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Citizen-generated data in the information ecosystem

Blog | March 21, 2017 | Ssanyu Rebecca

The call for a data revolution by the UN Secretary General’s High Level Panel in the run up to Agenda 2030 stimulated debate and action in terms of innovative ways of generating and sharing data.

Since then, technological advances have supported increased access to data and information through initiatives such as open data platforms and SMS-based citizen reporting systems. The main driving force for these advances is for data to be timely and usable in decision-making. Among the several actors in the data field are the proponents of citizen-generated data (CGD) who assert its potential in the context of the sustainable development agenda.

Nevertheless, there is need for more evidence on the potential of CGD in influencing policy and service delivery, and contributing to the achievement of the sustainable development goals. Our study on Citizen-generated data in the information ecosystem: exploring links for sustainable development sought to obtain answers. Using case studies on the use of CGD in two different scenarios in Uganda and Kenya, Development Research and Training (DRT) and Development Initiatives (DI) collaborated to carry out this one-year study.

In Uganda, we focused on a process of providing unsolicited citizen feedback to duty- bearers and service providers in communities. This was based on the work of Community Resource Trackers, a group of volunteers supported by DRT in five post-conflict districts (Gulu, Kitgum, Pader, Katakwi and Kotido) to identify and track community resources and provide feedback on their use. These included financial and in-kind resources, allocated through central and local government, NGOs and donors.

In Kenya, we focused on a formalised process of CGD involving the Ministry of Education and National Taxpayers Association. The School Report Card (SRC) is an effort to increase parental participation in schooling. SRC is a scorecard for parents to assess the performance of their school each year in ten areas relatingto the quality of education.

What were the findings?

The two processes provided insights into the changes CGD influences in the areas of  accountability, resource allocation, service delivery and government response.

Both cases demonstrated the relevance of CGD in improving service delivery. They showed that the uptake of CGD and response by government depends significantly on the quality of relationships that CGD producers create with government, and whether the initiatives relate to existing policy priorities and interests of government.

The study revealed important effects on improving citizen behaviours. Community members who participated in CGD processes, understood their role as citizens and participated fully in development processes, with strong skills, knowledge and confidence.

The Kenya case study revealed that CGD can influence policy change if it is generated and used at large scale, and in direct linkage with a specific sector; but it also revealed that this is difficult to measure.

In Uganda we observed distinct improvements in service delivery and accessibility at the local level – which was the motivation for engaging in CGD in the first instance.

Is CGD usable more widely to measure global goals?

In recognition that official data sources may not deliver timely information for decision-making, CGD can fill existing data gaps. This is especially true at community and local government levels, in support regular of decision-making. At the national level, the potential role of CGD as a monitoring tool in the sustainable development framework lies in its ability to qualitatively identify and explain SDG achievements at the micro level.

Even with the positive indication that CGD has a role in improving service delivery and possibly monitoring the SDGs, scepticisms still abound. Among these is the hesitation of official data stakeholders to acknowledge the place for non-official actors in contributing authoritative data on development issues. The limited representativeness, standardisation, and quality assurance of CGD are also recurring points of concern for policy actors, and politics of the data playing field add to this. How then do proponents of CGD build acceptance for it, especially in official circles?

Based on the finding that CGD has significant potential to complement official data, and recognising that challenges persist even within official data circles to produce timely, disaggregated data critical for leaving no one behind, official and non-official data producers and users need to increase collaboration. To augment this, important concerns such as data quality and standards, capacity and sustainability of CGD efforts, and official recognition should be addressed.

Going forward, the study observes that there is a rich agenda for research and demonstration on realising the potential for CGD in specific contexts. This includes further research to develop typologies and case studies of CGD initiatives, the data they produce and the data gaps they fill.

Ongoing dialogue with official and non-official data stakeholders should contribute to development of inclusive national statistics systems that maximise the contributions of all data actors.


About the author

Senior Program Officer, Social Policy and Human Development at Development Research and Training

About this blog

This blog was originally published by Development Initiatives here. It was written by guest blogger Ssanyu Rebecca. Rebecca has over fourteen years’ experience in the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of development programs, as well as social policy and research. In addition, she has vast experience working on social protection for various categories of vulnerable groups, including disability issues, labour rights, the chronically poor, and most recently the young.
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