Paper 4 : Citizen Data around Governance for the Sustainable Development Goals

By Davis Adieno: Senior Advisor, Data, Accountability, and Sustainable Development – CIVICUS World Alliance

Context of the SDGs: Implementation, follow up and Review

The United Nations describes the 2030 Agenda as a plan of action for people, planet and prosperity, seeking to strengthen universal peace in larger freedom. The Agenda has prioritised eradicating poverty in all its forms and dimensions, including extreme poverty citing this as the greatest global challenge and an indispensable requirement for sustainable development[1]. It is therefore no surprise that many countries are working hard to try and domesticate and integrate the SDGs in their national development frameworks. The ambitious, integrated, and cross cutting nature of the SDGs requires countries to work smart, be much more innovative, raise awareness, and be much more inclusive; working with citizens, civil society, research/academia, and development partners, among others to integrate and track progress.

The post-2015 negotiating process opened doors to a range of stakeholders including civil society and private sector. Widely hailed as inclusive, the resultant goals, targets, and indicators represent a broad set of issues and diverse interests that could potentially unleash a truly transformative agenda[2]. More importantly the whole world has been rallied towards “leaving-no-one behind.” The 2030 Agenda couldn’t have therefore come at a better time. The world is at cross-roads experiencing highly complex socio-economic and political challenges. Whereas the ambition is to leave no one behind, we still have no clear methodology nor data to tell us who the most poor, marginalised, and vulnerable are; let alone exactly where they are in order to develop and deploy targeted strategies that bring them to the fold of mainstream development and governance. As a result, they still remain in the red zone; likely to be left behind yet again.

Process-wise, a truly transformative agenda is at risk with slow progress being made in resolving challenges around tier II and III SDGs indicators[3]. As of September 2016 the Inter-agency and Expert Group on SDG Indicators (IAEG-SDGs)[4] published the updated tier classification that showed that out of the 230 globally agreed SDGs indicators, 81 were tier I indicators, 57 were tier II, and 88 were tier III. In addition to these, there were 4 indicators that had multiple tiers (different components of the indicator were classified into different tiers). It’s however, taking longer than anticipated to resolve the tier related issues, with a direct negative consequence on the ability of countries to domesticate SDGs. Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and developing countries will find it even more difficult to mainstream SDGs in their national plans and establish follow up and review mechanisms. The grim reality is we stand the risk of many countries not fully achieving set targets under the SDGs.

The SDGs are being implemented in a difficult political context for citizens and more specifically civil society. The affront on civic freedoms and indeed civic space is on the rise. In 2016 alone, CIVICUS World Alliance[5] documented serious violations of civic space in 109 countries[6]. This year is no different, if findings in the 2017 State of Civil Society Report[7] are anything to go by. A consistent pattern is emerging of attacks on civil society organisations (CSOs) and activists engaged in defending human rights and fundamental freedoms from repressive state machinery, extremist groups and criminal forces linked to big business. While some of the worst conditions for civil society’s fundamental rights of association, peaceful assembly and expression are experienced in Africa and Asia, every global region has countries where civil society is repressed. Civic space is being seriously constrained in 106 countries, over half of all United Nations (UN) members. This means that the restriction of civic space has become the norm rather than the exception. It should now be considered a global emergency.

Additionally, the CIVICUS Monitor[8] is adducing evidence that civic freedoms and indeed civic space is in a sorry state all over the world. Just three percent of people on the planet live in countries with open civic space. By contrast, almost one in ten people live in a country with closed civic space and over a third of people live in countries with repressed civic space. According to the HLPF reporting timeline[9], it’s only until 2019 that member states will have the opportunity to report on SDG 16[10]. But given the importance of an enabling environment as a pre-condition to achieving sustainable development, we are more inclined to think that perhaps it is time to reconsider annual reporting at the High Level by countries on the progress being made to promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.

