Counting what we cannot see! A collective effort to counter trafficking in persons in Nepal – the Data Commons

It should not be acceptable in this day and age that we trade in humans, but we brazenly do…

Learning about refugee learning: Five ways to make youth participatory action research work

In Conflict Affected and Fragile States (CAFS), restricted access to facilities, the invisibility of marginalised groups, and general instability is putting young people’s learning at risk. Given these challenges, how can we better understand the learning needs of children and youth in CAFS? Citizen-driven research, such as Youth Participatory Action Research (YPAR), could help clarify […]

Navigating data roadmap processes in Kenya and Tanzania

Evidence shows that civic space in Tanzania and East Africa, in general, is narrowing. In a bid to navigate this, DataShift devised an engagement strategy that targeted National Statistical Offices in Tanzania and Kenya.

We signed up the Tanzanian government to the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data and as a result, a highly successful national data roadmaps workshop sponsored by the GPSDD was held in the country. The key outcome was a multi-stakeholder steering committee that includes civil society to support the domestication, implementation and tracking progress on SDGs. DataShift is a trusted partner of the Tanzania National Bureau of Statistics (TNBS). TNBS has supported a multi-stakeholder process towards the hosting of a national Gender Thematic Forum. Additionally, we are working on a popular version of the Tanzanian Statistics Act to guide civil society that will incorporate guidelines for civil society organisations (CSOs) to improve their citizen-generated data (CGD )collection methodologies, management, and use by policy makers and government decision-makers.

In Kenya our engagements with the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics and the Ministry of Devolution and Planning, as part of the SDGs Kenya Forum have resulted in the invitation of civil society to contribute to the official Kenya Voluntary National Review of the SDGs that will be presented at this year’s High Level Political Forum (HLPF). We have also been instrumental in technically supporting the Office of the Deputy President in Kenya on a national data for SDGs roadmaps process, advocating for civil society inclusion in the SDGs implementation process.

These engagements have opened doors for creating meaningful civil society partnerships and constructive engagements with government on SDGs in Tanzania and Kenya.


Encouraging the use of citizen-generated data for the Sustainable Development Goals in Nepal

by Sara Rodriguez

Incorporating citizen-generated data into any phase of a campaign is one of the best ways to improve the overall campaign and make the message stronger. From the research phase to the justification, to detailing the campaign plan or monitoring the impact of the campaign – the inclusion of accurate and reliable citizen-generated data (CGD) is key for any organisation.

As a core part of the DataShift Direct Support Phase II (DSII) initiative, DataShift is working to motivate civil society organisations (CSOs) in Nepal to create and begin CGD campaigns for monitoring or implementing SDGs in their communities. For this, DataShift is currently working to build the capacity and confidence of four Nepali CSOs to produce and introduce CGD to their campaigns.

The first step of our journey in Nepal, was the creation of “Using citizen-generated data to power campaigns”, a curriculum to guide CSOs through the process of designing, strengthening, monitoring, and evaluating advocacy and awareness campaigns by supporting them with CGD and social media management plans.

The preliminary assessments of each organisation and the resulting adaptation of the material gave us a sense on how could DataShift support and motivate CGD initiatives in Nepal:

  • Bikalpa – An Alternative is a think tank working in Biratnagar (eastern part of Nepal) to promote and spread the ideas of freedom, prosperity, rule of law and accountability through empowering and engaging people. The organisation considered conducting a citizen-perception survey on government services in Biratnagar, to start a campaign related to the matter. The lack of capacity and resources hampering the progress of this idea, was identified by the team as an opportunity to offer personalised support on building the capacity of the organisation to create and implement surveys as well as to analyse and use the data effectively;
  • Visible Impact is a young organisation making efforts in Nepal to unleash the social and economic leadership of girls, women and youth through beneficiary-partnered innovative interventions. They are working on a campaign called “No shame to bleed”, promoting safer and healthier menstruation for girls and women. After the preliminary assessment was conducted, we identified the need of support to conduct research around the issue, as well as support to create briefing materials that would better justify the relevance of the problem they are working on and the suitability of their approach. In this case, CGD was seen as an opportunity to complement the background research and create the briefing materials;
  • Local Interventions Group (LIG) is a non-profit company working with affordable innovation and data-driven solutions for smarter governance in Nepal. LIG is in the preliminary phases to start a project related to human trafficking and technology in Nepal. Several gaps have been identified, thus becoming potential areas for DataShift to support. The lack of background research about the context and the situation of human trafficking in Nepal, as well as a lack of knowledge about best practices and lessons learned from organisations working in this issue in other parts of the world gave us the idea to provide support through a research consultant. DataShift will provide support, as well as design a data plan that will provide LIG the opportunity to interview relevant stakeholders to start testing and knowing possible uses of the platform they are going to create.

