Digital Development: Leveraging Data Science and Digital Participatory Practice for Development Impact

Lead Research Organisation: University of Sheffield
Department Name: Informatics Collaboratory for Social Sci

Abstract

This strategic network seeks to analyse and respond to three key trends in international development. First, the strong emphasis on accountability and a move towards gathering large amounts of monitoring and evaluation data. Second, the growth of digitalisation and datafication (ie the use of digital tools, technologies and processes to transform organisations and strategic decision-making to being data-driven). New digital technologies are now being used in development practice in numerous cross-cutting ways. Yet there are risks of multiple digital divides and digital exclusions which have to be counter-acted. Third, there are the issues of digital participation. Datafication and digitazation require capacity-building locally to ensure development efforts remain grounded in the priorities of countries and communities of the global South.

These trends combine to form a single challenge: how might these increasingly sophisticated and powerful tools of surveillance and analysis be used to empower the marginalised? Advocates of big data and digitalisation see multiple benefits becoming possible because policies can become more data driven, and hence more accurate in their understanding of the problems they tackle. They see many opportunities to engage citizens directly. But critics warn against numerous risks including loss of privacy and the replication of invisibilities and inequalities along geographical, gender, education and class lines that these trends may enhance, rather than diminish.

The primary aim of this network is to bring together leading researchers and practitioners from information and communication technologies for development (ICT4D), Data Science and participatory practice to develop an ambitious and innovative research agenda. Non-academic partners and collaborators, Oxfam Digital, UNICEF, the South African Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and the global umbrella organisation of mobile phone companies, GSMA, have together pledged over 36 person days to contribute to the co-shaping of this research agenda. They recognise that there is an urgent need for more research and collaboration with academic institutions in this area.

We will convene a series of meetings and events in diverse formats to bring together members of the collective under the different priorities we have identified. Altogether some 30 participants will work in four thematic groups:

1: Big Data, "small data" and Data Science to inform progress towards the SDGs
2: Participation and value-based design of socio-technological innovation
3: Citizen participation, data science, ICT for peace building.
4: Youth participation and innovative digital methods.

Our first aim for these meetings is that they will produce an overarching research agenda and several research programmes as well as research proposals that can be pursued individually or collectively by different members of the collective. The second aim is intensive capacity building. Researchers in partner countries, early career researchers, researchers from different disciplines and those researchers new to research in the global South will all get a chance to expand their research capacity and improve practice.

This work fits squarely with all three aspects of compliance with ODA that the ESRC pursues. It is 'for development', because it seeks to solve development challenges faced in the global south over digital development, improving data and participation. It is 'on development', as it entails critical scrutiny of measures which are intended to improve lives and well-being. It is 'as development' as it promotes various forms of individual and institutional capacity building in collaboration with existing and new partners.

Planned Impact

Overall research Impact
The 17 Sustainable Development Goals set 169 proposed targets and 230 proposed indicators to show compliance. The global develop agenda for the coming decades is heavily predicated on the ability to gather and analyse data. Data science will be at the heart of evidence-based development policy, and our proposed network will make a key contribution to this key challenge. We are critically examining the hype around digital development and datafication while at the same time we are collectively committed to harnessing these trends for progress on global challenges. Networks such as ours which bring together stakeholders from different backgrounds and with different expertise make an important contribution towards a more measured debate which will allow us to assess the strength and weaknesses, as well as the ethical issues with different kinds of data. Further, our emphasis on participation will help ensure that academic and non-academic researchers to take the needs and voices of the local communities they are meant to work with seriously in their work.

Direct impacts
The primary purpose of this network will be to develop new research grants for a variety of funders, but particularly new calls emanating from the GCRF. Its success can therefore be measured by future grants submitted and funded and ultimately research undertaken. Among the direct benefits will be capacity building with colleagues in the global South and global North, with learning between academic and non-academic partners. Our non-academic partners are keen to extend this dialogue and Oxfam Digital have committed to holding an impact workshop for academics as their contribution to capacity building.

