Helping citizen-generated data projects in Argentina move from an idea to action

By Simone Ritzer, Wingu

In a world of seven billion people, we know citizen-generated data has the potential to have a big impact. But in order to translate the potential into action, projects often need a little support from others with specific expertise.  As part of the DataShift and Desarollando América Latina 2015 initiatives, Wingu is working with six citizen-genereated data initiatives in Argentina by helping them take their project ideas to a viable product. . In this blog post, we wanted to share our process and what we’ve learned so far.

From a wild idea…

To help these six projects move from wild ideas to concrete plans and the implementation of a prototype product, Wingu is providing mentorship, resources, peer exchange and technical support. Over a three month period, Wingu will help each project clearly define their target group, work out a ‘minimum viable product’, test their approach and finally develop the actual product. Whether this is in the form of a mobile app or an internet based platform, each product will be centred around the collection and sharing of citizen-generated data.

During Wingu’s initial discussions with the project founders the wild ideas became even wilder, exploring big questions like “what is the potential of every project” and “how far can it reach?” Many ideas filled many whiteboards, before each project was required to whittle these down and come up with a minimum viable product. It was at this point that the project founders were able to see the enormous potential of this work’s impact on society, the environment and other organisations, with the minimum viable product being just the starting point.

… to a minimum viable product

To explain the process that followed, let’s look at one of the projects: Fundación Alameda. This project wants to enable citizens to anonymously report certain crimes like drug dealing, prostitution and slave labour to better understand their presence across the neighbourhoods of Buenos Aires. The people reporting these crimes could then be able to add photos or other details like geolocation. All this information could then be visualised to make it actually usable, whether being directly fed into government agencies or by neighbourhood groups.

We know that the technology makes this possible in theory, but what’s needed to make it happen in practice? The founders of the project are therefore trying to answer questions like: which types of people are most likely to report these sorts of crime, how much information are they willing to share and how would they go about submitting this information? For example, would a mobile application or a website be best? Only with this information can the minimum viable product be developed in a way which fulfills the needs of the user. Further feedback can then be gathered by testing the product with a view to creating an improved final product further down the line.

The scope and potential impact of citizen-generated data

So once citizens can provide their perspectives on an issue and others can look at this information in a clear, visualised way, what happens next? Another project, building a review site for health institutions in Buenos Aires hopes to spur poor performing clinics to improve their services by enabling patients to use this data to make more informed choices about which ones to visit. This will therefore see citizen-generated data actually spur action and having an impact. Or in other words, begin to reach its full potential.

Other projects Wingu is supporting include:

  • improving early warning systems for detecting cancer;
  • reporting foul play in protected nature reserves; and
  • developing an alarm to inform people in high-risk flood areas of imminent danger.

The flood alarm uses information gathered by high-tech instruments but is supplemented by the experiences of people living in these areas and shows just how powerful citizen-generated data can be – something that can save lives. Wingu is also helping a more cross-cutting project called IMPACT, aiming to develop a standardised tool for social organisations to measure their influence and effectiveness and will therefore be relevant to multiple projects across Argentina and beyond.

The guidance

Wingu is supporting these projects on their journey from wild idea, to minimum viable product and prototype through activities such as team and task planning, technical support for product development, and help with better understanding their prospective users. What’s more, while all projects had a clear idea of the data they wanted to generate, they were often much less clear about how to actually leverage this from citizens. The cancer detection project, for example, understood that highly detailed information from patients is the key for effective early warning systems, therefore Wingu helped them get into the mind of prospective patients to create surveys which ask the right sort of questions.

The development of all of these projects is an an ongoing, evolving process that is improving day by day. And with all the experiences we gain from these three months we aim to further fine-tune the support we can give citizen-generated data initiatives at the early development stage and continue to help more and more projects across the country. Through our efforts and those of others working on this agenda across the world, we will hopefully be a little closer to realising the full potential of data generated by seven billion people.