Open government data is not the only source that can be used in attempting to hold institutions to account. Open data technologies, standards and tools have also made it possible for non-state actors to gather, collate and use data that can either fill data gaps or be used to contest official information.
Mapping is one popular area for citizen-generated data collection. Many open mapping projects involve collating information known locally to citizens or communities and digitising and displaying it to fill a data gap or be compared with other sources of information. Examples include a project in Kenya that identified and documented communities under-served by public services, and a project in the DRC that provided evidence of natural resource exploitation.
Open Schools Kenya built the first map of the informal Kibera settlement in Nairobi. The project mapped more than 350 informal schools serving the settlement, showing for the first time how many students were missing out on the government promise of free primary education. This prompted commitments to build new public schools to better serve the community.
Moabi DRC is a collaborative mapping initiative that aims to increase transparency and accountability on natural resource issues, especially deforestation and forest degradation, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Researchers from University College London worked with civil society organisations to engage indigenous communities in making geo-located maps of important forest resources. Although the local Tswa people are still able to access the forest to hunt and gather food, a forestry company has cut down many of the trees they depend on. The Tswa participants recorded the locations of destroyed resources to add to their map, and took photos to provide evidence of the impact of logging. A group of elders used the application to document that, while there has been some limited consultation with local people, the company has not kept important promises and the community does not benefit from the exploitation taking place in their forest. However, weak accountability mechanisms have meant that the data collection efforts have not yet led to change.
Another area where community-generated data is frequently used is in gathering alternative datasets to verify or challenge the official results of elections. One example of this is a project that took place alongside the Burkina Faso presidential elections in 2015. As this final case shows, the potential for impact is greatest when multiple sources of data can be combined and compared, especially when data is available in a timely and comparable way.
In November 2015, for the first election since the ousting of the country’s long-time leader, the election commission of Burkina Faso worked with the national open data team to release real-time, verified results district by district, as an open dataset and on an online portal at www.burkina2015.bf. An independent parallel vote count was conducted by Codel, a coalition of civil society organisations, which enabled early results to be quickly checked and verified.
Source: Carolan (2015b)
- Carolan, L. (2015b, December 4). Why data was crucial to Burkina Faso’s first election since uprising. Guardian Datablog.
- Hagen, E., & Stuart, E. (2015, October 6). Mapping the marginalised: Leaving no one behind in Kibera. Development Gateway blog.