After touching base and conducting the preliminary campaign assessments, a workshop was held on 7 November 2016 in Kathmandu, attended by the above-mentioned organisations we are working with, based on the “Using Citizen-Generated Data to Power Campaigns” curriculum. The objectives of the workshop included:

  • Introducing the DataShift project and it’s goals
  • Developing an understanding of the value of advocacy campaigns in reaching the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
  • Learning how data can add value to advocacy campaigns
  • Creating a strong, structured campaign objective
  • Learning tips on using social media for campaigns
  • Designing a targeted, individualised direct support for one aspect of the organisation’s advocacy campaign.

The workshop was a great opportunity for organisations to share their campaigns, experiences and needs. The level of knowledge about the discussed topics was very high, therefore the contents of the workshop had to be constantly adapted to the discussions, while keeping an eye on the main objectives. Sessions such as, “Learning how data can add value to advocacy campaigns” were shared as examples. Providing examples of different campaigns collecting and using data for advocacy, was highly appreciated by the attendees.  As a result, we had the opportunity to explore deeper possibilities for synergies between DataShift and each participant CSO, allowing us to better define the potential direct support to be provided to each organisation.

The time limitations and the nature of the offered direct support which required hiring specialised consultants and coordinating the processes with different organisations, together with the nature of change and adaptability of such a project, lead to problems related to communications and expectations between DataShift, the implementing partner in Nepal, and the participant CSOs. The response to the processes and communications from different organisations and consultants was completely different, with different speeds and challenges. While the remote survey-related consultancy was a success, we faced many challenges at first when it came to the research consultant. With a consultant placed in the United States, available to work only when it was late in the evening in Nepal and when the consistency in the communications was very limited – communication between the consultant and the CSOs in Nepal was highly limited. However, once the remote research was replaced with one with more flexible hours and more responsive communication, the remote research went very well.

The fact that the project changed its direction soon after it started (to offer a better support to the CSOs after the assessments and testing the curriculum) generated confusion and lack of interest among the participant CSOs. Dedicating more time with the implementing partner at the beginning of the project to discuss the possible routes and requirements of the project is needed, especially when different organisations are involved.

Adaptive support when working on capacity building is the best way to success but it is not enough. The adaptability has to be accompanied by a coherent plan, effective communications and a proper management of expectations. Having the chance to be part of a space full of leaders with exceptional ideas focused on improving the reality through citizens-driven campaigns is something unique. I believe the support from DataShift will strengthen the capacities of the CSOs, as well as help us understand and learn more about best practices related to CDGs and SDGs.

Data Literacy is Only Half the Battle

by Ryan Winch

Discussions of data literacy permeate many of the conversations surrounding big data and the data revolution taking place today. Debates abound about what data literacy entails, who needs to be data literate and what it will take to increase data literacy worldwide. While these are all worthwhile debates, what often seems to get lost in these discussions is how to convince both individuals and civil society organisations (CSOs) that learning about and actively integrating data into their work is worthwhile. Accordingly, for all those who attended the World Data Forum from 15 – 18 January in Cape Town, South Africa, it is essential to move discussions beyond how to increase data literacy and to actively incorporate a focus about how to build enthusiasm within CSOs around working with data.    

It’s increasingly clear that data literacy is essential for CSOs in the 21st century. Data, in its many forms, can allow organisations to use their resources more efficiently, increase programme efficacy and develop greater understandings of the contexts in which these programmes operate. Despite these benefits, the fact remains that knowledge of how to work with data, the amount of experience CSOs have using it and their willingness (or reluctance) to increasingly incorporate data into their work are often not closely correlated.  This observation is supported by the DataShift team’s experience providing direct support to CSOs, where we have found that many data literate CSOs regularly choose not to work with data, while at the same time many CSOs with lower capacities are producing data heavy reports and literature.