Citizen-Generated Data (CGD) around governance for the SDGs

Through DataShift[11], an initiative of CIVICUS we have learnt that the link between globally defined frameworks such as SDGs and what is happening in people’s lives at the local level is not always obvious. It is therefore important to relate these concepts to real-world scenarios to ensure they can be understood by all, particularly in their local contexts. A closer review of and demonstration of areas of government policy or service delivery for example health, education, water and sanitation, agriculture and so forth; and how government is translating these into meaningful results in people’s lives can make it easier to stimulate people’s interest and participation.

Citizens are also seldom seen as proactive members of the data ecosystem, but more of final recipients of interventions born out of decisions made elsewhere. This exacerbated by power imbalances that pitch government on one side and citizens on the other – each perceiving the other as a distinct and separate entity. On the other hand majority of people simply can’t make sense of data, therefore are least interested in it. As governments grapple with the domestication of SDGs, non-state actors need not wait. They have been implementing sustainable development initiatives for decades. The big question is how these can be mainstreamed into a framework that allows them to directly contribute to the implementation and track progress on specific sub-national and national SDGs indicators, while reporting on the same. Governments need to lead the process of developing these kinds of frameworks.
Significant challenges remain in accessing timely, relevant, and good quality data to supply useable information. Capacity gaps, resource constraints, governance and institutional challenges stand in the way of efficient and effective production of good quality, timely, and relevant data and statistics. A culture of usage is yet to be inculcated in many critical formal government sectors and therefore decisions are not aligned to development priorities – often left to intuition and political interests. The Africa Data Consensus (ADC)[12] outlines other challenges including lack of disaggregated data; lack of accessible usable information that is open to all communities; a mismatch between available data and actual problems; weak demand and capacity in the use of data at both national and local level; concerns over privacy, data protection and intellectual property; insufficient funding and dependence on external resources; lack of common standards allowing comparison of data across sectors and countries, and; the lack of data on key issues such as governance, peace and security, environmental sustainability, gender and human rights.

Citizen-generated data can connect people with timely, meaningful information that is actionable for their circumstances and everyday tasks. DataShift describes CGD as data that people or their organisations produce to directly monitor, demand or drive change on issues that affect them. CGD is data generated by citizens that falls outside the remit of official data, either surveys, administrative, or civil registration and vital statistics. In most cases its production is initiated by citizens or non-state actors like civil society organisations, community based organisations, and religious institutions through research, social audits, crowd-sourcing online platforms, mobile phone and SMS surveys, phone calls, reports, storytelling, social media, and community radio.
CGD can be quantitative or qualitative, structured or unstructured, and open or closed. It comes in a number of formats, ranging from numerical data in spreadsheets to text, audio or photos. Typically, citizen-generated data is collected through a specific initiative that aims to have a positive social impact. For example, an initiative might address corruption, sexual harassment, service delivery, or environmental degradation. CGD initiatives can harness the power of collective intelligence to contribute in areas where key data is missing – like the health of our oceans. Plankton Portal[13], which uses crowdsourcing to locate and classify different photos of plankton to help scientists better understand the function and health of the ocean from small to global scales. This can be used to directly measure progress on SDG 14 on life below water.

Whereas CGD complements official data, there is broad consensus that it cannot replace it. It’s however useful in plugging data gaps or check the accuracy and quality of government data being produced. In China for example, Float Beijing[14] gathered citizens in the city to build air quality sensors attached to kites that could produce an accurate, timely dataset on air quality in the city because the Chinese government wasn’t publishing sufficient air quality information. Float Beijing could be used to monitor targets and indicators under SDG 11 on sustainable cities and communities. In other cases, citizens collect qualitative data to raise awareness of a topic that isn’t getting enough attention from institutions – like HarassMap[15], which collects experiences of sexual harassment in Egypt to raise awareness on this important issue and could be used to directly monitor progress on targets under SDG 5.

