Advancing sustainability together? New report and guide on citizen-generated data launched

Hello everyone,

We are pleased to announce the launch of our new report ‘Advancing Sustainability Together? Citizen-generated data and the Sustainable Development Goals’.

Our report, as well as our accompanying guide shall help start conversations around the different approaches of doing and organising CGD. If you would like to engage with CGD, we encourage you to read through our report and guide, or add your questions as suggest edits in our living document version of our guide.

Our report identifies several benefits CGD can bring for implementing and monitoring the SDGs, underlining the importance for public institutions to further support these initiatives.

  • Dealing with data is usually much more than ‘just producing’ data. CGD initiatives open up new types of relationships between individuals, civil society and public institutions.
  • Generating data takes many shapes, from collecting new data in the field, to compiling, annotating, and structuring existing data to enable new ways of seeing things through data. Accessing and working with existing (government) data is often an important enabling condition for CGD initiatives to start in the first place.
  • Beyond filling data gaps, official measurements can be expanded, complemented, or cross-verified by CGD. CGD can also help improve governments data collection efforts, or be used comparative data to test the accuracy of government data.
  • CGD can inform several actions to achieve the SDGs. Beyond education, community engagement and community-based problem solving, this includes baseline research, planning and strategy development, allocation and coordination of public and private programs, as well as the improvement of public services.
  • CGD must be ‘good enough’ for different (and varying) purposes. Governments already develop pragmatic ways to negotiate and assess the usefulness of data for a specific task. CGD may be particularly useful when agencies have a clear remit or responsibility to manage a problem.

Note on method:
As our work wishes to be illustrative rather than comprehensive, we started with a list of over 230 projects that were associated with the term “citizen-generated data” on Google Search, using an approach known as “search as research” (Rogers, 2013). Outgoing from this list, we developed case studies on a range of prominent CGD examples.

If you are interested to inform yourself about some of the CGD initiatives out there, we have prepared a list of organisations, programs, and projects working on CGD. This list is open for everyone to contribute further examples of CGD. We have also prepared our raw dataset of “citizen generated data” according to Google searches accessible on figshare.


Congratulations on the report and guide, @dannylammerhirt and @jwyg!

I see similarities and perhaps an intersection between this idea of governments, international organizations and civil society organizations on using citizen generated data (CGD) to solve problems in the public space, and the data collaboratives idea proposed by NYU’s GovLab.

One of the differences I can see is one of the sources of data. While the former deals mostly with data generated by citizens, user groups, in a crowdsourced way, the latter is more focused on data collected by companies.

Another difference is in the emphasis of the final results. CGD seems more focused on supporting the Sustainable Development Goals. On the other hand, Data Collaboratives seek to broadly produce public value.

It would be interesting if the report included at least a comparison between both of these ideas.


The Open Data Institute has recently released a report on lessons learned from three pilots on Data Trusts. Data Trusts are a newly proposed method of data governance, promoting data reuse across organizational boundaries, with a transparent and accountable decision making process, meant to enable innovation in a responsible data sharing environment. Perhaps it could be explored as a method of stewardship for CGD once it is collected.

Hi @hermann, these are very helpful remarks. I think compiling governance models and approaches to share / withhold data is very much needed when talking about citizen data.

Our research concentrated on methods for data production and ways of configuring participation, but we could segway quite nicely into governance questions. One way to think about it is by asking where in an infrastructure the participation of citizens is ‘located’. This breaks with process-oriented models of participation (e.g. contribution to co-creation) and emphasises how citizens are embedded in infrastructure and how data flows from citizens to other user groups. I’m taking inspiration from this article which I can absolutely recommend reading.

Perhaps this actor mapping within CGD projects is a good first step to then see where and how we could implement data governance and organise projects differently.