and made them feel valued as contributors to the solution. “I didn’t expect that I would get the opportunity to speak to the community about the government during the workshop.” – Workshop participant.
Figure 1: Strength of Mothers members interviewing each other during participatory workshop.

5. The power of Why? We found that the most useful question for data insight is: “Why do the people in the room have this experience?” It gives participants the chance to express themselves more, to reflect on the essence of the problem in more detail, to “put to light” their challenges, and asks them to measure the relative weight of the reasons put forth. For example, our mothers’ group agreed that the lower status of women from traditions and customs makes it difficult for many women to participate in decision-making processes. Our youth group agreed that upbringing, age, appearance, and education all contributed to a lack of confidence in decision-making.

6. The One Next Step.  The solution was framed to be something that could be done on their own, a realistic and actionable “one next step”. Indeed, the Why’s led directly to the design of the solution. The mothers’ group suggested teaching gender equality and leadership starting at local primary schools. The youth group decided to practice their advocacy skills starting with a current street-level issue, the reduction of garbage collection fees. We made this more practical by asking them to dramatize their advocacy, to create a story of what they could do next, and then provided constructive feedback.

The participatory process of data collection was shown to be valuable for both the empowerment of participants, the quality of the data, and for resulting stories and solutions. First, participants learn skills in active listening and group data analysis, discover common (or different) experiences of a specific issue among their peers, and feel valued as contributors to their own development. Second, the data generated has deeper insights, resulting from the analysis process as well as the power of the Why question. The combination of the two benefits is the start of a transformative mindset of citizens finding solutions, using their own data insights, and leading directly to a collective next step.

Kinara for Youth Evolution is working with CIVICUS DataShift and FabRiders to learn about the process to measure inclusive and responsive decision-making (SDG 16.7.2) using a participatory workshop approach with members of our community. We are a youth-led grassroots NGO based in Morogoro, Tanzania, empowering youth to create change for themselves and in their communities through programs in Sexual Reproductive Health and Gender, Livelihoods, Education, and Citizen Data for Advocacy.

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