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Part Three: Citizen-Generated Data must be kept true to its essence – the role of National Statistical Organisations

In response to my last two blog posts (this one and this one), I have been asked what role I think National Statistical Organisations play in citizen-generated data. Here goes.

In the dynamic world of data, where each number and statistic carries a narrative, it is high time for our National Statistical Organisations (NSOs) to reconsider and reframe their role concerning Citizen Generated Data (CGD). At the heart of this transformation are two pivotal roles: stewardship and capacity building, which promise to foster a more inclusive and participatory approach to data collection and utilisation.

For them to play this role, we shall have to accept that there is between Citizen Generated Data (which starts with the citizens and is used first by citizens) and Citizen Contributed Data (which can start from the NSO or CSOs, where citizens are mainly contributors to data). I have found that there is a challenge in these spaces in understanding or making this distinction where dealing with citizen.

Why is making this distinction important?

It will determine how resources and energy are spent engaging with the different data. In addition, a reduction of citizen’s roles in citizen-generated data has an impact in invalidating data produced by citizens. Citizen Generated Data (CGD) may not immediately appear as a catalyst for widespread, sweeping alterations in broader societal structures, primarily because such data often encompasses localized, individual, or community-based inputs, inherently limited in scale and scope. However, underestimating its potency for instigating significant community-level changes would be a miscalculation.

Small-scale, grassroots data generated by citizens can yield deep insights into community-specific issues, needs, and preferences, thereby fostering environments wherein tailored, impactful solutions can be crafted and implemented. This community-centric approach enabled by CGD can ultimately facilitate profound, meaningful transformations at the local level, effectively improving the lives of community members, even though these alterations might not necessarily be visible or applicable on a larger, macro scale. The concept of “minimum efficient scale” is even being reviewed in the commercial realms

These localized improvements, when accumulated, contribute to the broader tapestry of social change, underscoring the undeniable value and potential of Citizen Generated Data in shaping and enhancing the lived experiences of individuals within their respective communities. Citizen-Generated Data is one of the few areas that would support the “utopian community model”

Community Level Change leads to national change

Community-level changes, often spurred by citizen-generated data and localized initiatives and interventions, serve as critical building blocks for engendering national transformation. These granular improvements, while seemingly insignificant in isolation, can aggregate to form a powerful impetus for broader change when replicated, scaled, or adapted across various communities nationwide. When numerous communities independently initiate positive changes—be it in education, healthcare, environmental conservation, or social justice—these micro-level successes collectively create a groundswell of innovation and progress. Through collaborative networks, shared learning, and the dissemination of best practices among these communities, the incremental advances at the community level become woven into a tapestry of national reform, gradually shaping the country’s policies, norms, and societal structures.

Moreover, the momentum generated by a multitude of community-driven changes can capture the attention and support of policy-makers, influencers, and the public at large, thereby facilitating a conducive environment for national change. As these local success stories are amplified and celebrated, they not only inspire other communities to enact similar initiatives but also encourage higher levels of government to adopt, endorse, or invest in these proven strategies. In this way, a cascade of change initiated at the grassroots level can ultimately culminate in a wave of national transformation, highlighting the indispensable role of community-level changes in influencing and steering the direction of a nation’s development and progress

NSOs as stewards

Firstly, it’s imperative to visualise NSOs as stewards and custodians of the data landscape. Envision a user-friendly data dashboard provided by NSOs, accessible to all, where citizens can seamlessly upload and share data collected from their respective communities. This isn’t about relinquishing control but fostering a collaborative environment where data becomes a shared resource. By facilitating such a platform, NSOs could democratise access to data, ensuring that it reflects the diverse tapestry of experiences and insights from different communities. Yes, necessary disclaimers would need to be incorporated, and a system where citizens register transparently and trackable would need to be devised. However, the synergy between formal data institutions and active citizens would pave the way for a more holistic understanding of the socio-economic landscape.

The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) has pioneered the introduction of the Kenya Statistical Quality Assessment Framework (KeSQAF). This initiative is designed as a guiding light, meticulously monitoring and assessing the quality of statistics emerging within the National Statistical System (NSS). KeSQAF isn’t merely a procedural addition; it is a transparency and clarity tool, serving as a responsive bridge managing the expectations, queries, and demands of data users. This transparent approach not only responds to immediate data inquiries but also enhances the credibility of the KNBS substantially.

NSOs for citizen-generated data capacity building

In addition to stewardship, NSOs need to embrace a proactive role in capacity building amongst citizens. This entails not just passive dissemination of information but an aggressive campaign to instil awareness of standards and best practices related to data. Through accessible guidelines and educational initiatives, NSOs can empower citizens, illuminating how data can be harnessed for decision-making, advocacy, and action. Such academic endeavours would enhance the quality of Citizen citizen-generated data and foster a culture of informed and active citizenship, where individuals and communities are equipped to utilise data as a tool for change.

This approach marks a departure from the conventional paradigm that has characterised NSOs, ushering in a model where Citizen Generated Data is valued not as mere statistics but as a form of administrative data that pulsates with the rhythms of everyday life. It recognises and celebrates active citizenship and engagement, acknowledging that when citizens are empowered to contribute to the data narrative, policies born out of this dialogue will likely be more responsive, inclusive, and effective. This is not merely about data; it’s about fostering a participatory ethos where citizens are not just passive recipients but active contributors to the development process, thus redefining the policy formulation and implementation landscape.

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