Category Archives: citizen engagement

Data-Pop_Alliance

Data-Pop Alliance: a global alliance and call for a people-centered Big Data revolution

This May 2014 launch blog by Data-Pop Alliance’s leadership: Emmanuel Letouzé, Claire Melamed, Alex ‘Sandy’ Pentland, Phuong Pham, Emma Samman and Patrick Vinck explains why they started this alliance. This post is part of the Wikiprogress discussion on “Making data more accessible to society at large“.

As our lives have become increasingly digital, the amount and variety of data that the world’s population generates every day is growing exponentially, as are our capacities to extract ‘insights’ from them. The potential of ‘Big Data’ for human development and humanitarian action has stirred a great deal of both excitement and skepticism since the concept became mainstream at the dawn of the decade. But simply opposing the ‘promise and perils’ of Big Data is a dead end; recognizing their co-existence a mere starting point.

Looking a generation ahead, observing the persistent prevalence of absolute poverty, the rise of global inequality, and the many walls and ceilings impeding well-being, we wondered: what will it take for Big Data to have by then served the cause of human progress to the best of its ability and ours, as part of the larger “data revolution”? Our answer—our contribution—is the creation of the Data-Pop Alliance.


There is no shortage of valuable publications and conferences, initiatives and working groups, proofs of concepts and lab projects, in the fast expanding universe of ‘Big Data for social good’. But we are frustrated by its high level of institutional fragmentation and corresponding lack of a coherent intellectual direction—especially in relation to the context and concerns of poor developing countries. Individual projects and research do not sufficiently build upon or learn from each other, and movement beyond the project and pilot stage towards the use of Big Data at scale will thus be difficult and probably inefficient. Too many discussions are rooted in ideologies and assumptions rather than in solid empirical findings and a clear theory of social change.

“Big Data must increase and not reduce the power of citizens”

What we saw and see as missing is ‘something’—a player or a group of players—serving as a connecting hub, sounding board, and driving force, with the credibility and agility, the intent and capacity, to promote the kind of ‘Big Data revolution’ we feel is needed. What brought us and our organizations together is the conviction that Big Data must increase and not reduce the power of citizens: that the kinds of low granularity, high frequency, digital personal data (these digital “breadcrumbs”) passively emitted by humans ought to be leveraged to impact policies and politics for the benefit of people.  We want to see Big Data amplify the voice and knowledge of the emitters of data, not just improve the insights and means of surveillance of corporations and governments. This will require a better informed, more empowered, global citizenry, and a deeper understanding of the appropriate balance between individual, social, governmental, and commercial interests—with the overarching ethical dimensions and implications.
This is why we created the Data-Pop Alliance: to spur a ‘humanistic’, people-centered, Big Data revolution, cautiously, humbly but resolutely, by providing an enabling environment for learning, information sharing, experimentation, evaluation and capacity building; to catalyze and coordinate developments and innovations in the use of Big Data to help serve the cause of human progress.
Data-Pop Alliance will be a place for the exchange of ideas and information and a broker and implementer of projects.  We believe that structural impact will only come about through a range of connected activities, rather than through a single big initiative or a myriad of disjointed projects. We don’t know yet how Big Data can be best used for human development and social progress. Answers will come from a combination of opportunistic and strategic decisions and actions both on the supply and demand sides of the field. But these should be taken with an eye on the main prize: a future where Big Data improves lives and reduces inequalities, rather than one characterized by a new and widening digital divide.
It is only by linking and leveraging skills, perspectives, and resources in an inter-disciplinary, systematic, and collegial manner that we will collectively be able to make the most of the tremendous potential offered by Big Data to create more agile and more accountable sociopolitical ecosystems, while avoiding its main traps and pitfalls. In this, we are fortunate enough to be joined by an incredible number of institutional and individual partners in a wide range of fields and sectors, from computer science to humanitarian assistance, official statistics to statistical machine-learning, working in small non-governmental organizations and large international institutions, official bodies and academic establishments.
Of course, differences of views are and will be represented in Data-Pop Alliance—along, and at times at odds with, ‘expected’ political lines and economic interests. An obviously contentious question is: in a post-Snowden era, how much, how, by and for whom, when and for what purpose, should cell-phone data be collected, shared and analyzed? Addressing that question—and many others—won’t be easy. But our conviction, based on the lessons of past revolutions and our own experiences, is that the confrontation of competing perspectives coupled with the constant recall of our common objectives is the best and indeed only way to create constructive change.
And so this ‘launch blog post’ is also a call to action and connection to everyone willing to contribute to our mission statement: promoting a people-centered Big Data revolution for development and social progress.
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What’s missing from the data revolution? People.

Written by Neva Frecheville, Co-chair, Beyond 2015, Lead Analyst Post-MDGs, CAFOD. This post is in the lead up to the Wikiprogress discussion on “Making data more accessible to society at large“.