Sometimes citizens are simply better placed to gather data on a particular topic. Sustainable Development Goal number 5 on “Achieving Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women & Girls” sets target 5.4 to recognize and value unpaid care and domestic work through the provision of public services, infrastructure and social protection policies. This is an example of a target whose data can be more accurately collected through self-enumeration by citizens as data collectors since it may require data to be collected within the home, in real time. Check My School[16] is an example of a participatory public education monitoring program in the Philippines that enables parents to send in feedback about schools via SMS, twitter and other media – also connecting them with the Department of Education to help inform policy making.

A broad range of approaches and technologies can be used for collecting citizen-generated data. These include:

  • Undertaking new surveys (e.g. to measure literacy[17]) whether via more traditional household questionnaire formats or new tech-dependent formats like SMS and radio feedback mechanisms (e.g. to measure attitudes to disease prevention[18]);
  • Deploying monitoring equipment – including custom devices (e.g. to map pollution[19]);
  • Mapping with “drones” or GPS devices (e.g. to scrutinise land boundaries[20]);
  • Combining multiple existing databases (e.g. to count migrant deaths[21]);
  • Scraping and aggregating data from official sources (e.g. to monitor official pardons[22]);
  • Cross-referencing official, news and social media sources (e.g. to count police killings[23]; to assess public service delivery[24]);
  • Creating crowdsourcing mechanism in order to collect individual stories and reports from citizens and civil society groups (e.g. to better measure marine debris[25]; to monitor economic conditions[26]);
  • Developing micro-tasking platforms to utilise online assistance in performing tasks that require human cognition (e.g. to monitor deforestation[27]; to assist in disaster relief efforts[28]
  • Social or community-based auditing which empower citizens to undertake their own inquiries into issues that affect their lives (e.g. National Taxpayers Association social auditing[29] of Constituency Development Funds in Kenya or Community Based Auditing to improve natural resource planning and management[30]).
  • A combination of more than one of these approaches (e.g. to map the supply of and access to water at district level[31])
  • DataShift’s project with the Open Institute[32] in localising the SDGs at the community level in Lanet Umoja Location, Nakuru County, in Kenya with Chief Francis Kariuki[33], hopes to demonstrate (at a small scale) the sort of effort needed to reach everyone, including the most marginalised, to empower citizens as data collectors.

CGD has been touted as one of the complementary data sources for monitoring of the implementation and tracking progress on national development plans and SDGs. It can provide qualitative data and evidence on the impact of interventions on people’s lives and relay feedback to governments for scaling up or making improvements. As acknowledged, the SDGs agenda is so ambitious that complementary efforts of other data producers may be needed to supply data to meet the demand and catalyze action on the ground. CGD can therefore help to identify and fill inherent data gaps in specific thematic areas, especially those that require physical presence, constant monitoring, or regular submission of data, for example indicators on the environment or life under water. Its other distinct advantages include:

  1. Given limitations in resources, capacity gaps, or historical marginalization governments are unlikely to reach all corners of their countries, potentially leaving people behind. CGD can highlight those kinds of populations especially in marginalized and hard to reach areas in order to inform policy decisions and targeted resource allocation.
  2. It offers the opportunity to citizens, untrained in formal data and statistics methodologies to be creative and flexible in development and governance interventions; often better understanding and responding to people’s immediate and rapidly evolving needs.
  3. The contextualised nature of CGD means it can yield highly disaggregated data to the lowest levels of the communities, highlighting specific needs and priorities for government and other stakeholder’s interventions to support the realization of sustainable development.
  4. CGD empowers citizens to better understand their development and governance context, therefore have the ability to hold their leaders to account for the delivery of promises made under national development plans and the SDGs.
  5. Related to the point above, CGD is gathered on themes and topics that matter to citizens, potentially flagging up issues of social injustice, economic inequality or environmental degradation that might otherwise be missed.
  6. CGD is actively given by citizens, providing direct representations of their perspectives and an alternative to datasets collected by governments or international institutions.
  7. CGD can help communities take ownership of their development agenda and engage in the identification of targets and indicators they can take action themselves at the local level, therefore meaningfully contributing to the delivery of the SDGs.
  8. CGD can help achieve scale on ideas and interventions that work, especially through the testing of new, innovative ideas, and developing practical models at various levels of development.

