How community and grassroots activism leads to a fairer data future

In today’s world, data is power, and while it promises much in achieving development goals, its collection and use is sometimes at the expense of individuals and  communities. Whether it’s for targeted advertising, algorithmic design or surveillance, data is used in ways that perpetuate inequality and harm. This misuse of data amplifies the urgent need for a shift towards more equitable and community-driven approaches to data processes.

Imagine a world where data is a shared resource that is shaped and governed by the communities it impacts and benefits. This vision is not far-fetched; it’s the driving force behind the rising tide of community and grassroots activism that is reimagining and building a fairer data future.

Time and time again, we see the impact of community-led action on addressing social and political issues. From the Black Lives Matter movement to the Indigenous Land Back movement, it’s clear that people can demand change and challenge existing inequities and injustices. The same is true in the data space. 

Through the Data Values Project, community and grassroots leaders from all over the world are recognizing the potential of data to bring about positive change. From building data skills on the bustling streets of Kathmandu to using data to fight for fair housing in the metropolis of New York, we have seen how data can unlock progress on so many social issues. One thing is clear: the importance of meaningful community involvement, advocacy, and action in creating an equitable and just data future.

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Three ways in which community activism leads to a fairer data future

Community activism reshapes power structures

Without community activism, data processes remain rooted in existing power structures, further perpetuating inequality and marginalization. However, community and local activists are catalysts for change and challenge power dynamics within data systems. For example, consider the case of Angeline Lodi, a disability rights activist in Kenya. She led a workshop to empower 20 women with disabilities on the Data Values Manifesto, inclusive data, and the importance of disaggregated data collection. By highlighting the need for inclusive data practices, Angeline’s efforts increased awareness and built confidence among a marginalized group of women who now demand representation and inclusion in data collection and decision-making processes. This empowerment not only gave voice to a historically marginalized community, enabling them to actively participate in data discussions and advocate for their rights, but also demonstrated the potential of community-led action in shaping and advocating for data-related decisions and processes.

Community-led action promotes agency within data processes

When people and communities have agency in the production, governance, and use of data, they can shape the decisions and services that impact their lives .In Colombia, for example, community leaders played a pivotal role in shaping the country’s census. Recognizing the importance of accurate representation, Afro-Colombian and Indigenous community members actively engaged with officials from the National Administrative Department of Statistics (DANE) to advocate for better measurements for race and identity. By collaborating with receptive census officials, these community leaders ensured that the census accurately reflected the diverse racial identities within Colombia. This effort not only highlighted the importance of community input in data governance but also demonstrated how grassroots activism can influence and reshape policy decisions at the national level. Additionally,  community leaders played a crucial role in supporting the country’s census by working alongside DANE to train enumerators to be sensitive when asking questions about race. By ensuring that census data accurately reflected the diversity of Colombia’s population, these leaders helped create a more inclusive data system that recognized and valued the agency and experiences of marginalized communities, and provided a more accurate picture of Colombia for the government and its people.

Community-led action builds data systems that empower people rather than harm them

In India, Mayuri Dhumal, a Data Values and gender advocate, and a group of women and girls conducted action research to delve deeper into the intersection of data, water scarcity, gender, and community resilience. Before collecting data, Mayuri facilitated workshops on Data Values, equipping her peers with a framework and the tools to understand, analyze, and utilize data effectively. Empowered by this knowledge, the women and girls collected data, interpreted its implications and met with district-level officials to present a compelling policy brief based on their research findings, advocating for tangible solutions to address the water crisis and amplifying women’s voices in water management committees. As a result, local governments supplied new water tankers to the villages and their efforts also garnered attention in a local outlet, shedding light on how water scarcity disproportionately affects the health and education of young women. Through community-led action, Mayuri and her peers demonstrated how data systems built on empowerment, community involvement, and inclusion stimulates decisions and services focused on community needs, and ultimately improves the lives of those they are serving.

How the Data Values Project is supporting community-led activism and action

The Data Values Campaign prioritizes supporting those most affected by today’s unequal data processes and ensuring they are at the forefront of shaping a more equitable world. One of the projects sitting under the campaign is the Data Values Advocates program. This program supports people, especially those often marginalized or from underrepresented communities, to have a voice in data and participate meaningfully in how data is designed, collected, managed, and used. 

Since launching the program in late 2022, the Global Partnership has supported seven community activists in implementing data values in their communities, including Angeline and Mayuri who we have spoken about above. In 2024, six new advocates will be supported to lead and bring data values to life in their communities.

Meet the 2024 Data Values Advocates cohort 

Diverse in background and united in purpose, the 2024 Data Values Advocates cohort spans continents, bringing together voices from Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, and South America. Over the coming months, these advocates will develop and implement projects rooted in the Data Values Manifesto and tailored to their local contexts. From championing disability rights to leading initiatives for environmental justice, each advocate brings a unique perspective and a shared commitment to building a fairer data future.

  1. Ronald Kasule

In Uganda, Ronald Kasule is a champion for disability rights and inclusive data advocacy. For Ronald, achieving a fairer data future is about more than just visibility; it’s about ensuring that persons with disabilities have a seat at the table, influencing policies and practices with their invaluable insights. In Ronald’s vision, a more inclusive and equitable society is within reach when every voice is heard and every perspective is valued.

  1. Rubina Adhikari

In Nepal, Rubina Adhikari leads the charge for climate, forestry, and environmental justice through data. To Rubina, fairer data is the key to unlocking development potential, particularly in lower-income countries. By granting all individuals, regardless of background, access to opportunities for a better future, Rubina envisions a world where data serves as a catalyst for positive change, paving the way towards a more inclusive society.

  1. Navina Mutabazi

Advocating for digital transformation and data privacy in Tanzania, Navina Mutabazi focuses her efforts on empowering marginalized women and girls. For Navina, a fairer data future is essential for amplifying marginalized voices and ensuring their protection in digital spaces. By advocating for inclusivity and safety, Navina strives to create a world where every individual can navigate digital landscapes with confidence and dignity.

  1. Sara Rocha

In the UK, Sara Rocha fights for citizen data rights and inclusion, particularly for persons with disabilities. Sara believes that data serves as a crucial tool for marginalized communities to challenge systemic oppression and advocate for inclusion. By shedding light on overlooked needs and barriers, Sara’s work aims to empower marginalized voices and pave the way for a more equitable society.

  1. Ghislain Irazoke

Pioneering civic tech and digital rights initiatives in Rwanda, Ghislain is committed to promoting social and economic equity through data. Ghislain sees a fairer data future as a means to level the playing field, systematically advancing equity while fostering trust and transparency. Through his work, Ghislain seeks to harness the transformative power of data to create a more just and inclusive society.

  1. María Paula Hernández Ruiz

Exploring the intersection of gender, data, and social justice in Colombia and Australia, María advocates for a fairer and more equitable data landscape. María believes that by making data fairer and more accessible, we can become our own best advocates. In María’s vision, data becomes a tool for empowerment, enabling individuals to advocate for their rights and shape their own destinies.

Interested in learning more about the Data Values Project, its community impact and how you can get involved? Sign up for the campaign mailing list to learn about more opportunities and moments in the Data Values Project and explore our Data Values Manifesto.

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