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Advancing Sustainability Together: Launching new report on citizen-generated data and its relevance for the SDGs

- December 17, 2018 in citizen generated data, research, SDG

We are pleased to announce the launch of our latest report Advancing Sustainability Together? Citizen-Generated Data and the Sustainable Development Goals. The research is the result of a collaboration with King’s College London, Public Data Lab, as well as the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data, and funded by the United Nations Foundation. Citizen-generated data (CGD) expands what gets measured, how, and for what purpose. As the collection and engagement with CGD increases in relevance and visibility, public institutions can learn from existing initiatives about what CGD initiatives do, how they enable different forms of sense-making and how this may further progress around the Sustainable Development Goals. Our report, as well as a guide for governments (find the layouted version here, as well as a living document here) shall help start conversations around the different approaches of doing and organising CGD. When CGD becomes good enough depends on the purpose it is used for but also how CGD is situated in relation to other data. As our work wishes to be illustrative rather than comprehensive, we started with a list of over 230 projects that were associated with the term “citizen-generated data” on Google Search, using an approach known as “search as research” (Rogers, 2013). Outgoing from this list, we developed case studies on a range of prominent CGD examples. The report identifies several benefits CGD can bring for implementing and monitoring the SDGs, underlining the importance for public institutions to further support these initiatives. Key findings:
  • Dealing with data is usually much more than ‘just producing’ data. CGD initiatives open up new types of relationships between individuals, civil society and public institutions. This includes local development and educational programmes, community outreach, and collaborative strategies for monitoring, auditing, planning and decision-making.
  • Generating data takes many shapes, from collecting new data in the field, to compiling, annotating, and structuring existing data to enable new ways of seeing things through data. Accessing and working with existing (government) data is often an important enabling condition for CGD initiatives to start in the first place.
  • CGD initiatives can help gathering data in regions otherwise not reachable. Some CGD approaches may provide updated and detailed data at lower costs and faster than official data collections.
  • Beyond filling data gaps, official measurements can be expanded, complemented, or cross-verified. This includes pattern and trend identification and the creation of baseline indicators for further research. CGD can help governments detect anomalies, test the accuracy of existing monitoring processes, understand the context around phenomena, and initiate its own follow-up data collections.
  • CGD can inform several actions to achieve the SDGs. Beyond education, community engagement and community-based problem solving, this includes baseline research, planning and strategy development, allocation and coordination of public and private programs, as well as improvement to public services.
  • CGD must be ‘good enough’ for different (and varying) purposes. Governments already develop pragmatic ways to negotiate and assess the usefulness of data for a specific task. CGD may be particularly useful when agencies have a clear remit or responsibility to manage a problem.  
  • Data quality can be comparable to official data collections, provided tasks are sufficiently easy to conduct, tool quality is high enough, and sufficient training, resources and quality assurance are provided.
You can find the full report as well as a summary report here. If you are interested in learning more about citizen-generated data, and how to engage with it, we have prepared a guide for everyone interested in engaging with CGD. In addition to our report we have gathered a list of more than 200 organisations, programs, and projects working on CGD. This list is open for everyone to contribute further examples of CGD. We have also prepared our raw dataset of “citizen generated data” according to Google searches accessible on figshare. If you are interested reading more about the academic discourse around CGD and related fields, or would like to share your own work, here we have prepared a Zotero group with relevant literature.

New research to map the diversity of citizen-generated data for sustainable development

- August 13, 2018 in citizen data, citizen generated data, research

We are excited to announce a new research project around citizen-generated data and the UN data revolution. This research will be led by Open Knowledge International in partnership with King’s College London and the Public Data Lab to develop a vocabulary for governments to navigate the landscape of citizen-generated data. This research elaborates on past work which explored how to democratise the data revolution, how citizen and civil society data can be used to advocate for changes in official data collection, and how citizen-generated data can be organised to monitor and advance sustainability. It is funded by the United Nations Foundation and commissioned by the Task Team on Citizen Generated Data which is hosted by the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data (GPSDD). Our research seeks to develop a working vocabulary of different citizen-generated data methodologies. This vocabulary shall highlight clear distinction criteria between different methods, but also point out different ways of thinking about citizen-generated data. We hope that such a vocabulary can help governments and international organisations attend to the benefits and pitfalls of citizen-generated data in a more nuanced way and will help them engage with citizen-generated data more strategically.

Why this research matters

The past decades have seen the rise of many citizen-generated data projects. A plethora of concepts and initiatives use citizen-generated data for many goals, ranging from citizen science, citizen sensing and environmental monitoring to participatory mapping, community-based monitoring and community policing. In these initiatives citizens may play very different roles (from assigning the role of mere sensors, to enabling them to shape what data gets collected). Initiatives may differ in the  media and technologies used to collect data, in the ways stakeholders are engaged with partners from government or business, or how activities are governed to align interests between these parties.