One of the key counter-arguments by statisticians about CGD is that does not necessarily adhere to the Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics, therefore posing challenges to policy makers that may want to use it. Despite the immense potential of citizen-generated data, a number of both real and perceived challenges exist regarding its collection and use. DataShift notes these challenges as:

  1. Coverage: This refers to the number and geographical distribution of citizen-generated data initiatives, along with the degree to which their thematic focus corresponds with the many SDGs targets and indicators. While citizen-generated data initiatives on new topics are emerging all the time, and a number of projects which have been successful in one location are being rolled out in others, increasing the coverage of these projects across more countries and SDGs-focus areas remains a major challenge, especially to comprehensive shadow reporting.
  2. Representativity: Sparse coverage and the wide range of methodologies and metrics used mean that citizen-generated data projects, such as crowdsourced data or citizen report cards, will often not be a representative sample of the whole population.
  3. Credibility: There are currently a lack of standards or agreed good practices for citizen-generated data collection and use, meaning that quality and reliability of the data produced can be variable. This has contributed to perceptions that citizen-generated data often lacks credibility; something which is at times reflected in government attitudes towards using or integrating it into their own datasets.
  4. Comparability: At present, there is today no easy method for comparing citizen-generated data collected by different actors and in multiple countries – often collected according to different methodologies and concepts, strategic priorities and cultural and political contexts.
  5. Using the data: The raw and unbounded potential of technology holds a powerful allure for both governments and civil society. Challenges around the usability of citizen-generated data also apply to civil society. Many projects can fail to adequately consider how the information and datasets they produce will actually be used, whether this is via civil society campaigning strategies or feeding into local, national or global accountability processes.

DataShift concludes that while these challenges are not insurmountable, and significant progress has been made on many of these issues, considerable and continued effort from government, civil society and other stakeholders will be required to get the most out of this innovative but complex data source. Collaboration is possible between NSOs and CGD initiatives in collecting data and this can be tested in many areas of the national statistical activities.

Case Study Learning from DataShift’s Citizen-Generated Data (CGD) for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) projects

DataShift’s ‘Citizen-Generated Data (CGD) for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)’ explored opportunities and challenges with using, among others data streams, CGD in all aspects of SDGs progress particularly related to gender equality in Kenya and Tanzania. A review of country contexts and data sources was conducted through applied data research primarily focusing on gender, assessing gender data availability, accessibility, quality, comparability and gaps. The approach entailed a deep-dive on SDG 5 [34](achieve gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls). SDG 5 was selected because substantive stakeholder consultations revealed that whereas a lot of advocacy work was being undertaken in this area, this was supported by very little data and evidence. Additionally, collaboration among key stakeholders on gender data and information was nearly non-existent.

There are a number of ways that CGD can support tracking progress on SDGs in a more practical sense. This includes applied research; collaboration and partnerships to strengthen trust and facilitate learning among civil society either directly or through coordinating platforms, local government and national government agencies; thematic forums assembling diverse stakeholders; policy engagement; direct capacity support and development of training modules; technical support to civil society and government on SDGs domestication, follow up and review; and outreach and advocacy.