Indirect impacts
We are taking a number of steps to ensure that impact strategies and pathways in the later research bids will be as robust as possible. These include:
1. Horizon scanning, stakeholder mapping and social network analyses to identify key players in the particular areas where we work, and the ways in which we might engage them in the co-production of research grants.
2. Engagement of a variety of practitioners and activists beyond the academe in this network from the outset to help it ask the right questions in the right ways, and develop effective communications strategies to engage effectively with other stakeholders. The fact that our four non-academic partners and collaborators (Oxfam, CSIR, UNICEF and GSMA) have pledged over 36 person-days in in-kind contribution shows their clear interest in engaging fully and deeply in these exchanges.
3. In future research bids we can envision some very concrete impacts such as an improved curriculum for Data Science courses run by our partners in East Africa. This curriculum would combine big data and small data, data ethics and participatory approaches (Theme 1). CSIR are looking for a set of conceptual tools to apply the capabilities approach to their portfolio of rural development projects. The group in theme 2 are well-placed to develop this. In Theme 3 research collaboration could lead to a highly innovative approach combining citizen reporting of hate crime online with text-mining approaches of traditional media. This could be applied in conflict-affected areas and potentially presented to practitioners via Prof Best's links with UN peace-keepers. Theme 4 is likely to result in pilots to test an extended toolkit for digital participatory methods. This may well be then combined with UNICEF's successful project which reaches over 300.000 young adult mobile phone subscribers with instant surveys on topics which affect young people in Uganda.

While many such impacts can be envisioned, the strength of the network in this initial phase lies in the carefully curated, diverse and highly qualified set of participants.
 
Description The network asked: "How can new digital data, both "big data" and "small data", be used to support development efforts, and how might this be done in ways which empower the marginalised rather than reinforce inequality?"

This addressed key trends in international development: First, the increased gathering of large amounts of data in all domains (datafication). Secondly, the use of digital tools in almost all areas of development practice (digitisation). Social Science researchers critically ask who benefits and who is excluded? Who has the power to shape digital futures? How can we ensure that we "leave no one behind" (SDG principle)?

Four thematic groups formed the wider network:

Group 1) Big Data, small data and Data Science to inform progress towards the SDG
The group examined the opportunities and challenges arising from new data technology in development practice (e.g. mobile phone data traces; sensor data etc.). Building on the field experience of both researchers and practitioners, they examined the ethics of data inequality, privacy and data sovereignty, and the rights and choices of income-poor and otherwise marginalised people to be included or excluded from such datafication.

They developed a joint research agenda, driven to a large extent by Southern partners in the network. They submitted a grant application for funding to pursue this research agenda.

Group 2) Participation and value-based design of socio-technical innovation
In this theme researchers and practitioners explored together how processes of participation could be used to improve the appropriateness of ICT interventions for the intended user group. Drawing on the grounded experience of working with women innovators, including a related NGO who later joined the group, they developed a research agenda which emphasised the role of diverse design teams, including women, in both technical and social innovation processes.

Inspired by the field experience of CSIR in South Africa, a further sub-team of this large group explored the circumstances necessary for communities and individuals to engage as active partners in design processes, with a particular focus on individual and collective resilience.

They developed a joint research agenda, driven to a large extent by Southern partners in the network. They submitted a grant application for funding to pursue this research agenda.

Group 3) Citizen participation and ICT for peacebuilding
Building on the UN University research links with UN agencies, this group explored the responsible use of ICTs and data in UN peacekeeping operations. A key question was how relations between local populations and UN peacekeepers might be improved through greater digital-assisted communication and accountability.

They developed a joint research agenda, driven to a large extent by Southern partners in the network. They submitted a grant application for funding to pursue this research agenda.

Group 4) Youth participation and innovative digital methods
The group set out to work with marginalised young people to help them utilise the opportunities of new digital tools, building on previous work of the PI with UNICEF. The Southern partners highlighted that in Brazil, hate crimes against LGBT young people were on the rise and in some cased assisted by social media. The group co-produced a research agenda, working with LGBT community groups in Rio, on using co-produced digital platforms to provide both practical support and more positive narratives to young people.

They developed a joint research agenda, driven to a large extent by Southern partners in the network. They submitted a grant application for funding to pursue this research agenda.
Exploitation Route The funding was intended for us to develop joint research agendas which we did across 13 countries and with 29 partners. There was no direct research carried out and there are therefore no direct empirical findings to report.

However, our collaboration and governance model with partners from the Global North and South will be of interest to any other groups interested in building sustainable and equitable partnerships with colleagues from different countries:

1) As PI I adopted a team leadership model with 8 co-convenors (two for each group). Pairs of co-convenors (one from the global North, one from the South) had joint control over their group's budget, as well as facilitation and steer for the research agenda of each group. This created a sense of control for our Southern partners and a tangible reality of parity in decision-making between Northern and Southern partners.

2) Our flexible set-up model allowed each of the four groups to nominate one NGO partner each to co-opt into the group to receive a honorarium to help develop a research grant application. This is an appropriate mechanism as there are significant opportunity costs for a small NGO to put time towards a grant application which are always in very competitive processes with no guarantee of success.

