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

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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

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