In 2014, the UN Secretary General’s High Level Panel called for a data revolution to aid efforts as we work towards the aims of Agenda 2030, stimulating debate and action around 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 ambition for these advances is to produce data that decision-makers find timely and usable. Proponents of citizen-generated data assert its potential to achieve these aims in the context of the sustainable development agenda.
Nevertheless, there is a need for more evidence on the potential of citizen-generated data to influence policy and service delivery, and to contribute to the achievement of the sustainable development goals. With this in mind, Development Research and Training (DRT) and Development Initiatives (DI) collaborated and carried out a one-year study considering the use of citizen-generated data in two different cases in Uganda and Kenya. DI will publish the full results of the study on this website on 24 March 2017.
In Uganda we focused on a process that provides unsolicited citizen feedback in local 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). Resource Trackers identify and track community resources (including both financial and in-kind allocations made through central and local government, NGOs and donors) and provide feedback to duty bearers and service providers on the delivery of projects.
In Kenya we focused on a formalised process of citizen-generated data involving the Ministry of Education and National Taxpayers Association. It studies the School Report Card – an effort to increase parent involvement in schooling. The School Report Card is a yearly scorecard for parents to assess the performance of their school in ten areas that relate to education quality.
What were the findings?
The processes provided insight that demonstrated how citizen-generated data had influenced accountability, resource allocation, service delivery and the governments’ responses to such data initiatives.
Both cases demonstrated the relevance of citizen-generated data in improving service delivery. They showed that the uptake of citizen-generated data and response by government depended significantly on, firstly, the quality of relationship that citizen-generated data producers create with government, and secondly, the degree to which the initiatives relate to existing policy priorities and government interests.
The study also revealed important effects on the behaviour of citizens participating in citizen-generated data processes – they understood their role and participated more in development processes with better skills, knowledge and confidence due to the citizen-generated data projects.
The Kenya case study also revealed that citizen-generated data could influence policy if the data is generated and used at a large geographical scale and directly linked to a specific sector; however, this is difficult to measure. In Uganda we observed distinct improvements in service delivery and accessibility at the local level – which was the citizens’ motivation for engaging in citizen-generated data in the first instance.
Could citizen-generated data be used to measure Global Goals?
Official data sources-data produced by governments- may not deliver timely information for decision-making, and citizen-generated data can fill existing data gaps. This is especially true at community and local-government levels, where data can support decision-making. At the national level, citizen-generated data could potentially play a role as a monitoring tool in the sustainable development framework, qualitatively identifying and explaining SDG achievements at the micro-level.
Despite the positive indications that citizen-generated data plays a role in improving service delivery and could be used to monitor the SDGs, there are still doubts about citizen-generated data. Among these is the hesitation of official data stakeholders to acknowledge (1) that it is proper for non-official actors to contribute data on development issues, or (2) that the data itself is authoritative. The limited representativeness, standardisation and quality assurance of citizen-generated data are also recurring points of concern for policy actors, and the ‘politics’ of the data arena adds to this. How then do proponents of citizen-generated data build acceptance for it, especially within official circles?
Based on the finding that citizen-generated data has significant potential to complement official data, and recognising that even within official-data circles, challenges persist that reduce the volume of the timely, disaggregated data required to ensure that no one is left behind, official and non-official data producers and users need to increase collaboration. To augment this, concerns such as those regarding the quality, capacity and sustainability of citizen-generated data should be addressed. This in turn should help bring about official recognition for the data.
The study finds that there is scope for research to help realise citizen-generated data’s potential in specific contexts. This includes: further research to develop typologies and case studies of citizen-generated data initiatives, the data they produce and the data gaps they fill. Ongoing dialogue between official and non-official data stakeholders should contribute to development of an inclusive national statistics system that maximises the contributions of all data actors.
Ssanyu 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.