What’s driving this phenomenon is a lack of enthusiasm for working with data. Even amongst those knowledgeable about how to work with data, it’s often seen as either boring, or as a distraction from “real” work such as project management, campaigning or grant writing. Changing this perception towards one where data is seen as a core part of all work will therefore be an essential step to ensuring widespread “data mainstreaming” amongst CSOs in the coming years.

From our experience, this disconnect between data literacy and willingness to voluntarily integrate data into programming is derived from two main sources:

  1. Training courses aren’t applied.  Students, professionals and organisations often take statistics courses or attend monitoring and evaluation (M&E) training sessions which may explain how to design a survey, how to work with SPSS or how to visualise data effectively, but which fail to explain in clear terms how using these tools actually improves project outcomes. How can data reduce child marriage rates? How can deforestation be reduced using data? Too often CSOs fail to see how data can answer these questions and thus, while they know how to use data related tools effectively, they don’t choose to expend their limited time and manpower collecting and analysing data.   
  2. Data is seen as a donor requirement.  Many organisations only work with data when it is requested by donors. Donors today almost always request quantitative accounting of projects’ successes and failures. This means that for many organisations their first experiences with data have been collecting data for donor reports. M&E of programmes soon becomes seen as a chore rather than a potential avenue through which to consistently evaluate and improve programming. This donor-driven process thereby frames data in a way where, while it is seen as an effective avenue to impressing donors and obtaining funding, it isn’t directly connected to the goals of improving programme quality. The result is many CSOs to only choose to work with data when asked to by their donors.  

On the flipside of this situation, it’s also common for CSOs with little experience working with data to be asked by their donors to supply demanding quantitative evaluations of the projects being funded. This leads to low quality, slapdash data being included in reports and publications, providing little value to donors or CSOs. This process is frustrating for CSOs, who can feel coerced into collecting and analysing data they are unprepared to work with. Through forcing data onto these CSOs it saps any enthusiasm these organisations may have had to work with data and leaves them with little understanding of its value. 

Even within the low capacity CSOs which remain enthused about working with data, DataShift has found that asking CSOs to work with data prematurely entrenches poor methodologies, creating habits that are difficult to break even after training or capacity building efforts that may (or may not) be provided later on. It also, and perhaps most distressingly, leads to reports making recommendations or reaching conclusions that are either untrue or that remain unproven. As a result, this improperly used data may actually be fueling inefficiencies and slowing efforts to drive positive change.

This has significant implications for how data needs to be presented to students and trainees, as it shows that simply building data literacy often isn’t enough. CSO’s first experiences with data need to be positive ones and they have to incorporate applied content that allows organisations to see the connections between data and their work. Furthermore, effective training or capacity building efforts need to include a clear marketing element, working to promote all the benefits organisations can reap through engaging with data so that the benefits of working with data become just as clear as the costs (such as staff hours and training).

This certainly isn’t to say that all CSOs have a negative opinion of data, that is certainly not the case.  What it is saying though, is that too often the way that CSOs are introduced to data is the wrong way.  If widespread use of data amongst CSOs is the goal, this trend is alarming as it means that a significant number of the efforts to increase data usage by CSOs are being done in an inefficient, possibly unsustainable manner. Fortunately, the solution isn’t backing off data, or suggesting that data-light training is necessary –  in fact doubling down on data, discussing it more often with partners and focusing on how these discussions of data are framed will be the key to increasing enthusiasm around working with data.  

It is thus essential that discussions of data need to expand their focus beyond the goal of building data literacy. A focus from those running data trainings, and from donors requesting quantitative reporting, on how data can be used to improve projects, as well as efforts to frame data as something essential and productive, rather than a laborious chore, is essential to increasing the number of CSOs choosing to work with data when they’re not required to, and to encourage them to use these data in productive, innovative ways beyond the specific M&E role they also may use it in.

