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Citizen-generated data for social change: learnings from the SPEAK! campaign (Part 1)

This is the first in a series of blogs sharing lessons learned from a collaboration between DataShift and the SPEAK! Campaign, which resulted in conversations about data management practices among diverse organisations working to overcome social divisions around the world. The series aims to show that sound data management is built on common sense and available to everyone, no matter their level of technical expertise; to get readers thinking and talking about data; and to encourage conscious decisions about its creation, use, protection and disposal.

The SPEAK! campaign

SPEAK! is an annual global campaign to break down social divisions and political polarisation, getting diverse groups of people speaking to each other, while DataShift is a programme exploring how data can better serve civil society, led by CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance. In 2018, organisations and individuals all over the world signed up to organise campaign events via the Speak website, which had resources such as an event planning toolkit, conversation guides, logos and poster templates, and contacts for the campaign support team. SPEAK! culminated around the International Day of Tolerance on 16 November 2018, with over 200 events taking place in 63 countries over three days of action. This offered an ideal opportunity to apply some of DataShift’s ideas in a real-life context.

The collaboration

The collaboration between DataShift and the SPEAK! campaign was an evolving process, and its final shape differed from the original plan. We originally planned for partners organising events to build citizen-generated data (CGD – data that people or their organisations produce to directly monitor, demand or drive change on issues that affect them) into their event design, and receive training on digital security to protect their CGD more effectively.

Adaptation

As the campaign progressed, it became clear we would need to adapt. The campaign is open to anyone, anywhere, meaning  that many organisers worked independently and did not have in-depth communication with our team, and so opportunities to discuss data and digital security were sometimes lacking. Furthermore, the diversity of partners, ranging from major internationals like Oxfam to tiny grassroots organisations in conflict zones, meant a one-size-fits-all approach would not work. Similarly, for CGD to live up to its name, it must be conceived, owned and managed by citizens and their organisations, but for most organisations it was overambitious for such a process to happen during the short timeframe of the campaign.

So, we adapted our approach, concentrating our efforts on a smaller number of event organisers interested in engaging with CIVICUS on digital security and data management. Instead of looking at these topics as separate entities, we came to realise that they were closely interlinked and pursued a holistic approach. Our digital security expert then developed a loose script of questions to get partners thinking about how they work with data, and to help us design support  to meet their needs. During the calls, our staff took rough notes about our interlocutors’ responses to the questions. Then straight after the call, we added our notes to a shared document along with ideas for possible next steps.

Tailored support

In the Middle East and North Africa region, the organisations interested in improving their data practices had similar needs and levels of understanding, so we designed an online presentation in Arabic that covered the main principles laid out in these blogs, supplemented with advice from a digital security expert.

For Latin American organisations with few established data procedures in place, our conversations helped them to build in good practices from the beginning. In many African countries, connectivity issues made having these conversations by Skype very challenging. Partners in Uganda and Sudan had little IT equipment and worked mainly on paper and at internet cafes, so we referred more technical challenges to our digital security expert, or provided printable PDFs with relevant information.

Arriving at these approaches took time. It was confusing and even frustrating at times, and many ideas were considered and then rejected along the way. Nonetheless, the process taught us many valuable lessons that we will be able to incorporate into next year’s campaign.

Follow the campaign website to get involved in SPEAK! 2019, and we’ll be posting more learnings from our conversations about data on the blog soon.

These blogs are based on the publication How to talk about data? Learnings on responsible data for social change from the SPEAK! campaign, and this work was made possible through a Digital Impact Grant by the Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society. 

1 Young people in Argentina debate discrimination during a SPEAK! event. Photo credit: Asociación Conciencia