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Source: Small Island Developing States

Organized by the International Civil Society Center (ICSC) and its partners, a virtual event on the sidelines of the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) focused on the role of community-driven data in making the voices of marginalized communities heard and count to accelerate SDG implementation.

Wolfgang Jamann, ICSC, welcomed participants to the event on 9 July 2020. He highlighted that the COVID pandemic is creating new challenges for achieving the SDGs and said the trend towards more reflectionist models of international collaboration requires that the voices of marginalized groups be heard.

Florence Syevou, SDGs Kenya Forum, said citizen-generated data can help governments innovate, improve evidence-based decision making, and complement official statistics. She reported that citizen-generated data channels in Kenya include civil society reports, participation in Kenya’s voluntary national review (VNR), and complementing the national census. Responding to questions, Syevou explained that the credibility of citizen-generated data can be enhanced through norms, standards and guidelines, noting that citizen-generated data was instrumental in mapping slums in Kenya.

Suran Maharjan, VSO Nepal, reported on efforts to include the voice of youth in Nepal’s VNR through coordination of civil society organizations, awareness raising, focus groups, and citizen-generated data. He said the network had issued a call for action with recommendations on ending gender and caste-based discrimination, lifelong learning and recognizing the role of volunteers, but these recommendations were not reflected in Nepal’s VNR.

Anni Namala, Wada Na Todo (India), described the 100 Hotspots project, which is collecting data in vulnerable communities across India using real-time monitoring, app-based data collection and geospatial mapping of vulnerabilities. She said community consultations have also informed India’s VNR. Namala said trust relationships with community organizations are key to reach the most vulnerable communities.

Brigitte Feiring, Danish Institute for Human Rights, presented the Indigenous Navigator Platform, a web portal and tool set to collect and use data to track the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the SDGs. She outlined the Platform’s methods, tools, and resources, noting the need to accommodate indigenous languages and ensure ownership by and tangible payoffs for indigenous communities participating in data collection.

Participants then responded to a mini survey on civil society data that yielded the following insights:

  • Civil society data was most frequently used for: advocacy and communication (83% of respondents); research and monitoring (72%); and planning of projects, policies, and services (67%).
  • Participants felt that the most relevant uses of civil society data are: to give people a voice in the public discourse (91%); to improve SDG monitoring and review by filling gaps in data and knowledge on marginalized groups (81%); and support and planning of policies and services (75%).
  • The most important changes required for civil society data to be recognized and used more widely in the future are: willingness for collaboration between government and civil society regarding the SDGs (94%); greater awareness of its potential benefits (72%); and increased capacity building and support for locally-driven research and data generation (62%).

During the second part of the event, experts provided feedback and insights on the role of civil society data.

Calogero Carletto, UN Intersecretariat Working Group on Household Surveys, underlined that using civil society data to complement official statistics requires protocols and standards that ensure data quality and validity. He said such protocols and standards should be developed with a delivery mechanism to civil society groups, noting that the Intersecretariat Working Group can help with testing and validating the standards.

Besinati Mpepo, World Vision International, said her organization has generated volumes of civil society data through community scorecards in 40 countries. She outlined examples where aggregated civil society data has been used for reforms in sub-national and national engagements. Reflecting on standards, she highlighted the importance of a compelling data set that is comparable to other civil society data.

Karen Bett, Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data (GPSDD), said standards should enable civil society data to speak to other data, highlighting the need for guidelines for civil society organizations and forums to exchange experiences, challenges and lessons learned.

Cara Williams, Statistics Canada, said that while there are challenges to integrate civil society data into official data sets, its value should not be underestimated. She reported that Statistics Canada provides a data quality toolkit that civil society organizations can use to check data quality and publishes SDG fact sheets using civil society data on specific issues.

Responding to a question on success stories of civil society data use, Bett noted Kenya’s national budget review by civil society and an initiative to map informal sectors and slums in Uganda. Mpepo mentioned a community-data driven project to monitor community clinics that resulted in improved medical and sanitation services.

On a question about whether online data collection efforts can be used in countries with restrictive governments to collect disaggregated data, Carletto underlined the need to control selection bias to ensure representativeness. He added that due to COVID, statistics offices are open to new approaches, but that “we cannot forgo data validation.” Williams said the COVID crisis is forcing many national statistics offices to shift towards novel approaches, highlighting a crowdsourced survey on COVID impacts among Canadians. Mpepo supported co-creation of standards and suggested bringing together multiple approaches for a sizeable data scale. Bett cautioned that CSO data often ignores standards for data privacy, recalling that data is owned by the data givers. Namala called for striking a balance between getting civil society data into official statistics and ensuring that the voices represented in those data are heard by governments.

In conclusion, Jamann highlighted the strong case made for civil society data and the challenging but differentiated feedback regarding its deficits, noting that civil society data also stimulates creativity and innovation, especially at times of crisis like the COVID pandemic. [SDG Knowledge Hub sources]

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