What makes participatory data initiatives successful?

By Poorvi Yerrapureddy, Vinay Narayan, Joe Massey and Elena Simperl,
June 25th, 2024

Publication : Report
Themes : Civic Participation

What makes participatory data initiatives successful?

This article was originally published by the Open Data Institute. Access the original article here.

For governments, local bodies and private institutions, data-driven insights form the bedrock of decision-making. However, fractures develop when individuals and communities are not involved in the process of data-driven decision-making. From a lack of adequate representation in datasets to facing unwitting consequences as a result of policy decisions, these fractures emerge at different stages, necessitating a more considered and inclusive approach towards data.

Participatory data initiatives are the different ways of empowering people to play an active role in the data ecosystem. This approach recognizes the inherent value of local perspectives, promoting inclusivity and democratisation. It finds application across diverse domains, from democratic processes to community-generated data to grassroots community engagement, highlighting its versatility and broad societal impact. Moreover, organisations can integrate participatory approaches into their methodology through various means, thereby enhancing their responsiveness to local contexts and fostering collaboration with stakeholders.

In the ODI’s research on bottom-up data institutions, and in Aapti’s research on participation, we have come across lots of examples of the different ways in which people can be involved in their data ecosystems. These approaches have different understandings of success, and seek to achieve different outcomes. Some of these initiatives have been successful, such as Wikipedia, the largest repository of human knowledge in the world.

This research explores how different types of participatory initiatives define success. It then maps the factors that contribute to achieving that success in different contexts.

We propose an initial framework for understanding the factors that influence the success of an initiative. For those seeking to implement participatory approaches, this framework provides an overview of the distinct factors that could affect success of their initiative. The framework can also support them to make better decisions about where to direct time, energy and resources to maximise the chances of success. For researchers, it provides the basis of further study, setting out different areas for more in-depth research. Finally, for those supporting or funding participatory initiatives, this framework serves as a guide to how they should scope their evaluation of such initiatives.

This research found that ultimately, participatory data initiatives are united in their conceptualisation of success as achieved through creating impact and changing the lives of the participating community. This desired impact informs the decisions made about different factors underpinning a participatory data initiative, and influences its success. The main success factors to consider when designing, deploying and running a participatory data initiative are:

  • The participants involved in the initiative.
  • The other stakeholders involved in the initiative, including the internal team, the champions and the steering committee.
  • Inputs, including the funding, time and technology available to support a participatory initiative.
  • The design choices made regarding the participatory methodology and technology used to engage with participants, the legal and governance model selected to structure the initiative, and the incentives available to encourage participants to take part.
  • The external factors outside of the control of the initiative, such as the political climate, system dynamics, and the commissioners of the initiative.

If you’d like to learn more about how this framework can support your participatory initiative, get in touch at [email protected].