The project I’m currently working on, DataShift, is working hard to overcome this disconnect.  Through our innovative direct support process, we’re able to implement a two-week direct support process that builds data literacy, while also building enthusiasm about working with data. Our training ensure that partner CSOs are engaged throughout the process and are customised to partner’s specific circumstances, so our training sessions and activities can be as applied as possible.  Specifically, we’re working to build enthusiasm though:  

  • Building Relationships – Our direct support consultants take the time to get to know the partner CSO’s we’re supporting.  Through making the process as personal and interactive as possible, partner organisations are able to feel comfortable asking questions, departing from the set curriculum to discuss other potential applications of data and taking their time to ensure all subjects are understood completely.  Most importantly, we’ve found having training run by those enthusiastic about data themselves allows the enthusiasm to rub off, creating an environment where growing enthusiastic about working with data is easy.  
  • Focusing on Applications – All units of our direct support curriculum allow for customisation, allowing topics to be applied directly to the work of the partner organisation.  Our curriculum centers around one specific advocacy project throughout, allowing partner CSOs to see how data can help them reach their goals through it becoming a core part of an effective advocacy campaign. Our units are flexible enough though that they also ensure partners see how data can improve their organisations other programming as well, making it easier for them to choose to integrate data into these aspects of their work.  
  • Collaboration & Networking Building – We work to connect our partners with other organisations using data in similar ways, especially those implementing similar projects. This process allows organisations to build off of each other’s experiences and ensures that once the direct support process ends, partners will continue to have avenues through which to engage with data focused programming.   

While the long-term results of the two-week direct support curriculum remain to be seen, DataShift is taking the important first step towards bridging the data enthusiasm gap. Data has the potential to unleash positive change in a way no one could have anticipated a generation ago, but this will only happen if CSOs have both the knowledge and the desire to engage with it. That’s why we see actively communicating the value of data as an essential step to ensuring data lives up to its potential. Our hope is that this focus extends beyond our programme and that all will work alongside us to build enthusiasm about data. Together, we can make data education both engaging and informative, allowing data’s true potential to be realised in the years ahead.  

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.   

Poopoozap: a Citizen-Generated Data project for achieving transformation in Rio de Janeiro’s favelas

by Vitor Mihessen and Inés Gortari, Casa Fluminense and Gilberto Vieira, data_labe 

At the end of 2016, we at Casa Fluminense and data_labe began to design a project together – Poopoozap. This partnership was kickstarted after winning the first DataShift Community Seed Funding Challenge, organised by CIVICUS. Our winning proposal combined two global concepts – citizen-generated data (CGD) and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), by creating a communication channel to denounce, debate and propose solutions for achieving basic sanitation, based on participative maps on waste collection and sewage in favelas and urban peripheries in metropolitan Rio de Janeiro.

The “data revolution” we propose is based on local inhabitants’ commitment and capacity to advocate for public policies. Through WhatsApp, they will be able to send us videos and photos in order for us to locate and make visible the daily challenges of unequal access to public services and infrastructure. Based on the data generated we will create new narratives around the topic, illustrated with infographics, videos and articles. This whole process will include young communicators from low-income areas by involving them in capacity-building workshops and mobilisation initiatives with local organisations from Rio’s favelas.

We believe that through collaborative, horizontal and easily replicable processes, we can construct honest data that better reflects the true state of sanitation in Rio’s favelas in contrast to so-called official indicators used by public authorities. According to the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE in Portuguese), 90% of residences in Rio de Janeiro Metropolitan Region have waste collection and sewage treatment. We know that this is not true. Citizen-generated data can contribute towards creating legitimate solutions, based on evidence provided precisely by those who experience the poor conditions the official data fails to show.

Civic engagement is crucial to fight for public policies that are more representative and inclusive and that these are elaborated in more integrated and participative ways. “Citizen-generated data” refers to information produced by people and organisations to monitor demand and promote transformations on issues that affect them. Projects aiming for social transformation can be bolstered by crowdsourcing mechanisms or communication initiatives such as this one, taking advantage of the strong ties civil society groups have with local communities.

