The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) provided a pathway to ensure greater government accountability on international development objectives. Yet when citizens around the world wanted to understand a country’s performance on an MDG target, the only information available was official data or academic research. Now that we have a new, more ambitious set of global goals on sustainable development, we have an opportunity to create a new way for citizen reporting to monitor progress. The SDGs, as a more comprehensive successor framework to the MDGs, should be accompanied by a new approach to monitoring and accountability – with citizens at the core.
To better deliver and monitor the SDGs, a ‘data revolution for sustainable development’ has also been called for, to leverage new sources of data, increase access to data, and ultimately support the policies and decisions that will improve outcomes for people and the planet.
New technologies offer exciting new ways for citizens to generate and use data in democratic and creative ways. Citizen-generated data can highlight issues that are important to people and feed their views up into higher-level policy debates, or be used to verify official narratives and datasets. The initiatives that create citizen-generated data can also empower people, giving them a way to engage with political processes that might otherwise seem removed from their lives.
Citizens and their organisations have an unprecedented opportunity to leverage technology and harness the power of data to identify their sustainable development priorities, monitor progress and hold governments to account on the commitments they make and the action they take.
However, there are challenges to taking advantage of this opportunity:
- While there are some great examples of citizens generating new data on important aspects of development, these initiatives remain scarce, of mixed quality and sophistication – and cannot be compared within and across countries.
- Many civil society organisations do not have the capacity or confidence to use new technology to generate data, and use it in ways that can support their decision making and bolster their campaigns.
- At the global policy level, while the role of national statistics and big data in driving the data revolution has gained considerable traction, less attention has been paid to the role that citizens and citizen-generated data could play in monitoring progress and supporting accountability on the SDGs and sustainable development more broadly.
How DataShift is responding
To address these challenges, DataShift is building civil society organisations’ capacity and confidence to produce and use citizen-generated data to monitor sustainable development progress, demand accountability and campaign for transformative change.
Our vision is a world where people-powered accountability drives progress on sustainable development.