Data, Citizen Engagement and Development, Part 1


During a break in my data science graduate studies this Spring, I took a month-long EdX MOOC course entitled Citizen Engagement: A Game Changer for Development? The course provided a great foundation and definitions for understanding how participation can drive sustainable development goals and the role of data within the participation framework. I took this class because I wanted to learn more about the role of data in citizen engagement and development. Today I want to share some of my reflections from the course.

Wael Ghonim, Google’s Middle East marketing director and an Egyptian activist, told CNN, “If you want to liberate a society, just give them the Internet.” So long as technologies enhance access to information, participation, collaboration, and empowerment, citizen engagement has the potential to grow. Amartya Sen’s assesses development by seeing what people are capable of doing or being with goods they have. When citizens are engaged, it lays the groundwork for development.

Technology when combined with non-technical approaches within the appropriate socioeconomic context, can foster institutional cultural changes within government, international donors, civil society organizations and the private sector. In order to be successful tools for citizen engagement, technologies need to have support from policy makers. A framework that considers social, economic and political factors in addition to technology will enable citizens to be engaged with their governments to improve their lives.

Bjorn-Soren Gigler discusses the role technology plays in citizen engagement. Bringing services closer to citizens can happen when technology is implemented well. Internet and Communication Technologies (ICTs) have the potential to really dramatically lower transaction costs of participation for citizens by making it much cheaper in terms of money and time and breaking barriers of geography for people to effectively engage in civic life.

Technology can gather real-time data from a broad and diverse set of citizens and civil society groups, which can then empower government officials. This whole idea of almost instant access to data is relatively new and can lead to better decisions. When the data is made available to citizens, it can improve accountability of actions governments are taking. Without information it’s hard to hold anyone accountable for their action or inaction.

Next week I’ll continue this talk about technology and data in more detail.

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