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.

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Danny Lämmerhirt works on the politics of data, sociology of quantification, metrics and policy, data ethnography, collaborative data, data governance, as well as data activism. You can follow his work on Twitter at @danlammerhirt. He was research coordinator at Open Knowledge Foundation.