Air pollution monitoring devices used as part of Citizen Sense pilot study in New Cross, London (image from Changing What Counts report)

Likewise different actors articulate the concerns and benefits of CGD in different ways. Scientific and statistical communities may be concerned about data quality and interoperability of citizen-generated data whereas a community centered around the monitoring of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) may be more concerned with issues of scalability and the potential of CGD to fill gaps in official data sets. Legal communities may consider liability issues for government administrations when using unofficial data,, whilst CSOs and international development organisations may want to know what resources and capacities are needed to support citizen-generated data and how to organise and plan projects. In our work we will address a range of questions including: What citizen-generated data methodologies work well, and for what purposes? What is the role of citizens in generating data, and what can data “generation” look like? How are participation and use of citizen data organised? What collaborative models between official data producers/users and citizen-generated data projects exist? Can citizen-generated data be used alongside or incorporated into statistical monitoring purposes, and if so, under what circumstances? And in what ways could citizen-generated data contribute to regulatory decision-making or other administrative tasks of government? In our research we will
  • Map existing literature, online content and examples of projects, practices and methods associated with the term “citizen generated data”;
  • Use this mapping to solicit for input and ideas on other kinds of citizen-generated data initiatives as well as other relevant literatures and practices from researchers, practitioners and others;
  • Gather suggestions from literature, researchers and practitioners about which aspects of citizen-generated data to attend to, and why;
  • Undertake fresh empirical research around a selection of citizen-generated data projects in order to explore these different perspectives.

Visual representation of the Bushwick Neighbourhood, geo-locating qualitative stories in the map (left image), and patterns of land usage (right image) (Source: North West Bushwick Community project)

Next steps

In the spirit of participatory and open research, we invite governments, civil society organisations and academia to share examples of citizen-generated data methodologies, the benefits of using citizen-generated data and issues we may want to look into as part of our research. If you’re interested in following or contributing to the project, you can find out more on our forum.

New Report: “Changing What Counts: How Can Citizen-Generated and Civil Society Data Be Used as an Advocacy Tool to Change Official Data Collection?”

- March 3, 2016 in advocacy, citizen data, citizen generated data, civil society, civil society data, Data Journalism, Data Revolution, Featured, Open Data, Open Government Data, Policy, public information, research

Screen Shot 2016-03-01 at 09.42.12 copy Following on from our discussion paper on “Democratising the Data Revolution”, today we’re pleased to announce the release of a new report titled “Changing What Counts: How Can Citizen-Generated and Civil Society Data Be Used as an Advocacy Tool to Change Official Data Collection?”. Undertaken as a collaboration between Open Knowledge and the CIVICUS DataShift, the report contains seven case studies accompanied by a series of recommendations for civil society groups, public institutions and policy-makers. The case studies cover data collection initiatives around a wide variety of different topics – from literacy rates in East Africa to water access in Malawi, migration deaths in Europe to fracking pollution in the US. It was researched and written by myself, Danny Lämmerhirt and Liliana Bounegru. We hope that it will contribute to advancing policies and practices to make public information systems more responsive to the interests and concerns of civil society. You can download the full report here. Here is an excerpt from the introduction:
The information systems of public institutions play a crucial role in how we collectively look at and act in the world. They shape the way decisions are made, progress is evaluated, resources are allocated, issues are flagged, debates are framed and action is taken. As a United Nations (UN) report recently put it, “Data are the lifeblood of decision-making and the raw material for accountability.”1 Every information system renders certain aspects of the world visible and lets others recede into the background. Datasets highlight some things and not others. They make the world comprehensible and navigable in their own way – whether for the purposes of policy evaluation, public service delivery, administration or governance. Given the critical role of public information systems, what happens when they leave out parts of the picture that civil society groups consider vital? What can civil society actors do to shape or influence these systems so they can be used to advance progress around social, democratic and environmental issues? This report looks at how citizens and civil society groups can generate data as a means to influence institutional data collection. In the following pages, we profile citizen generated and civil society data projects and how they have been used as advocacy instruments to change institutional data collection – including looking at the strategies, methods, technologies and resources that have been mobilised to this end. We conclude with a series of recommendations for civil society groups, public institutions, policy-makers and funders. The report was commissioned as part of a research series by DataShift, an initiative that builds the capacity and confidence of civil society organisations to produce and use citizen-generated data. It follows on from another recent discussion paper from Open Knowledge on what can be done to make the “data revolution” more responsive to the interests and concerns of civil society,2 as well as a briefing note by DataShift on how institutions can support sustainability of citizen-generated data initiatives.3