Webinar recording and e-forum summary: How citizen-generated data can accelerate progress toward the SDGs

Watch the webinar!

On 5 May, 2016, we co-led a webinar on How citizen-generated data can accelerate progress toward the Sustainable Development Goals in partnership with the Global Partnership for Social Accountability (GPSA) Knowledge Platform. In the webinar recording (below), Jeff Hall, freelance consultant, and Cassia Moraes, DataShift, explore the ways that citizen themselves can contribute data that accelerates the accountable delivery of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Through case studies and practical examples, the speakers examine:

  • the complementarity of citizen-generated data and national statistical data,
  • the importance of “perception-based” data,
  • the contribution of citizen-generated data to more equitable service delivery, and
  • The practical value of citizen-generated data at the local level.  

The original webinar description and recording can be found on the GPSA Knowledge Platform.

Summary of e-forum

Following the webinar, 15+ practitioners from all over the world continued the discussion in an e-forum. The discussion was hosted from 5 to 19 May on the GPSA Knowledge Platform. The participants represented 13 countries: Bangladesh, Uganda, United Kingdom, Ecuador, Mozambique, Canada, United States, Togo, India, Senegal, South Africa, Nepal, and Palestine. These practitioners approached this topic from a variety of disciplines, including health, environment, water, disaster-response, humanitarian aid, and other public services/responsibilities. Below is a summary of the main points raised during this 2-week forum. 

Engaging citizens to contribute to data-collection

Mobile tools and platforms for engagement

In terms of mobile tools and platforms that are helpful in engaging citizens and generating data, Heather Gilberds, the Director of Insights at VOTO Mobile shared their research findings related to platforms: “We have found that voice polls and surveys improve response rates by 10x compared to SMS surveys. We also found that using voice rather than SMS increases the participation of rural people and women in surveys and polls.”

Quincy Wiele’s Quakehelpdesk team has used in-person surveys to collect data. He writes: “Each month, teams of Quakehelpdesk Community Frontline Associates (CFAs) venture into devastated communities and conduct surveys with the inhabitants. Consisting of 10-15 questions, the surveys are randomly carried out (between elders/younger people, men/women, different castes) to ensure a wide cross section of data is gathered.” For their Follow the Money initiative, Quincy’s team builds relationships with government officials so that they are able to request the necessary data for analysis. They will soon be looking into budget monitoring practices.

For both the Quakehelpdesk and Follow the Money initiatives, the teams rely on mobile phones for data collection.

  • Quakehelpdesk teams use mobile phones equipped with the Kobo toolbox platform to carry out the surveys. “The data is aggregated and provided for analysis to a team who also collects the duration of each survey along with the GPS coordinates of where the surveys were carried out to ensure data authenticity.”
  • Follow the Money teams use mobile phones equipped with the Ushahidi platform allowing the teams to take pictures and fill out reports while they are at the construction sites. “This data will be relayed in real time to the central office in Kathmandu, where it will be analysed and provided to various government departments like the National Reconstruction Commission if irregularities are identified. Data will also be visualized on a virtual platform, allowing all stakeholders to track financial flows for themselves.”

Federico Ramírez also mentioned Open Data Kit, which is free software and has very low technical and financial barriers to enable mobile data collection.

Focus groups and scorecards

Balla Fall uses a combination of focus groups (of 10-15 people) and scorecards to collect information. He explains: “They can give their point about what an ideal service looks like. They define performances and compare them to the real situation. After that, they comment scores and give solutions to gaps identified.”

Hayley Capp shared some information on the work of CARE International on their experience using Community Scorecards and a proposed “six-step model for participatory monitoring of the SDGs that will ensure that people living in developing countries can play a significant role in determining the success or failure of the new Sustainable Development Goals.” The six steps are:

  1. Preparation and training of local facilitators and community agents
  2. Community validation of indicators and scoring
  3. Service providers score on these indicators
  4. Data gathering on service-delivery outcomes by the community
  5. Interface meetings between service providers, service users and public authorities
  6. Community agents corroborate findings and follow up on the action plan

Much more information on CARE’s work, lessons-learned, and six-step model can be found in this report from March 2015.

Utilizing existing data-collection institutions

Amitabh shared an idea of utilizing the work already being done by State Audit Institutions: these institutions can be a “major channel for gathering information citizens have or can give — to be checked against government information by the audit teams who will try to sift information/verify it etc as part of their work.” But he also cautions that: “State Audit offices must change the ways they do their work before they can serve as a useful channel for citizens’ information to be harnessed for SDGs.”