3) The feedback from participants was that they saw a lot of things that had worked well in the network. This included: excellent networking opportunities and capacity building; research agendas that were developed "from the ground up" with researchers from the global South in leading positions steering them. Further it was remarked that it was good to have honoraria for co-convenors and NGO participants; good to agree the all-hands meetings long in advance as these need to be fit around teaching commitments of Southern researchers.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Government, Democracy and Justice,Security and Diplomacy

URL http://ddsn.group.shef.ac.uk/
 
Description Researchers in the network came from a range of DAC list countries and benefitted from the capacity building activities and network building opportunities (South-North and South-South exchanges). These countries included: Kenya (2), Tanzania, South Africa (4), Uganda, Brazil (3), and Montenegro (1). Group 1 worked on a research agenda to improve the curriculum in Data Science courses based in Africa to support researcher capacity building in East Africa and Southern Africa. The group also worked with Data Science Africa to help strengthen the curriculum for African Data Science and the Machine Learning curriculum - network members from the global South attended Data Science Africa events in Nyeri, Kenya and Abuja, Nigeria. Group 3 worked on using digital tools to improve the effectiveness and responsiveness of UN peacekeeping personnel in Liberia and elsewhere. Two Network Members (Kenya, Macao) presented the group 3 research agenda on Digital tools and peace keeping at UN Headquarters in New York: UN Department of Political Affairs, Department of Field Support, Department of Peacekeeping Operations, UN Peacebuilding Fund. The UN policy makers are keen to collaborate in a joint research agenda going forward. The Data Justice research agenda from group 1 and 3 became one of the pillars for the Africa Open Science Policy Framework. Group 2: The resilience thinking developed in group 2 was presented to the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research South Africa and then influenced the South African national Industry 4.0 strategy.
First Year Of Impact 2017
Sector Communities and Social Services/Policy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Government, Democracy and Justice,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology,Security and Diplomacy
Impact Types Societal,Economic,Policy & public services

 
Description Meeting with UN policy makers at UN HQ New York to present research agenda on digital tools and responsiveness of UN peacekeeping
Geographic Reach Multiple continents/international 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a advisory committee
Impact Meeting with UN policy makers at UN HQ New York to co-develop research. Two members of the network, Prof Wafula and Prof Best presented the group 3 research agenda to policy makers from UN Department of Political Affairs, Department of Field Support, Department of Peacekeeping Operations, UN Peacebuilding Fund. They presented the research agenda developed in the Digital Development GCRF Strategic Network grant on to use digital tools to improve the effectiveness and responsiveness of UN peacekeeping personnel in Liberia and elsewhere. The UN policy makers are keen to collaborate in a joint research agenda going forward.
 
Description Presentation of concept of systemic resilinece and sustainability to the South African National Science, Technology and Innovation Foresight
Geographic Reach Africa 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a national consultation
Impact The South African Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) was a partner in the research network and together with other network partners developed the research agenda around resilience and digital technologies. Now the CSIR is embarking on an Industry 4.0 strategy and resilience thinking is applied to the interlocking systems of technology, people and organisation of work. This will be of longterm benefit via the application of resilience principles in public policy making.
 
Description Researchers from the network campaigned for the inclusion of data justice as a pillar in the Africa Open Science Platform
Geographic Reach Africa 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
Impact Members of the Network (Prof Wafula and Prof Best) engaged with the CODATA community leadership and national delegates on data justice and its role for the achievement of SDGs. They then campaigned for data justice to be included as a pillar in the forthcoming Open Science Policy Framework.
 
Description GRCF UKRI QR Funding -Adopting epistemologies of the Global South to reimagine innovation for social inclusion and environmental sustainability (PI A Jimenez)
Amount £7,000 (GBP)
Organisation University of Sheffield 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2019 
End 07/2019
 
Description Large Grant
Amount £681,234 (GBP)
Funding ID BH170896 RES/0321/TBC - Sustainable Consumption and Agri-food Ethics in the Global South 
Organisation Economic and Social Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 05/2018 
End 04/2020
 
Description University of Sheffield: - GRCF UKRI QR Breathe Deep: Green Fences and the Future of Work in Argentina (PI M Kanai)
Amount £7,000 (GBP)
Organisation University of Sheffield 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2019 
End 07/2019
 
Description Collaboration between Observatorio de Favelas and URFJ 
Organisation Favela Observatory
Country Brazil 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution Through this research project, the leading NGO Observatorio de Favelas and the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro collaborated in putting together a participatory video workshop with young people from the favela Mare.
Collaborator Contribution Observatorio contributed in kind approximately 12 person days to this ESRC-CONFAP project
Impact - joint workshop with young people from the favela - research trip to London for the representative of Observatorio to present their work
Start Year 2015
 
