This article is written by the engine room’s Tin Geber and was originally published on the engine room blog. Tin coordinates the DataShift’s in-country direct support to help civil society organizations improve the planning and implementation of their citizen-generated data initiatives.
What do you get when you put Kenyans, Tanzanians, Argentinians, Nepalis, Croatians, Canadians, British, North Americans, Romanians, Mexicans, Peruvians, and Brazilians in a room to discuss citizen-generated data for two days — apart from the worst joke setup ever?
In the last week of April 2016, engine roomers Anca Matioc and Tin Geber travelled to Bogota, Colombia to helm La Reunion, a workshop to reflect on the DataShift program’s work so far, participate in the International Civil Society Week, and drink some of the best coffee in the world.
We asked 25 DataShift partners from more than 15 countries how citizen-generated data can be used to monitor progress on the 16 Global Goals. We are happy to announce that we don’t have an answer to this question — but we do have a pretty solid idea of how to get there. Here’s what we learned:
The Global Goals don’t connect to the real world easily
The biggest challenge we found was connecting the Global Goals concept with the work done by the NGOs on the ground. Our participants fear the ‘Goals’ agenda might be too elusive and high-level to be practically useful for shaping their work. It doesn’t help that indicators have still not been finalized. Another risk is that grassroots organisations might be doing too good of a job: what if there is a clash between what they consider meaningful, and what Global Goals are measuring?
The challenges are many
Probably the most important session was on understanding the challenges citizen-generated data initiatives face. We know working with data is already hard: adding Global Goals into the mix raises the complexity to 11. How can we really understand these challenges? How do they cut across a huge array of issues, geographic and cultural peculiarities, at such a massive scale?
Well…we decided to ask the people who know best.
The participants’ comments encapsulated this variety, and there were some common themes. They often mentioned difficulties in aligning methods, ensuring representation, and building strong partnerships. On the more practical side, funding as well as capacity building had a strong presence.
The approach works – but it needs to grow
The presentations of our partners’ work showed that the data revolution is happening, and it’s more than just hype. Civil society has the means and the chance to contribute quantitative and qualitative data to the Global Goals narrative.
But it’s not that simple. We are at a very early stage of making the link between grassroots projects — with their own focus and agendas — and the larger picture of national and international monitoring. The DataShift program can’t provide enough support for the dramatic shift in global civil society’s capacity and approach that is needed by itself. Still, it does suggest a strong, practical way forward.
Community is key. This one is a no-brainer, and the most exciting result of the event. Seeing such a mixed and varied group from dramatically different contexts and cultures slide easily into collaborating confirms our belief that building relationships across national and thematic borders is possible, and vital. Just as the Global Goals make a united push for equality on a high policy level, grassroots national organisations can create their own networks and learn from their peers, no matter where they are.
A wonderful example comes from Nepal’s Local Interventions Group (LIG), which is conducting a “Follow the Money” program to track how governmental aid is spent for post-earthquake relief efforts. After LIG’s presentation of their project in the International Civil Society Week, an organisation from Ecuador approached the DataShift team, wanting to replicate LIG’s work in their own situation. This proves the point that un-siloing experiences can improve civil society across the world. We will do our best to make this collaboration happen.
What is next?
The DataShift has commissioned original research and provided direct support to NGOs working on collecting data in the three pilot areas (Argentina, Kenya/Tanzania, and Nepal). We are collaborating with an impressive array of people whose work spans health, education, urban mobility, disabled persons’ rights, disaster recovery and more. Our goal is to find practical ways to link the Global Goals agenda with local projects. We do this by strengthening their capacity and tech culture to produce meaningful, comparable, and methodologically sound data – so they can hold governments accountable for their commitments to the Global Goals.
Now it’s learning and replicating time. The first phase of DataShift has officially concluded with the Reunion: we will now return to our desks and think hard about what worked and what didn’t. Then, we’ll plan for a second phase that will try to address what we’ve learned until now. Great things are ahead.
This is how you can help: