How would you like your data? Learning how to best present citizen feedback data back to the “crowd”

Note: A version of this post will appear on AidData’s blog, The First Tranche.

As part of AidData’s ongoing research on crowd-sourced data, I am part of a team focusing on U-report, UNICEF’s tool to hear citizen feedback using free SMS text messages. We’re piloting a project this summer on how U-report data might lead to better decisions made by local government. This past week I had the opportunity to travel to Gulu, Kitgum, and Pader, three districts in northern Uganda. I got the chance to meet with district officials and members of several Youth Coalitions— it was great to hear perspectives from outside of Kampala. Here are some of the key insights I gathered while visiting the field…be on the lookout for a full report on my site visits on UNICEF’s DevTrac!

 

  1. Data is only useful if there are users. So far, U-report has generated a wealth of interesting data from its 261,920 reporters. Now, our goal is to make this information as accessible and usable to those who need it most: local advocacy groups, district government, and citizens themselves. Good presentation of U-report findings is key to enabling users to access and apply crowd-sourced data in their advocacy activities and programming.
  2. Simple is better, flexibility is the best. We heard over and over that short, straightforward reports with clear data visualizations are the way to go. Nobody has time to read a lengthy, detailed document— charts and graphs are great tools to reveal key findings at a glance. Another great perspective we heard was that electronic reports should always be accompanied by paper copies. Some local officials do not readily have access to internet or may not take the time to open emails containing our data. Additionally, Youth Coalition members expressed the need for local language translations to accompany reports in English.
  3. One size doesn’t fit all. The reports that are most useful for Youth Coalitions might be too detailed for local decision-makers with little time or limited experience analyzing data. Government officials might respond better to simple charts and graphic visuals, though these might not resonate with development partners who want a richer report of what citizens are talking about. We’re aiming to take the diverse needs of different types of users into account and craft specific reports that benefit them the most.
  4. Broken data works better. Looking at aggregate crowd-sourced data is interesting, but analysis is much stronger when the data is broken down by certain categories. Local users are most interested in seeing data specific to their districts, as well as U-report data from surrounding districts for comparison. Gender and age are other important ways to disaggregate the data.
  5. Presenting U-report data in an accessible way increases citizen ownership of the data. When data is given back to the communities that create it, this forms a robust feedback mechanism that enables citizens to report on local issues, use the power of the crowd to advocate for matters of concern, and hold their governments accountable if issues aren’t addressed. Local officials gain an easy way to communicate with their constituents, to encourage citizens to take advantage of programming, and to monitor their programs.

 

We’re aiming to create easily-understood reports to facilitate use of citizen feedback through U-report. At AidData and UNICEF, we believe this will lead to better development outcomes through better planning and increased accountability at all levels of government. Adding to my first point above, I’d say that data is only as useful as there are users empowered to apply it.