Description Collaboration between Oxfam Digital and University of Sheffield 
Organisation Oxfam GB
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution We have hosted a 1-week secondment by the head of ICT in Programme at Oxfam GB to our group, to meet researchers and scope collaborations.
Collaborator Contribution They have advised us on our research strategy and invested 10 days of their time in developing grant applications with us.
Impact Prof Dorothea Kleine advised on Oxfam GB's digital strategy regarding data ethics.
Start Year 2017
 
Description Collaboration between Sheffield University and UNICEF Montenegro 
Organisation UNICEF
Country Global 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution - Unicef Montenegro asked us to replicate the participatory film methodology developed in this project with a different target group of young people (in Montenegro) and on a different topic (cyber-bullying)
Collaborator Contribution - 5 days of collaborative work during the workshop with 2.5 members of staff from Unicef
Impact - Our report to UNICEF discussing participatory methods with children used the findings from this collaboration
Start Year 2016
 
Description Collaboration between Sheffield University and University of Cape Town 
Organisation University of Cape Town
Country South Africa 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Members of the Digital, Data and Innovations Theme of the Sheffield Institute for International Development (Prof Kleine, Dr Jimenez) have worked with members of the ICT4D Centre at University of Cape Town (Prof Van Belle, Dr Mungai) by co-leading group 2 of the network, facilitating the development of a multi-stakeholder research agenda , co-authoring a conference paper and a GCRF grant application.
Collaborator Contribution Members of the Digital, Data and Innovations Theme of the Sheffield Institute for International Development (Prof Kleine, Dr Jimenez) have worked with members of the ICT4D Centre at University of Cape Town (Prof Van Belle, Dr Mungai) by co-leading group 2 of the network, facilitating the development of a multi-stakeholder research agenda, co-authoring a conference paper and a GCRF grant application.
Impact 1 co-authored conference paper, 1 joint grant application
Start Year 2017
 
Description Collaboration between University of Sheffield and UFRJ 
Organisation Federal University of Rio de Janeiro
Department Alberto Luiz Coimbra Institute of Postgraduate Studies and Research in Engineering (COPPE)
Country Brazil 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We have been successfully collaborating on 3 consecutive projects. In the course of this, we have created mutual capacity building opportunities and trained in each others methods.
Collaborator Contribution We have been successfully collaborating on 3 consecutive projects.
Impact - several joint publications, 3 research projects. This is an interdisciplinary partnership as it involves marketing (Afonso); engineering (Bartholo); gastronomy (Burztyn) and geography (Kleine; Blake)
Start Year 2016
 
Description 1-week secondment/thinking retreat with Oxfam Group leader 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact The leader of the digital team within Oxfam visited the University of Sheffield for a 1-week secondment (hosted by Prof Kleine) to meet and engage with relevant researchers, develop a strategic plan for their group and receive feedback on it.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Contribution to developing Data Science Curriculum for Africa 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Improving the curriculum in Data Science courses based in Africa to support researcher capacity building in East Africa and Southern Africa. A group from the GCRF Strategic Network on Digital development also worked with Data Science Africa to help strengthen the curriculum for African Data Science and the Machine Learning curriculum - network members from the global South attended Data Science Africa events in Nyeri, Kenya and Abuja, Nigeria.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Digital Development Workshop 1 in Pretoria, South Africa 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The Digital Development Workshop brought together researchers from different disciplines, as well as representatives from business, international NGOs and third party research organisations. 29 partners from 10 countries were involved, 24 attended a 3-day workshop.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://siid.group.shef.ac.uk/digital-development-strategic-network/
 
Description GCRF Digital Development Strategic Network Workshop 2 in Sheffield 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The 2nd large workshop in March 2018 in Sheffield was attended by 24 participants, including industry partners GSMA and CSIR South Africa and NGO partners Oxfam as well as UNICEF. Groups commented on draft papers, developed future plans for their research agenda and agreed next steps for the network.

The PI is also a founder of ICT4DNorth, the network of Information and Communication for Development researchers at 8 universities in the North of England. We hosted the ICT4DNorth Annual Meeting (45 participants) in Sheffield to coincide with the final day of the GCRF DigDev network workshop, thus giving members exposure to UK ICT4D researchers and a platform to present papers.

As an innovation, we opened the ICT4D North Annual Meeting with a panel of all-global-South academics, commenting on where they saw blind spots in the research agendas in our field.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2008
 
Description Workshop on Human Rights 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact Workshop held in Rio de Janeiro with representatives of 6 local NGOs working on human rights and advocacy for minorities to discuss and co-develop with them the planned research agenda. Prof Afonso and Dr Kanai from the GCRF Strategic Network on Digital Development held the workshop at the headquarters of the NGO PelaVida in Rio.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018