Without a doubt, constructing databases using information from people’s day-to-day lives is a recent phenomenon that is gaining worldwide momentum. Firstly, because these databases are easy to “feed” from the daily activities that people engage in and who are not always aware of wider political contexts that affect their socio-economic wellbeing. Secondly, and better still, because such databases can activate people’s participation and can raise their awareness on the importance of establishing a culture of monitoring, they can thereby foster more participative democracies.

Given this context, the pilot project Poopoozap will be implemented along the Cunha Channel, where the favela complex of Maré is located, one of the biggest in Rio de Janeiro. It is located between Rio’s international airport and the Federal University (UFRJ), yet its socioeconomic indicators are much lower than the people who frequent these two other areas. The idea is for this project to inspire new solutions for old challenges, by focussing on basic sanitation, but aiming for the sustainable development of the area as a whole.

Let us not forget that our city hosted two United Nations Conferences, Earth Summit in 1992, and, 20 years later, Rio+20 which was where the seeds for Agenda 2030 were sown. Yet we have not yet been effectively monitoring its implementation. We need to become involved in this supra-party discussion and we firmly believe that this will only be possible by including the population in a wide-ranging and transparent manner.

We will use the citizen-generated data to press for policies that are targeted at citizens in their diversity, paying special attention to and guaranteeing the full rights of those who have historically been left behind. However, to realise this vision, our proposal is looking for partners. All types of support are welcome, whether it is building the data and narratives platform, or contributing to the maintenance of the youths’ capacity-building activities, or even suggesting potential partners. We are counting on the DataShift Community and wider data for development network so would be thrilled to hear from you.


Vitor Mihessen, Casa Fluminense:

Inés Gortari, Casa Fluminense,

Gilberto Vieira, data_labe: 

Global Gender Thematic Forum

In recent months, DataShift activities have involved convening a series of national dialogues on the state of gender data in each of the DataShift pilot countries (Kenya, Argentina, Nepal and Tanzania), with a view to identifying the challenges and opportunities around using citizen-generated data as part of an integrated, multi-stakeholder approach to facilitating engagement, spurring action, and monitoring progress on SDG 5. In order to share and build upon the diverse experiences and ideas that emerged from the national dialogues, DataShift convened a Global Gender Thematic Forum in December 2016, bringing together a small group of gender data practitioners from these countries, along with a number of other international experts, working on issues from digital literacy, to statistics, to the empowerment of women, to ‘mutually reinforcing’ global advocacy activities. The event sought to take an in-depth look at the possibilities and barriers for improving the coherence of civil society data and CGD on gender, exploring in particular issues of credibility via topics such as methodological rigour and responsible data use, with a view to identifying practical steps to overcoming such challenges.  In the report, “Exploring the Global Coverage, Credibility and Complementarity of Civil Society Data and Citizen-Generated Data on Gender Issues, we identify the challenges and opportunities around using CGD as part of an integrated, multi-stakeholder approach to spurring action and monitoring progress on SDG 5.

Nepal Gender Thematic Forum

DataShift has convened a series of national dialogues on the state of gender data in Kenya, Argentina, Nepal and Tanzania, with a view to identifying the challenges and opportunities around using citizen-generated data as part of an integrated, multi-stakeholder approach to facilitating engagement, spurring action, and monitoring progress on SDG 5. The Nepal Gender Thematic Forum was a huge success with more than 70 participants from diverse sectors including, governmental and bilateral organisations, academia, media INGOs, NGOs and CSOs. From the civil society, representation from indigenous community, gender and gender minorities, grassroots groups, child rights groups, women’s rights organisations, Dalit organisations, etc. were present in the room. The first half of the meeting had two expert panels representing different stakeholders, followed by interactive sessions among the participants through group work. Read the full report.

Citizen-generated data for campaigning

From July to December 2016, we worked with 18 organisations in Argentina, Kenya, Tanzania and Nepal to create and pilot training on using citizen-generated data for campaigning towards implementing and monitoring the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Different approaches to the training were used, including; developing a CGD campaign training manual (translated and adapted for the country), workshops, an intense two-day camp with experts, providing financial assistance for CGD campaigns, and structured support with an online DataShift consultant. All the approaches had their strengths and their weakness, however, success in every case was mostly attributed to the relationship between the civil society organisations (CSOs), DataShift and the training materials. Learn more about the approaches used to implement our second phase of direct support.