I find the post-2015 data debate both fascinating and disappointing, failing as it does in one key area.

It’s ignoring power.

The UN High Level Panel report on the post-2015 development agenda confirmed that the data revolution is high on the political agenda by including it as one of their five transformational shifts. Since then, the conversation has snowballed, with some heavy weights adding their support.
But I’d argue that at present, the data revolution is too technocratic to change the world. While they’re right that the lack of adequate data is a serious obstacle to good evidence based policy (and practice), the right statistics alone will not change the world. Without looking at the power dynamics behind this ‘revolution’, very little is transformational. Serious questions need to be asked about whose data is captured, by whom, and who has the ability to access, define and interpret it. Whereas the wider open data debate has cottoned on to the importance of citizen empowerment and participation and frames the debate as participation, accountability and transparency, it’s too little referenced in the post-2015 arena.
Who are the people who are meant to benefit the most from the post-2015 development agenda? We all have a responsibility to ensure that those most disenfranchised from decision-making are at the centre of the post-2015 debate. This means those living in the greatest poverty and experiencing the greatest exclusion – especially if we want to achieve the other rallying cry to ‘leave no one behind.’
One of the biggest criticisms of the MDGs is that they were created in the dark corridors and behind the closed doors of global politics at the end of the millennium. Ostensibly, the world is different now – the global conversation,outreach that has seen 1.3 million people share their priorities, and negotiations broadcast online are testament to an increasingly connected world . But this is a conversation that has to include those at the margins in a way that understands the unequal labyrinths of power in which they operate.
Unless we have a better understanding of the data revolution in the context of power dynamics it will not succeed in delivering real, positive change on the ground. During participatory research in 29 countries, people living in poverty articulated their aspirations as freedom from discrimination and oppression, the ability to participate in the decision which affect their lives, social inclusion and a sense of hope. In a world of rising inequalities, people describe poverty and marginalisation as the denial of the rights that confer equality and dignity. But tick box exercises, or even formal legislative recognition of those rights, do not automatically translate into concrete outcomes. For the poorest, the reality experienced through the behaviour of government officials and institutional representatives is one of discrimination and intolerance.
The testimony of one participant from Chennai in India bears witness to the lack of ownership that marginalised people experience when articulating their reality: “Our rights of privacy, freedom are not respected… In fact, the society knows that we are not heard. Often the view is that what we say should not be taken at face value… Even our truths get interrogated.” Without ensuring that people have control of what data is collected, how it is represented and used, and the decisions it is used to inform, this dynamic is not going to change.
So what are the solutions? Participate findings have shown that a participatory approach to governance, that engages with local knowledge, strengthens people’s voices, and enables people to have influence and hold decision-makers to account, has the potential to be transformational. But the meaningful participation of people living in poverty in the creation, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of policies won’t take place if the data which determines policies and priorities is extracted and does nothing to strengthen their hand.
The data revolution must be built from the bottom up, linking local to global. This means investment in community organisation and capacity development, and enabling spaces for the collective action of marginalised communities to emerge. This means empowering citizens – especially the poorest and most marginalised – to participate in the data revolution by developing the skills and capacity of people living in poverty to define the rights that matter most to them, capture and make use of this data, be included in creating, monitoring and implementing policies, and hold institutions to account based on this data.
Neva Frecheville, CAFOD
This blog first appeared on post2015.org, here

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Where is Happy City?

This blog, written by Happy City‘s Sam Wren-Lewis, explains the Happy City Index and how it will help better measure and understand individual’s wellbeing. The post is a part of Wikiprogress‘ current online discussion on “Engaging citizens in well-being and progress statistics“. Feel free to join and leave a comment!

We all want to be happy – we care about how well our lives are going for us. For this reason, the evaluation of our wellbeing has the power to engage and enthuse us. The measurement of wellbeing need not merely be the collection of data, but can inspire people to focus on what really matters to them.


Happy City is a social enterprise that aims for happiness to be taken seriously by individuals, communities and local policy makers. We design and deliver a range of training, projects and communications to help make this shift – drawing attention to, and connecting up, the things in a city that enable individuals and communities to flourish.


At the heart of this change is a new measure of prosperity in cities, namely the Happy City Index, which we are currently co-creating with NEF and other local and national partners. There have recently been many “beyond GDP” initiatives, introducing new measures of prosperity on national and international levels. However, nothing has been developed which fits what is required for individuals and their neighbourhoods, communities, towns, or cities across the UK and beyond. The Happy City Index aims to bridge this divide. It is an accessible, practical, meaningful and helpful tool for individual citizens, community organisations and policymakers to assess and influence wellbeing.

