Ugandans face many obstacles when seeking medical attention during pregnancy and delivery, and reasons why can vary based on which statistics you reference. And those statistics feel far removed from the actual people they are supposed to represent. Africa’s Voices wanted a more human understanding of the situation, so they asked affected people directly for their perceptions on the obstacles.
Next, they categorised those opinions into four themes. They presented their findings, including actual quotes from the affected people around the four themes. However, similar to statistics, they still felt their presentation needed to be more human. The speakers’ voices were lost.
They needed to figure out how they could humanise rigorous data to paint pictures and tell stories, yet protect the people who have generously contributed their voices.
What began as a three-year research project in the University of Cambridge; Africa’s Voices grew into a social enterprise with a communications platform for non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and media organisations in East Africa to share opinions, beliefs, and attitudes around different topics, which Africa’s Voices then used to inform programmes and decisions. Previous research topics include oil and gas extraction and tax justice in Kenya, health issues in Somalia, and maternal health in Uganda.
Africa’s Voices has been making data-driven decisions for years; but as the organisation and their data has grown, their challenges became more nuanced in their potential for both positive and negative impact.
They’d amassed a huge amount of personal information from multiple stakeholders, and like them, few or none have data protection policies in place. Without proper protection, that personal information is susceptible to misuse which could endanger the very people they work with and any associated projects.
They also wanted to humanise their data: still present it comprehensively but preserve the human voices behind it without getting too abstract. More powerful and relatable presentations would strengthen their social change impact.
DataShift worked with Africa’s Voices on two fronts: data protection and effective presentation. Together we built their capacity to create a data protection framework and a manual of best practices in data protection, and with the help of a data journalist, we learned how to turn data insights into stories.
We also tapped into The Engine Room to support the creation of their data protection policy, starting first with a guide based on the resource “The Hand-Book of The Modern Development Specialist“, developed by the Responsible Data community. The Engine Room team conducted interviews with Africa’s Voices staff and collaborators, and developed an operationalisation document for their responsible data policies.
The data journalist helped Africa’s Voices explore creative data visualisation and identify potential data presentation projects to meet their goals.
The lessons learned
Systemising data protection was a game-changer for Africa’s Voices and created organisation-wide change. They found The Engine Room’s support, in both the guidebook and their open door policy for answering questions, crucial for keeping their new systematic approach to data risks and threats.
Africa’s Voices made their new understanding of humanised data a part of their organisational culture around which they would build their processes and narratives moving forward.
Africa’s Voices understands they’re not alone in these struggles, and they also found it interesting to learn how others have approached similar challenges with different strategies and different risks.
Africa’s Voices is now a voice in systematic data protection, participating in sessions at the University of Cambridge, and asking questions around technicalities they weren’t previously able to see. As their knowledge and skills strengthen, they’ll spread their learnings with stakeholders across their network.
Understanding the value of data visualisation and how to make it work for them, they hired a consultant to give it the attention it deserves.
Our work together has helped Africa’s Voices better achieve its core mission: protect people and amplify their voices.