Supporting data collection by the poor

Sheela Patel

Data in the sphere of development has been effectively used for big picture questions like measuring levels of poverty and malnutrition or assessing the health and educational standards of a country or region’s population. For those of us who have been working on a smaller scale on issues like urban poverty, data about cities is very silent on issues related to poverty, slums and all forms of informality. Information is never accurate, it is always outdated, and it is seldom comprehensive. Often just a few informal settlements will be included. At the Society for the Promotion of Area Resource Centres (SPARC) and Slum Dwellers International (SDI), we have found that using the poor to collect and record data about themselves both develops their capabilities and produces better data.

SPARC and SDI use what we call ‘enumerations’ – data about slums and their land and amenities status, and data about households. We find that this is a powerful tool. First, it creates the organizational form of social movements: when everyone answers the same questions about who they are, what they do in the city, where they live and what their challenges are, it produces an identity; it produces solidarity and it forms the basis for developing a consensus on collective priorities. It also forms the basis for dialogue with the city or state, both to legitimize data that the poor collect about themselves and to define what the development issues are and where investments should be made. Because the data can be aggregated and disaggregated, they can also become a benchmark of impact and the value of investments.

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