We have gathered together an exceptional partnership of world leaders in the field of wellbeing measurement. The Index will combine pre-existing big data on the drivers of wellbeing (such as the economy, health, education) with primary data about how individuals and communities across the city are doing in terms of their sense of belonging, purpose, engagement, and other aspects of their wellbeing.

The important point for this discussion is that the Happy City Index aims not merely to change WHAT we measure, but WHY and HOW. It aims to engage and enthuse individuals and policymakers in the process of understanding and improving their happiness.

For individual users, the process will be educational, engaging and productive. For example, as I answer the simple survey questions online, I start to understand more about what influences my happiness. As I see my results in fun, visual and easy to understand ways, I start to see which aspects of my life could give the greatest boost to my wellbeing. In addition, when those results link up with the ‘Community Happiness Bank’ – a city-wide database of local groups, events and activities, I can discover the things within streets of my house that could enable me to improve my wellbeing. Users can revisit the website and app over time to monitor their progress, compare how they are doing with others, and find continual inspiration for ways in which they can improve their lives.

We have received a great deal of interest from individuals, community organisations and policymakers, who all believe that this process can enable people to better assess and take control of how well their lives are going.
The community engagement phase of the project will consist in a variety of on- and off-line tools, activities and events. On-line, users can assess and improve their wellbeing over time in the ways discussed above. This, in addition to a city-wide representative sample survey, can enable people to take ownership of a city measure of wellbeing. Off-line, community organisations can begin to involve their users in assessing the benefits that they aim to provide. Workshops and events across the city will bring the Index to life, enabling users to fully explore the survey questions using a range of methods, from sharing stories to interacting with (Health Robinson style) wellbeing measurement machines.

We believe the act of engaging communities in the measurement of their wellbeing in this way will provide them with the knowledge and capacity to build their own happiness and resilience. In addition, it puts the promotion of wellbeing on the local policy agenda, thereby providing policymakers with the power to make decisions that more directly improve people’s lives.

See Also: 


Why engage citizens in wellbeing data?

This blog by Salema Gulbahar leads up to the Wikiprogress online discussion on engaging citizens in well-being and progress statistics. This post explores why we should engage citizen in well-being data and how this is being done.

Are we measuring the right things?

Are our lives getting better? Data and statistics for measuring well-being and progress should answer these questions and enable us to understand what drives the well-being of people and nations and what needs to be done in order to achieve greater progress for all.

“Give citizens the wellbeing data they need,” says the ‘Policy and Wellbeing report commissioned by the Legatum Institute, as better data on well-being can increase peoples choices and ability to make an informed choice. When young people make a choice about their career path or a job, they know what they can earn and what they have to do. Wouldn’t it be nice if they had data on how that job may impact their well-being?

If citizens, governments, schools and employers had better data on progress and well-being and used this data, then decisions made about which services to fund, cut and develop would be different. For example, governments would focus on the rehabilitation of prisoners and not on long prison sentences.

Enabling and engaging citizens in well-being data will allow society as a whole to make more informed decisions and ensure that we measure what matters!

How can citizens get involved?

Citizen engagement in well-being data can range from citizens being actively engaged in a) politics and policy making where they can influence the agenda and what is measured, b) the feedback loop of services they are using via questionnaires, and c) being active user and producers of information and data via simple mobile applications. Below are a few examples:

The Santa Monica Wellbeing Project (video above) in California is a city-wide initiative which engages its citizen in well-being data, throughout the life cycle of the project by i) defining well-being as it relates to the community, ii) creating a new tool to measure well-being in the community and iii) working with the entire community to actively improve the conditions needed for people to thrive.

In 2013, a ‘friends and family test was introduced by National Health Service in the United Kingdom where patients were asked within 48 hours of using a service if they would ‘recommend this service to friends and family’. Improvements in services can been seen over time and citizens feel more empowered, as well. Results are now available.

Three of my neighbours were burgled over a few days, whilst they slept in their homes. I found out when the third and last victim decided to post a little note on everyone’s door. So when I read about the United Sates www.crimemapping.com and the mobile application which allows law enforcement agencies and citizens to provide real time data on crime, I could see how this tool would make a real difference to my well-being.

Citizen engagement has the potential to drive the demand, supply and use of well-being and progress data and statistics. Governments, employers and schools can enhance the well-being of citizens by providing them with information about the relationship between everyday choices and subjective well-being.

Find out more and ensure your voice is heard by participating in the discussion (details below).

Salema Gulbahar
Wikiprogress Coordinator
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Wikiprogress and partners invite you to participate in an online discussion from 22 – 30 April 

  • How can citizen engagement improve the development and use of well-being and progress statistics?
  • Do you have any examples of good practice in citizen engagement in well-being and progress statistics?
  • What role can technology – such as mobile apps or interactive web platforms – play in improving citizen engagement with well-being and progress statistics?



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