It is important to conduct research for the specific area of focus on the SDGs. This offers deeper insights into how in concrete terms citizen-generated data could be used to track progress on the specific targets and indicators. The findings support advocacy efforts in promoting CGD for SDGs monitoring at different levels, especially within government. DataShift conducted a number of research pieces including:

  • The “Statistical Perspectives on Citizen-generated Data (CGD)[35]” report that delved into the opportunities and challenges involved in using CGD to support government-led efforts to catalyse and monitor progress on sustainable development. While focusing on DataShift’s pilot locations (Argentina, Kenya, Nepal, and Tanzania), the study also brought in contributions of experts from international organisations – such as Open Data Watch, Paris21, and the UK Department for International Development.
  • CGD for SDGs: The “Acting locally, Monitoring globally[36] report published in partnership with Open Knowledge International, sought to decipher to what extent the SDGs are relevant for CGD initiatives. CGD yields the potential to foreground the issues of disadvantaged communities in under-reported locations. “From Evidence to Action[37]“ is a research piece that demonstrates how citizen-generated data (CGD) can support decision-making and trigger action. “Making citizen-generated data work[38] investigates how citizen-generated data can be used to monitor progress around the SDGs.
  • The “Guide to engaging governments on SDGs[39] is a “live” document that is continually updated and draws on our experiences in Kenya and Tanzania. It provides information about key opportunities, challenges and strategies for CSOs engagement with governments on SDGs.

National Thematic Forums

Since most actors still operate in silos, it’s important to mobilise and facilitate engagements in order to raise awareness on SDGs, gain better understanding of the development landscape, key players, and their priorities. The objective of thematic forums is to assemble organisations and individuals active within their sectors but who rarely interact to share learning or evidence from their initiatives. Through thematic forums we learnt that breaking down the silos will not be easy, however a more coordinated approach through structured collaboration on priority sub-themes like gender-based violence (for SDG 5) and creating/supporting a culture of data sharing, lesson learning, joint-research and common advocacy agenda can help make this possible.

Strategic positioning and engaging government

Several opportunities for partnership and collaboration exist in the national follow up and review processes. Civil society and other non-state actors can work through SDGs coordination platforms to engage in Voluntary National Reviews[40] and contribute evidence from their initiatives. The process presents a key opportunity to build trust and strategically position CSOs to influence other on-going mainstreaming of the SDGs into national and sub-national development plans.

Facilitating sharing of learning among partners

There are many useful lessons to be learnt from partners working in diverse locations. Variations in strategies, approaches and methodologies enhance learning and avoid the re-inventing of the wheel, particularly in the use of technology to generate and utilise CGD. DataShift for instance convened partners from all its pilot countries in Johannesburg in November 2016 for a global gender thematic forum[41]. The forum took an in-depth look at the possibilities and barriers for improving the coherence of civil society data and CGD on gender, exploring in particular issues of credibility via topics such as methodological rigour and responsible data use. The partners identified practical steps to overcoming challenges as documented and shared in the report “Exploring the Global Coverage, Credibility and Complementarity of Civil Society Data and Citizen-Generated Data on Gender Issues[42]”. This uncovered new opportunities for joint working among partners and across countries.

Convening multi-stakeholder in-country data collaboratives

Governments and civils society should explore the formation of multi-stakeholder data collaboratives. Inspired by the health data collaborative[43] in Kenya for example, the mandate of these collaboratives is largely to mobilise within thematic sectors on data supporting delivery of development outcomes, and developing concepts for multi-stakeholder country reports on the annual status of specific SDGs.

Developing guidelines for improving methodology and quality of CGD in collaboration with government

Guidelines are needed to help CSOs navigate national legal and policy frameworks, identify areas for reforms, and improve their methodologies for production of CGD for decision-making. DataShift has for example partnered with the Tanzania National Bureau of Statistics[44] and Africa Philanthropic Foundation[45] to develop such guidelines that could facilitate exactly this.

Practically testing ideas for domesticating SDGs at the community level

Through the Global Goals for Local Impact project with the Open Institute (OI) in Kenya and a local government administrator in Lanet Umoja, Nakuru County in Kenya[46], Chief Francis Kariuki (aka the Tweeting Chief[47]) DataShift explored a model of citizen-local government participation in the domestication of SDGs at the community level. This was a great opportunity to work with the local administration to strengthen the capacity of citizens to generate CGD and use the information themselves to demand for improved service delivery.

