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Citizen-generated data for a change

Posted on 27/02/2018
By Gillian Cooper

‘Citizen-generated and evidence-based data’ are terms we hear more and more about in the discourse around monitoring and accountability of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

I joined Mansuriah alongside other colleagues from the Foundation and EASSI on the learning visit to Gender Links earlier this month and thought the Gender Barometer they have developed was an excellent example of citizen-generated data. It was clear the barometer had become a powerful accountability tool in Southern Africa, influencing discourse and provoking change across the region around gender equality.

‘It was clear the barometer had become a powerful accountability tool in Southern Africa’

After South Africa, I continued to East Africa where I met with Foundation grant partners KELIN and the Africa Platform for Social Protection (APSP) who work with some of Kenya’s most marginalised communities. What approaches to citizen-generated data did they find effective?

Citizen-generated data is defined as ‘data that people or their organisations produce to directly monitor, demand or drive change on issues that affect them’ . Here are a few of the approaches to citizen-generated data that our partners are using to ensure inclusion of marginalised people in holding duty-bearers to account.

Mixed methods approaches that harness different knowledge sources

The SADC Gender Protocol barometer effectively pulls together and ‘houses’ data from a variety of monitoring and evidence measures. Referred to as an ‘omnibus’, it uses two main measures: An Index and the Citizen Score Card.

  • The Index draws on data from readily available statistics, an attitude survey and a media monitor tool.
  • The Index is complimented and compared with data collected from a Citizen Score Card – a perceptions measure administered to a representative sample of women and men in each of the 15 SADC countries.
  • Each of the organisations also use a variety of participatory methods to harness data and knowledge from communities to bring evidence and voice into decision-making spaces:
    Providing testimony on the lived experience and challenges faced by service-users and marginalised communities, if presented in a participatory decision-making space, such evidence can be a powerful stimulus for change and strengthens voices at the grassroots.
  • multistakeholder dialogues that bring together service-users with service providers and other governmental decision-making bodies into a participatory space where voices can be heard and progress towards change and solutions can be discussed.
  • case studies are used to capture more in-depth analysis of experiences.

Choosing indicators that really question the change

In March 2017, the Gender Protocol Alliance revamped its index so that it would result in ‘better data for better decisions’. Rather than using indicators that relied on data which was readily available, indicators were revised to really get at the nub of the issue and to ask difficult questions on gender equality. Gender Links’ Executive Director, Colleen Lowe, explained that indicators have been chosen for their potential to provide critical evidence; not simply about monitoring for the sake of data capture but about demonstrating the change that needs to happen.

‘Rather than using indicators that relied on data which was readily available, indicators were revised to really get at the nub of the issue’

Examples of indicators aimed at measuring some of the more hard-to-measure areas around women’s voice and gender-based violence, which have remained intractable and hidden issues for women, are:

• % who say if a woman works she should give her money to her husband
• % who say if a man beats a woman it shows that he loves her
• % who say a woman has a right to insist on a man using a condom
• % women sources on economic topics

Aligning with policy and validating data

The SADC gender barometer is aligned to an existing policy. It follows the nine sectors of the Gender Protocol: constitutional and legal rights, governance, education and training, the economy, gender violence, health HIV and AIDS, the media and climate change. Aligning the protocol to SDG 5 (Gender Equality) has given additional leverage for government to sign up to the protocol and meet the targets. Joan De Klerk, Head of Public Education and Information at South Africa’s Commission for Gender Equality confirmed that the Commission uses data from the barometer to cite in their own reports.

Validation of data with government has been critical for buy in and credibility of the evidence presented by civil society. APSP have validated data that showed that the people in need were not accessing the cash transfers, thus compromising its impact, by bringing government officers into the field to see the reality. Partnering with academic bodies to help in determining what is statistically acceptable is also another way to avoid data being discredited by government.

Popularizing the accountability tools, the results and building rights awareness

Each of the three organisations have gone to great lengths to popularise and breakdown technical policy documents and assessment criteria into simple language. This approach is critical to creating interest around the accountability process as it helps to build rights awareness and demonstrate how individual and community-based issues fit into a wider rights-based policy framework.

KELIN’s publication, Monitoring the Implementation of the Right to Health Under the Constitution of Kenya, outlines the constitutional provisions on Kenya’s right to health. As Allan Maleche, KELIN’s Executive Director noted, people living with HIV ‘must be able to know how to plug into questioning the broader rights to health issues. Unless they understand how the right to health and the health system works then the advocacy [and accountability measures] will be useless’.

The use of infographics and data visuals has also been a powerful way in which Gender Links has communicated the results of the barometer. These can be more easily shared via social media and to tell the story in accessible yet powerful ways that can build interest to engage.

Strong networks to capture perceptions in the margins and support advocacy

The Southern Africa Gender Protocol Alliance has been a critical vehicle for advocacy. Gender Links has sought to embed the protocol provisions in the work of each of its Alliance members. Gender Links’ networks also include working relationships with 430 local government councils who play a critical role in data capture.

‘[KELIN] is also building its network to include journalists who […] can also act as advocates to provide further evidence.’

KELIN is working to identify community champions and strong CSOs in each of the counties where its project operates. It is also building its network to include journalists who are passionate on community issues and who, with some additional training on health rights, can also act as advocates to provide further evidence.

Looking ahead

It’s not yet clear what strictly is or isn’t citizen-generated data but the visit and discussions showed that evidence and data used for accountability needs to have credible data and information that ask difficult questions, ideally using measures validated by duty-bearers but backed by a strong rights awareness among affected communities. Those affected need to see how their experiences fit into a wider policy and rights-based framework so that evidence collected is accountable to them.

A challenge that always exists is negotiating and judging how best to use the data and evidence in the accountability space. Describing the challenges of complimenting government interests while also advocating for change, Samuel Obara, of APSP said: ‘this [advocacy] space is fragile because [our work relies] on political will and this is a will that we are trying to protect’. Colleen Lowe from Gender Links described the relationship between government and civil society as ‘creative tension’. I would like to thank our partners in South Africa and Kenya for hosting rich discussions and sharing experiences.

Gillian Cooper is Programme Manager for Knowledge, Learning and Communications at the Commonwealth Foundation.


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