Walking the walk: the DataShift’s direct support activities

In this blog post, we give an overview of our pilot project to provide direct support to organisations working with citizen-generated data.

Since its launch in 2014, the DataShift has been building support, convening like-minded groups and providing conceptual frameworks to help imagine what the data revolution might look like from a citizen-led perspective.

We truly believe that the DataShift should also provide direct support to citizen-generated data projects to improve their quality; make them easier to develop and implement; and provide structure to help civil society contribute to monitoring the Sustainable Development Goals.

In this six-month pilot spanning June through December 2015, we will provide direct support to organizations in Argentina, Nepal, Tanzania and Kenya, helping to improve the way their citizen-generated data projects are planned and implemented. This support will include mentorship, providing resources, peer exchange and technical support – according to the needs of the organisation in question.

Recognising country differences

In the long term, the DataShift aims to offer a set of direct support options on a global level – so this support needs to be malleable enough to fit a range of local contexts. The three pilot locations (Argentina, Nepal and Kenya+Tanzania) were chosen because they have wide differences in NGO community set-up, relations between government and civil society, data literacy, and internet and mobile penetration.

Focus on concrete support

In the past, the DataShift project has spent a lot of time convening practitioners, NGOs and experts to discuss overall project goals, how citizen-generated data can be used to monitor progress on the SDGs, and how to build relationships between like-minded individuals and groups. While this type of activity is crucial and will continue, in-country activities will focus resources on concrete implementation rather than building consensus. This will also enable the DataShift to decide the shape of future activities based on practical experiences.

Time and resource constraints

The pilot has a very limited amount of time to produce clear results. Time (and budget) constraints will determine which partners the DataShift can support, and what kind of support it can provide. That said, we will also support longer-term processes that continue beyond the project deadline if they fit particularly well with the DataShift’s overall goals.

Projects, not organisations

The DataShift is obviously keen to create strong, lasting partnerships with organisations working with citizen-generated data. However, in-country activities will take a “project-first” approach: partners will be chosen according to how well the DataShift could support their specific projects, rather than the organisation’s overall goals, track record or position within the NGO community.
Of course, some criteria will be important during the selection phase. In particular, we’ll be thinking about organisations’ funding models (to ensure that resources go to projects that need them most) and their “tech culture” (or their willingness and ability to tackle the big cultural shift involved in making data and technology a fundamental aspect of their work).

It’s a pilot

While we plan to deliver the best support possible – and hope that our country activities will be at once meaningful, appropriate, and useful – we recognise that our plans include many unknowns and assumptions. This pilot project considers failures, difficulties and off-the-mark implementation to be as important as successful engagement. These lessons will help DataShift to fully understand its role as a practical support provider, uncover blind spots and improve our plans to provide support in the future.

Sharing transparently

The other half of the Datashift coin is the Learning Zone: which shares learnings, original research, and resources on using citizen-generated data (read more about the Zone here). The Learning Zone and country activities are closely knitted together: we want to document all activities comprehensively and transparently, and give other organisations and practitioners a useful overview of our learnings.