Companies and political parties have been quick to embrace the potential of ‘big data’ to sell their products and to target voters. What if the production of information could be democratized? The DataShift initiative hopes to make this vision a reality by building the capacity of civil society organizations, firstly to produce citizen-generated data, then to analyse the data and apply insights to build better programmes and services.
‘We’re looking at a fundamental change in the ownership of knowledge that will shift power dynamics from elites to people and communities,’ says Jack Cornforth, DataShift Coordinator. ‘One of the outcomes we’re interested in is how citizen-generated data can increase government accountability around the global Sustainable Development Goals.’
An initial research and learning phase has found a huge variety of projects where data innovation has translated into campaign wins and shifts in government policy. In one example, FLOAT in Beijing used high-tech kites to monitor air quality levels in the polluted capital. Lights on the kites indicated good or poor air quality, helping raise public awareness of pollution levels. The data was then used as evidence to engage and change the Chinese government’s attitude to publishing air quality data.
As well as generating new and sometimes more accurate data to improve accountability, citizen-generated data can also fill gaps in official statistics and complement the work of governments.
DataShift is led by CIVICUS in partnership with technology and innovation organizations the engine room and Wingu. Pilot projects are under way in Argentina, Nepal, Kenya and Tanzania and a call-out for new organizations and projects to work with will be launched shortly.
For more information
See also Lucy Bernholz’s article, ‘Time for philanthropy to master digital data.’