Citizen-generated data in times of COVID-19 and SDGs

October 19, 2020

Fredy Rodríguez Galvis

October 19, 2020

Citizen-generated data (CGD) has become an important source of information to know dynamics and phenomena that are not being measured with official statistics or on which only partial measurements are taken and require a more detailed analysis. CGD stands out for being produced by citizens and academic communities.

And to better understand this source of information, it is necessary to have its definition in mind. According to Civicus, CGD are: “data that people or their organisations produce to directly monitor, demand or drive change on issues that affect them. It is actively given by citizens, providing direct representations of their perspectives and an alternative to datasets collected by governments or international institutions (The DataShift, 2015:1). This reveals an opportunity to complement official statistics to close information gaps; And it can even be useful to measure indicators related to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).

Strengthening CGD through the Sustainable Development Goals

2015 marks the beginning of the Data Revolution for Sustainable Development [1], with the exploration of new sources of information to measure the ambitious goals set by the SDGs. At that time, it was evident that information from different organizations, which had been collected, processed and used for internal decision making, was useful for non-business purposes. In other words, these organizations had the capacity to provide data in addition to those produced by local or national governments. 

With the aim of contributing to sustainable development through the delivery of data, a giant step was taken for civil society organizations and other actors to contribute to the measurement of the SDGs. Some citizen-generated data projects with direct connection to the SDGs are:

  • CiudaData (Ecuador): It aims to empower citizens to participate in the generation, management and use of data that contributes to the monitoring and evaluation of the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) with special emphasis on SDG 11 (CiudaData , sf).

  • World Vision (WV) – Uganda: They have facilitated the processes for more than 8,500 men and women to report their satisfaction with the educational service in more than 700 schools. This initiative provides data to measure indicator 16.6.2 related to the proportion of the population satisfied with their last experience with public services (World Vision International, 2019).

  • OpenStreetmap-Botswana: Malaria remains endemic in several areas of this country. The Ministry of Health and Welfare has proposed to eradicate the disease in the country by 2020. To do this, it seeks to combine remote mapping with field studies in situ. The open mapping methodology was adapted to understand people’s exposure to mosquitoes, not only locating homes, but also verifying whether they have full walls and ceilings.

This project contributes to the measurement of SDG indicator 3.3.3 Incidence of malaria per 1,000 inhabitants. The project covered six areas in Botswana and it could be replicated if there are additional resources for its implementation (Lämmerhirt. D, Gray. J, Venturi. T, Meunier. A., 2018).

Citizen-generated data and COVID-19

Citizen-generated data is increasingly desired by the demand for information that the COVID-19 pandemic has generated, especially real time data or those that are constantly updated. Having direct sources from citizens is a response to those needs by building a bridge to better decision-making by governments that are in continuous learning about the evolution and effects of COVID-19.

Among the main uses of this type of data are:

  1. Symptom reporting: Platforms provided by local and national governments to report the health status and symptoms associated with COVID-19. An example is Bogotá cuidadora from the Bogota´s Mayor’s Office, a platform that allows to request support, report symptoms and the possibility of contagion, and request help. Citizens can use the web to include their data and outline their needs in order to receive aid from the district government.

The collateral effects of the pandemic showed weaknesses in the identification of the most vulnerable communities. With the use of technology, the needs of these populations in the countries affected by the virus can be categorized, with the creation of virtual channels to report their conditions and provide a timely response.

  1. Monitoring the virus: Having a clear definition of the speed of spread of the virus and the level of contagion makes it easier to know its geographical specificity to take mitigation measures and define public policies related to each city or country.

The report of the health conditions and the geographic location of the citizens, as is the case of the Bogota Mayor’s Office, contributes to complement the official statistics generated by the health system. By identifying the areas of the city with the highest rates of contagion, citizens are kept informed, but it also provides elements to focus measures on specific areas of the city, without a generalized effect such as the “quarantines by zones.”

Although citizen-generated data has been of great help in these times, there are limitations on access to technology and ease of use of technological tools. Not all citizens have a computer or other device with internet access to report information, especially in rural areas or low-income households. In the same way, there are groups such as older adults who do not have the office skills to answer online questionnaires.


The implementation of the SDGs has been affected due to the pandemic, although the call for the Data Revolution has been reiterated thanks to the fact that citizen-generated data is able to identify the current impact and possible short, medium and long term recovery plans. However, it is important to bear in mind privacy and confidentiality as sensitive factors, since the intimate/private nature of health data, which must be managed under special protection guidelines. So, how could we manage this data avoiding legal inconveniences, but supporting timely decision-making? Through the use of anonymization techniques and ensuring that the data will be treated with the corresponding security protocols.

Citizen-generated data will be increasingly used. Therefore, it must be supported by the creation of strategies that strengthen trust between citizens and governments for the delivery of constant information, not only during the pandemic but in future contingencies in which these lessons learned are useful for the incorporation of different response and recovery lines of action. 


Alcaldía de Bogotá. (s.f.). Plataforma Bogotá cuidadora

Datashift Civicus. (2015). What is citizen‑generated data and what is the datashift doing to promote it?

Lämmerhirt. D, Gray. J, Venturi. T, Meunier. A. (2018) Advancing sustainability together? Citizen-generated data and the Sustainable Development Goals

World Vision International. (2019).  The Case for Citizen Generated Data for SDG Accountability


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