Harnessing the power of citizen-generated data (CGD) is vital to measure sustainable development. Well-targeted economic and social policies require national, timely and disaggregated data. However, many national statistical offices (NSOs) and national statistical systems (NSSs), the key providers of such data, struggle to deliver such data due to their capacity and structural weaknesses in their ecosystems. Available official data sources simply do not suffice to cater to these demands.
Therefore, NSSs need to collaborate closely with new and alternative data producers to close structural data gaps in the medium to long term. At this stage, NSSs are investigating how to accelerate innovation and explore the use of alternative data sources to cope with increasing national data demands.
CGD have the potential to fill those data gaps. By nature, such data are collected by non-state actors under the consent of citizens with the purpose to monitor issues that directly affect them. During COVID-19 response and recovery measures, CGD on violence against women might enable policy makers to track gender-sensitive issues on a communal level. Moreover, Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) indicators on areas such as reproductive health, disability or environmental issues, often uncovered by official statistics, benefit from the use of CGD, as best practice in the Philippines and the Netherlands shows. This, in turn, contributes to empowering local communities and domesticating regional and global agendas such as Agenda 2063 and Agenda 2030. Finally, CGD provide a unique opportunity for NSOs to build trust in data and statistics among policy makers, data producers and citizens at large.
However, the use of CGD by NSOs comes with strings attached. NSOs, data providers and policy makers need to have a common vocabulary and quality standards on the defining aspects of CGD. Furthermore, CGD vary largely in quality and coverage and hence might not comply with highly standardised official statistics. The data community expects NSOs to set standards for what and how statistics should be produced, and these may not be directly aligned with the nature of CGD.
The paper puts forward five key recommendations to integrate CGD in the data portfolio of a modern NSO:
- Communicate a working definition of CGD
- Identify the purpose
- Implement quality standards for CGD
- Develop institutional capacities to co-ordinate with CGD producers
- Establish data repositories to facilitate data sharing
This working paper proposes an innovative approach for NSOs to use CGD for reporting purposes without changing the nature and features of CGD. It further proposes a quality framework that enables NSOs to take the first step in engaging with civil society organisations (CSOs) and harness the potential of CGD in the face of the data revolution. Such engagement can be extended in the future to establish more profound collaborations between NSOs and CSOs, potentially involving co-design, co-production or co-dissemination of data.