The Nakuru County budget making process also presented a clear avenue for the citizens to use SDG 5 targets and indicators as the framework for identifying priority sub-themes. They then used data collected by women groups on mobile phones to visualise and articulate community problems to the county government. This evidence-based approach to advocate for country budget resources resulted to the county government committing funds to construct a health centre in Lanet Umoja – a public service problem the community had grappled with for many years. The data made available on a dedicated Lanet Umoja web dashboard[48] supports local government in decision-making.

DataShift further collaborated with Restless Development Tanzania under their Kijana Wajibika[49] initiative to empower male and female youth to generate and use gender disaggregated CGD to power campaigns targeting district youth funds in three districts in Tanzania. The capacity strengthening included support with campaigns that engaged district level decision-makers and has helped the youth to engage in other formal local government decision-making platforms. Constructive dialogues with local government leaders proved that when supported young people could be highly effective drivers of local level accountability on sustainable development, often owing to their ability to quickly utilise new data-related technologies and innovative campaign approaches.

 Leave-no-one behind consultations

DataShift technical support to the leave-no-one-behind national dialogues in Kenya and Tanzania taught us the importance of localising the SDGs framework and in particular the language it uses. It is however important to share the approach and learning, including convening side events and engaging in major global fora, e.g. the World Data Forum, UN Statistical Commission, High Level Political Forum, and UN General Assembly. One of the key messages in various forums was that, a closer look at the SDGs targets and indicators revealed that a substantial number of these could be tracked by citizens and civil society organisations, however this requires the establishment of formal (government supported) frameworks to report on progress in an integrated, sustainable way.

Convening civil society

Through the Action for Sustainable Development (A4SD)[50] initiative, DataShift focused on creating a coordination mechanism to unite global civil society efforts around SDGs through working groups on Monitoring and Accountability, and Innovative Solutions. Progress was made in convening civil society actors to explore joint efforts that could enhance data-driven monitoring of the SDGs. In addition to hosting online webinars, a web space[51] was created to facilitate sharing of information. DataShift developed and shared knowledge on the practical approach and opportunities for civil society organisations to take advantage of formal government processes to engage on SDGs in their countries through the development sharing of a guide[52]. Leveraging technologies, network visualisations were developed[53] to present a picture of all citizen generated data initiatives in DataShift’s database and their respective connection to the SDGs.

The DataShift Community of CGD practitioners was formalised and grew to over 300 members from around the globe. To inspire innovative action and collaboration on CGD for SDGs initiatives across our community, a DataShift “Community Challenge[54]” was launched and the winners announced. Through the “data for activists” initiative, learnings were documented and shared (including by video) from an extended capacity strengthening programme that continues to support dozens of CSOs to generate and use data for local campaigns, which will in turn feed into wider SDGs monitoring efforts where possible. This process has culminated in the creation of an online learning curriculum on this topic that is now ready to be rolled out to hundreds more CSOs[55].

Having learnt that CGD is much more useful for spurring action and tracking progress on specific issues and SDGs targets, DataShift commenced a deep dive into Goal 16.10[56], since this is an area that CGD has shown potential to add real value. DataShift is also working to support local campaigning to ensure public access to information and the protection of fundamental freedoms, leveraging CGD and creating direct links with the CIVICUS Monitor[57].

Supporting the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data (GPSDD)

DataShift played an active role as an anchor member of the GPSDD, including full participation in Interim Steering Group and in all in-person meetings and regular conference calls. The strategic opportunity here included sharing learning from sub-national, national, and global experiences by consistently participating in the GPSDD strategic planning processes. Technically we provided expert advice to government-led national data revolution roadmap workshops in Africa. During the workshops we demonstrated how civil society and CGD can support more effective monitoring of SDGs. At the World Data Forum, Cape Town in January 2017 we co-hosted a number of events and participated as panelists in others, as well as engaged in all the side-meetings of GPSDD, while supporting other Partnership members in their side events.