Incentives for engagement

Heather also shared their research findings related to incentives: “Our research has found that external incentives (i.e. mobile airtime or financial rewards) do little to incentivize citizen participation, but that appealing to civic virtues or shared community values is more successful.”

In Nepal, the idea of citizen-monitoring is very new so it is difficult to get people engaged. Quincy shares his recommendation on how to address this: “CGD is a new concept in places like Nepal and inevitably, it is seen with skepticism by both the public and authorities. Only with robust data can you begin to change this perception. It is therefore critical that the quality of the data is beyond question.”

Advocating for the inclusion of citizen-generated data into “official” data collection initiatives

It can be difficult to build trust with the local government if they perceive you as a ‘watchdog’, or simply as an initiative that is there to challenge official data and their approach. In these situations, a third-party ally of both institutions can potentially bridge the gap. As shared in this comment, Kimbowa Richard in Uganda was able to engage local government only after they were “prompted by the donor Government of Sweden”. He added: “By the end of the Project the relationship between our work and the LVEMPII project coordination was far better than it was at the start when there was an atmosphere of resentment and suspicion (who & why the watchdog?)”

Some participants also pointed out that in many countries, government officials struggle to understand the connection between citizen-generated data and official data collection because of a lack of training on data and methodology. Providing opportunities to officials for building their capacity on data, methodology, technology, and data management systems may be a good tactic for opening up new possibilities.

Sharing common indicators between organisations

How do we balance reporting that is useful for SDGs and reporting that is useful and realistic for communities?

Jeff Hall points out an important tension: “Surely communities cannot measure everything. So who gets to choose what to measure? On the one hand, If CSOs choose what to measure across a programme area, we risk undermining some of the fundamental principles of participatory monitoring that we want to advance. On the other hand, if each community measures whatever it wants, we lose the opportunity to aggregate data, since there will be no comparability or standardization among data sets.”

Similarly, Rob Worthington asks: “How can we break down organisational silos and connect data collected by different organisations”. He goes on to share two approaches:

  1. Create a shared data registry or directory. Organisations publish their data and put it somewhere accessible. The challenge here is that each data set will most likely be different across organisations so it is difficult to compare.
  2. Organisations working on similar interventions agreeing and sharing core data collection forms. “Instead of trying to standardise higher level data like indicators, this starts at the bottom by looking at the most basic data being collected.” Data can then be combined into a common database.

Examples of civil society groups collaboratively collecting data on indicators in order to make a policy change

Kristin Antin shared an example from the DataShift report “Changing what Counts” in which WaterAid works directly with civil society to identify the data points and to collect the data. “The data and maps that WaterAid championed were used to highlight gaps and inadequacies in official data collection practices around the provision of water at district level. This directly led to new forms of data collection, which were implemented in collaboration with public institutions, community groups and other actors.”

Other topics raised

One participant asked: “How can we really ensure that we are a key part in ensuring accountability from the very beginning of this process?”

Davis Adieno responded: “You therefore have to learn which agencies are developing the indicators in your country, what is being prioritised for implementation and when, and the processes to be used. As difficult as it may seem, you want to lobby those agencies to involve you in the process, or at the very least hold stakeholder engagement forums for feedback on their final list of national targets and indicators, and gather information on the roll out process. If this doesn’t work at the very least get hold of the final list and review it with peers and write memorandum with your feedback.”

Another question posed to the forum was: “What do civil society organisations need in order to effectively use citizen-generated data?”

If we want this to be successful, we need to improve our support for civil society organisations who are interested in citizen-generated data. Dosse highlights a few ideas:

  1. Citizen must have big data training with new technology opportunities.
  2. Data collection expertise (e.g. marginalised groups, income, age, health, widows, etc)
  3. Population involvement: it means that population must be educated to SDGs advantages and the importance of data collection.
  4. Political support and open government partnership
  5. CSO data collection finance
  6. Data innovation
  7. Citizen Network can help achieving this quickly.
1 reply
  1. Adebukola Adebayo says:

    This is a very great initiative. I’m only concerned about how we can make this process as inclusive and accessible as possible for marginalized groups including persons with disabilities (PWDs). The inclusion and access of PWDs to public data, as well as their capacity to contribute to the process of citizens generated data especially in less developed countries has been a great concern. I’m concerned about how we can make the various ICT-driven DATA gathering and dessemination platforms accessible to PWDs and how their capacity can be developed to effectively participate in this process.


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