Changing What Counts: How Can Citizen-Generated and Civil Society Data Be Used as an Advocacy Tool to Change Official Data Collection?

52 Pages Posted: 7 Mar 2016

See all articles by Jonathan Gray

Jonathan Gray

King's College London

Danny Lämmerhirt

TU Dortmund University; University of Siegen

Liliana Bounegru

Ghent University; University of Groningen; Digital Methods Initiative

Date Written: March 3, 2016


The information systems of public institutions play a crucial role in how we collectively look at and act in the world. They shape the way decisions are made, progress is evaluated, resources are allocated, issues are flagged, debates are framed and action is taken. As a United Nations (UN) report recently put it, “Data are the lifeblood of decision-making and the raw material for accountability.”

Every information system renders certain aspects of the world visible and lets others recede into the background. Datasets highlight some things and not others. They make the world comprehensible and navigable in their own way – whether for the purposes of policy evaluation, public service delivery, administration or governance.

Given the critical role of public information systems, what happens when they leave out parts of the picture that civil society groups consider vital? What can civil society actors do to shape or influence these systems so they can be used to advance progress around social, democratic and environmental issues?

This report looks at how citizens and civil society groups can generate data as a means to influence institutional data collection. In the following pages, we profile citizen generated and civil society data projects and how they have been used as advocacy instruments to change institutional data collection – including looking at the strategies, methods, technologies and resources that have been mobilised to this end. We conclude with a series of recommendations for civil society groups, public institutions, policy-makers and funders.

Keywords: data, data revolution, statistics, data collection, information systems, citizen data, open data, big data

Suggested Citation

Gray, Jonathan and Lämmerhirt, Danny and Bounegru, Liliana, Changing What Counts: How Can Citizen-Generated and Civil Society Data Be Used as an Advocacy Tool to Change Official Data Collection? (March 3, 2016). Available at SSRN: or

Jonathan Gray (Contact Author)

King's College London ( email )

London, England WC2R 2LS
United Kingdom

Danny Lämmerhirt

TU Dortmund University ( email )

Friedrich-Wöhler-Weg 6
Dortmund, 44227

University of Siegen ( email )

Hoelderlinstrasse 3
57068 Siegen, NRW 57068

Liliana Bounegru

Ghent University ( email )

Coupure Links 653
Ghent, 9000

University of Groningen ( email )

P.O. Box 800
9700 AH Groningen, Groningen 9700 AV

Digital Methods Initiative ( email )

Spui 21
Amsterdam, 1018 WB

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