Learning from DataShift CGD for SDGs initiatives

  • We can’t track what doesn’t exist. Whereas the SDGs have mobilised political and technical capital we realise that countries are still grappling with a complicated domestication and mainstreaming process almost two years after their adoption. Therefore as civil society we’ve had to spend a considerably larger than expected amount of time nurturing and brokering relationships with decision makers to better understand the process and offer our support, but this has inevitably delayed efforts towards tracking progress on SDGs.
  • A detailed analysis of SDGs indicators in DataShift pilot countries finds that disparities in language and definitions between the SDGs targets and indicators and locally available data sources for example the demographic and health surveys. This is further delaying the domestication process as national statistical offices seeks to harmonise the two, and develop methodology for new indicators that fall under tier II and III.
  • A review of official datasets found that they fall short on disaggregation by gender and other key criteria. It was therefore problematic to determine how government programs were impacting citizens by gender, age and other social economic factors. Tools, methodology, financial, and technical support is needed to improve data quality.
  • Despite many initiatives undertaking great thematic gender-related work in health, education, economic development, among others, many CSOs are yet to make the connection with the SDGs and what their potential role could be in implementing and tracking progress. Incentives are needed across the board to demonstrate the utility of SDGs to some of these players.
  • We’ve learnt that donor requirements significantly influencing the way CSOs generate, use and share data. Contract clauses determine how seriously CSOs take the process of production, analysis, use, and dissemination of data. These requirements also determine whether the data will be made available or not. The advocacy efforts around improved methodology, standards and robustness need to target donors and other funders to prescribe quality standards and improved methodologies for collection and dissemination of data among their partners or grantees.
  • Breaking down silos is not easy, however, it’s possible to harness their power through establishing “data collaboratives” in countries that gravitate around specific thematic sectors in order to harmonise multi-stakeholder efforts. The collaboratives would create platforms that connect initiatives and mobilise collective action and advocacy agendas on cross-cutting issues.
  • Political will on the side of government officials, in particular creating opportunities for initial consultative meetings is a critical first step to opening channels for multi-stakeholder collaboration. Through constructive engagement with government, new channels for participation can be opened, however this needs to be backed up by policies and other formally agreed frameworks. Whereas many government recognise the importance of consulting civil society in the Voluntary National Review processes, they don’t proactively do so, forcing civil to constantly push for a space at the table.
  • The relative novelty and pluralistic nature of CGD means it can be easily dismissed by public officials if they feel it challenges their authority. Therefore greater understanding and trust needs to be built around the utility of CGD for decision-making. This may stem from genuine concerns about collection methodologies, accuracy, privacy risks, and the compatibility of CGD with established (and often inflexible) official procedures. Additionally, though, CGD may also highlight shortcomings in public service provision or vested interests, giving rise to a less legitimate (but equally, if not more challenging) form resistance.
  • In order to use multiple sources of data, particularly CGD, to monitor SDGs progress, it is important to strengthen and refine data systems, especially the national indicator framework to formally acknowledge and identify new specific data sources. Data standards however must be developed and in some instances harmonised if the data is to be made interoperable. The current differences in methodology and approach makes this practically impossible.
  • We’ve also learnt that in order to use CGD for SDGs monitoring, civil society and governments need to work with and build on existing government processes to help align interests. SDGs monitoring projects therefore need to talk to governments. On the contrary, governments should foster openness towards CGD, for instance by installing civic contact points (ombudsmen) for SDGs monitoring, and support CGD initiatives through technical and financial resources. SDGs should be used as the common framework for mutual collaboration.
  • Lack of effective government coordination mechanisms, inadequate buy-in from all actors across government, power dynamics, and narrowed interests of individuals or organisations can side-track and delay progress on data initiatives. To overcome these, in-depth political economy analysis and understanding is needed of the contextual power structures and dynamics, key players, and development of strategies that facilitate formal government-led and coordinated multi-stakeholder processes that converge and leverage diverse interests. Two key pillars are needed; 1) political – that mobilises collective buy-in from across government and the requisite resources, and coordinates multi-stakeholder engagements, and 2) technicalthat acts as the natural home of the data revolution, synthesising multi-stakeholder commitments, translating these into policy decisions and actions, and coordinating technical initiatives within and outside government.

