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Citizen-generated data for public policy

Citizen-generated data for public policy

This report is an initiative of the research project DigiTranScope: Digital Transformation and Governance of Human Society, which the Joint Research Centre (JRC) has conducted to provide a better understanding of the digital transformation to help policymakers address the challenges facing European society in the future. More specifically, this review is part of the exploration of the data theme in DigiTranScope, which focuses on the examination of the changing flows, ownership, quality and implications of digitised data and information. Data constitute the decisive ingredient of the transformed society, and data ownership, access, sharing, analysis and dissemination (for example in social, economic and political contexts) will interplay in uncertain ways as they have to date.

The main aim of the report is to raise open questions and steer discussions on what citizengenerated data can do for experimenting new forms of public participation, rethinking the relationships between citizens and local governments, and understanding new emerging roles for citizens and local governments. The report documents 18 European projects involving citizen-generated data. After the phase of desk research, five interviews were also conducted with the organisers of selected projects. The goal was to compile a set of mini cases that illustrate the ways in which past and present projects, set up in partnerships with local authorities in different Member States, involve citizens to collect data to inform public policy and serve the public good (e.g., collect data on air and water quality). The sampled projects have been driven by immediate interest in and concern about local problems that affect citizens’ quality of life, and the need to provide evidence for local
authorities to take action. These initiatives indicate that CGD can have an impact by enabling different relationships with the public sector. They can provide the opportunity to find novel ways of interaction and open up channels of communication between policymakers and citizens.

The report points to three main aspects of CGD reconfiguring the relationship between citizens and the public sector.

First, digital technologies can change the way citizens look at their living environments and facilitate data creation as a focal practice, a purposeful and meaningful social activity. In turn, CGD projects as focal practices hold the potential to bring back agency and control to citizens, moving them closer to the role of agents of change in the places where they live. This process can be challenging because it implies ways of shifting agency, accountability and responsibility towards citizens.

Second, CGD hold the potential to enable citizens to “achieve” citizenship, rather than receiving it. Collecting data becomes a way of taking up responsibility as individual citizens and can go a long way in solving urban problems and achieving active citizenship. However, “achieving” citizenship is challenging because it requires a “culture shift” such that citizens and communities become active participants.

Third, there is quality issue with CGD in policy contexts. Most CGD is collected using lowcost sensors and accessible digital technologies to conduct indicative monitoring and generate data over a wider spatial area or over longer periods of time. This data may not be at the same level of precision or accuracy as data produced for regulatory compliance. However, it could raise different concerns and possibilities useful to describe “data stories” together with citizens, and integrate the representation of reality provided by official data.

This report is not an exhaustive review of initiatives but provides an indication of what has been carried out in terms of European citizen-generated data projects which can be explored further. Therefore, it is a living document which can evolve and expand over time to reflect the diversity and development of European citizen-generated data projects.

File authors: 
Marisa Ponti
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