Citizen-generated data in practice: initiatives from around the globe share their stories

No-one can communicate the importance of citizen-generated data better than those who are actually working with it. At DataShift, we want to highlight the civil society organisations who have told us about the tangible results they have achieved through innovative approaches to harnessing data from citizens.

These results can take any number of forms. For a woman in India who has experienced abuse online but who is unwilling to report it to the authorities, a citizen-generated data initiative represents an opportunity to reach out to others in a similar situation. As another example, in the aftermath of a humanitarian disaster, maps created by citizen-generated data is the reason that international aid agencies have been able to get help directly to those in urgent need.

We could endlessly list the range of people-powered data projects that are making a difference to people’s lives, but we decided that it would be better for you to hear it directly from the organisations themselves. Gathering together a number of firsthand accounts, we have put together a collection of essays that we are calling: “Creating and using data that matters: how different sectors are harnessing the power of the crowd”.


Each essay profiles the objectives, challenges and targets of an organisation using data generated by citizens to achieve their goals.

Contributions from Take Back the Tech! and The Ladies Finger show the role that new technologies can play in gender equality and advocacy work worldwide. Citizen-generated data has helped each of them push taboo subjects, such as sexual violence or tech-related violence against women, to the top of the political and media agenda.

Our contributions come from a range of geographical locations, and many of the initiatives profiled here have an enthusiastic approach to cross-border collaboration. Writing for DataShift from the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team, Heather Leson shows us how developing community maps can allow people from different countries to come together and contribute to a common goal – better data about areas that may be vulnerable to crises.

Some projects in the collection are organised and run entirely by citizens in a small, local community. Science for Change Kosovo, for example, is collecting air pollution data that fills in gaps in official statistics – gaps that the Kosovan authorities could not fill themselves.

Not all our essays come from young, grassroots organisations. Amnesty International’s senior innovations campaigner, Milena Marin, outlines plans for a micro-tasking community that will help Amnesty with practical, remote research. Tasks like scanning satellite images that would normally take one researcher days, even months, to complete, could now be analysed rapidly by large numbers of online volunteers.

If we are able to find ways of collectively contributing to broader social goals, the potential for impact is huge.

Media outlets are also increasingly incorporating citizen-generated data into their work.  In Argentina, the data team at the La Nacion newspaper has introduced many citizens to the concept of open data through their collaborative data platform ‘VozData’. The results they have achieved have encouraged them to continue working towards a time when transparency and accountability are fully absorbed into Argentina’s political infrastructure.

The need for a workplace culture change is perhaps most strongly illustrated by Sam Dubberley’s contribution from Eyewitness Media Hub. He describes the abundance of citizen-generated data, in the form of audiovisual media shared on social networks, and points out the need to reconceptualise the way in which we consume and distribute it. The fact that the people behind many of these projects are consciously discussing the ethics of the way that data is used and presented is heartening.

We hope that the essays in this collection can help more people feel more confident about asking questions of the data that affects their lives, and taking a hands-on approach to creating it. We would love to get your feedback on the themes they address – get in touch!

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