Conclusion and Recommendations

In our focus countries we continue to learn about the complex ways in which government decision-making happens and how it can be influenced. Whereas in theory, improved access to quality data and information can lead to better decisions, the reality we have experienced shows that even when opportunities to fill data gaps using innovative sources like CGD are presented to governments, the factors limiting collaboration between civil society and government are as much political as they are technical. With this being the case, the ability of CSOs and citizens to play an active role in SDG monitoring is improving but too slowly.

Public pressure will be critical in exerting influence on how some decisions are made, but there is an inherent recognition that narrowing civic space and curtailed democratic freedoms across the world are inhibiting the ability of the public to hold leaders to account. It is therefore important for civil society to pursue a collaborative model in order to open doors and work in partnership with government, but also draw the lines and work with others when we need to exert pressure on governments to do the right things and be more accountable in their commitments on SDGs.

The more technical arms of governments are willing to partner with civil society. This is partly inspired by the rallying call to “leave-no-one-behind,” but more importantly international pressure and specific clauses in agreements for much more inclusive multi-stakeholder national processes. The continued global advocacy[58] and pressure by civil society on member states to fulfil their commitments under the SDGs, centralise the role of data for sustainable development, prioritise access to information through open governance and data, and facilitate the inclusion of civil society and other stakeholders in governance and development processes is starting to bear fruits – though a lot more is desired on the side of governments to formally appreciate their role as true partners. It is important to fully support multi-stakeholder initiatives on data for example those led the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data (GPSDD) to convene, connect, and catalyse; inspiring collaborations among diverse stakeholders, and country engagements that harness the data revolution and CGD for sustainable development – even more importantly spur action to help end extreme poverty, fight inequality and injustice, and combat climate change[59].

Civil society should therefore seek partnerships with citizens, government, other civil society, academia, private sector, and media, among others that allow them to scale impact by improving the way they all generate, process, share, and use evidence to impact the lives of communities for sustainable development (including the SDGs). They should continue to explore opportunities and develop models that strengthen the connections between citizens and their governments at all levels in order to improve the way services are delivered (this should carter for the needs of those most at risk and vulnerable, including women and girls and other marginalised groups). They must also strengthen the ability of citizens to generate and use CGD to demand accountability and take practical actions through advocacy campaigns that push governments to fulfil commitments made under the SDGs. A bottom up approach which utilises local priorities, citizen voices, language and understanding is the starting point. This will then feed upwards into inclusive multi-stakeholder frameworks coordinated by governments but jointly owned and shared by other stakeholders – not least CSOs.



[2] See more at

[3] The SDGs indicators were classified into three tiers based on their level of methodological development and data availability. The IAEG-SDGs reviewed the initial proposed tier classification that was presented at the 3rd IAEG-SDG meeting in Mexico City and examined additional information on data availability, internationally agreed methodologies and international standards in order to reach a decision on the tier classification for each indicator. Tier 1 are indicators that are conceptually clear, have established methodology and standards available and data is regularly produced by countries. Tier 2 indicators are conceptually clear, have an established methodology and standards available but data are not regularly produced by countries. Tier 3 are indicators for which there are no established methodology and standards or methodology/standards are being developed/tested. Read more here:














































[49] Swahili for “Youth be Responsible”






[55] Watch the full training videos here

[56]; Read 16:10 “Ensure public access to information and protect fundamental freedoms, in accordance with national legislation and international agreements”


[58] CIVICUS works with other partners through the NGOs Major Group ( to engage at the UN in New York and also in Geneva

[59] See more at:


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