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Shining a light on the use of citizen data

Working with King’s College London and the Public Data Lab, it wants to map the diversity of citizen-generated data for sustainable development

The project aims to help governments engage with the data more strategically
The project aims to help governments engage with the data more strategically

The global non-profit, Open Knowledge International, is leading a research project around citizen-generated data (CGD). It is partnering with King’s College London and the Public Data Lab to develop a vocabulary for governments to navigate the landscape of citizen-generated data. The research aims to map the diversity of CGD for sustainable development.


The research will develop a working vocabulary of different citizen-generated data methodologies, which highlights clear distinction criteria between the various methods, but also points out different ways of thinking about citizen-generated data. It hopes to help governments and international organisations attend to the benefits and pitfalls of citizen-generated data in a more "nuanced way" and engage with citizen-generated data more strategically.


This research elaborates on past work in areas such as democratising the data revolution and how citizen-generated data can be organised to monitor and advance sustainability. It is funded by the United Nations Foundation and commissioned by the Task Team on Citizen Generated Data which is hosted by the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data (GPSDD).


Open Knowledge International says that the research is required because of the rise of many citizen-generated data projects which use such data for achieving a range of goals from citizen science, citizen sensing and environmental monitoring to participatory mapping, community-based monitoring and community policing.


In a blog, Danny Lämmerhirt, research coordinator at Open Knowledge International, explains that in these initiatives citizens may play very different roles from assigning the role of mere sensors, to enabling them to shape what data gets collected.


“Initiatives may differ in the media and technologies used to collect data, in the ways stakeholders are engaged with partners from government or business, or how activities are governed to align interests between these parties,” he writes.


Likewise, he points out that different actors articulate the concerns and benefits of CGD in different ways: “Scientific and statistical communities may be concerned about data quality and interoperability of citizen-generated data whereas a community centered around the monitoring of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) may be more concerned with issues of scalability and the potential of CGD to fill gaps in official data sets.


“Legal communities may consider liability issues for government administrations when using unofficial data, whilst CSOs and international development organisations may want to know what resources and capacities are needed to support citizen-generated data and how to organise and plan projects.”


The project will address a range of questions including: what citizen-generated data methodologies work well, and for what purposes? What is the role of citizens in generating data, and what can data “generation” look like? How are participation and use of citizen data organised? And in what ways could citizen-generated data contribute to regulatory decision-making or other administrative tasks of government?


Open Knowledge International stated that the research will:

  • map existing literature, online content and examples of projects, practices and methods associated with the term citizen-generated data and use the mapping to solicit for input and ideas on other kinds of citizen-generated data initiatives as well as other relevant literatures and practices from researchers, practitioners and others;
  • gather suggestions from literature, researchers and practitioners about which aspects of citizen-generated data to attend to, and why;
  • undertake fresh empirical research around a selection of citizen-generated data projects in order to explore these different perspectives.

Open Knowledge International is inviting governments, civil society organisations and academia to share examples of citizen-generated data methodologies and the benefits of using citizen-generated data as part of its research. Find out more at the Open Knowledge International forum.


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