Translating SDG 16 Indicator Questions to Swahili

Civil society has an important role to play in filling the gap and adding context for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) indicator data. According to the UN Stats Division, SDG 16 Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions has no data available for 12 of its 23 indicators. Therefore, Kinara for Youth Evolution is working with CIVICUS and the DataShift initiative to gather missing information about the process of collecting data, specifically for SDG target 16.7, ensure responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making at all levels, and its indicator 16.7.2, the proportion of the population who believe decision-making is inclusive and responsive by sex, age, disability and population group. We shall employ a participatory workshop with local community groups in Morogoro, Tanzania.


As Kinara staff, our first big task was to sit together as a group and translate the workshop survey, starting with the two SDG 16.7.2 indicator questions:

  1. How confident are you in your own ability to participate in politics?
  2. How much would you say the political system allows people like you to have a say in what the government does?

To our surprise, the entire afternoon was spent in a heated discussion about our own varying interpretations of the Swahili word for politics or “siasa” and how it can be taken by our fellow Tanzanian citizens. We realized that this would require more than a simple direct translation.

  1. Clarify the SDG indicator’s intention. We discussed what inclusive and responsive decision-making should mean in the Tanzanian context. We agreed on citizens’ participation or “ushiriki” and the government’s willingness to meaningfully involve citizens or “ushirikishwaji” in its decisions that affect people’s lives, in the context of a policy of decentralization down to citizens at the street level.
  1. Back translation and cognitive testing. We individually translated the questions from English to Swahili and then back to English to check for initial errors and correct meanings of words. We then did cognitive testing among the group, especially to discuss whether “politics” would fit the indicator’s intention, and also be commonly understood by the community. As we each came with different possible meanings, we decided to do more research.
  1. Online research. We searched online forums, including the popular Jamii Forums, and found different perceptions of “politics” in Tanzania including: confrontational multiparty politics, false promises during election campaigns, and generally persuasion for personal benefit and power. Others called it a “dirty game”, citing occurrences of politically motivated violence.
  2. Community consultations Then we connected with the community via our WhatsApp groups and face to face conversations to test the word “politics” and whether it may be compared to decision-making in government and if not, asked for an alternative word. We spoke to a mix of people: our neighbors, motorcycle drivers on the road, and some of our local government leaders. Only 8 out of 24 respondents, or 33%, said yes: the word “politics” and decision-making can fit. Reasons given included that politicians, once elected, become government leaders and make decisions. However, 16 out of 24 respondents, or 67%, said no: the word “politics” and decision-making do not fit, mostly differentiating between party politics only for the purpose of gaining or staying in power and proper government decision-making that represents all citizens. Alternative words included leadership, debate, and administration. We also sensed a fear of answering a question whenever the term “politics” is mentioned.
  1. Group decision. As there were no alternative words that were common among respondents, this led us back to the indicator’s intention and we decided that the phrase “governmental decisions” or “maamuzi ya kiserikali” would fit best and also have a neutralized common understanding among the majority of citizens.

It is very important to discuss the survey question as a research team and test the questions to a small community sample in order to get more insight before starting on collecting data because some words may not have the intended common understanding to the targeted population. Otherwise, there is a risk of missing the intended purpose of the SDG target and indicator, resulting in gathering the wrong data, or even not being able to gather data at all because of the sensitivity of a word.


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 and Advocacy.

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *