This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa English desk, and originally published here. 

When it comes to international cooperation on data and technology, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that the richest countries know best.

The majority of financial resources for data and technology may be concentrated in the global North, but when it comes to inclusive data on marginalised communities, countries such as Colombia, Kenya and Ghana are leading the field.

Many global South countries recognise that inclusive data is critical, to capture the diverse and overlapping needs of their populations. Data is the language of policymaking and resource allocation and it’s essential that the most marginalised groups are able to express their needs and priorities in the numbers.

As we approach the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) deadline of 2030, there will be a temptation to focus on the averages and overlook minority groups in our societies who may still be lacking basics like clean water and sanitation, education opportunities or internet access.

Civil society groups have long championed citizen-generated data, which includes information on people’s perspectives and lived experiences. Their message is getting traction, as more governments adopt non-traditional data in their daily work. What once felt like an experimental way of understanding communities has, over the past five years, become more accepted by statistical offices and government departments.

A new partnership called Make Inclusive Data the Norm, between the governments of Colombia, Kenya and Ghana, will strengthen policymaking and public services by sharing experiences and best practices on using citizen-generated data.

The respective governments recently gathered in Nairobi, Kenya – brought together by the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data.

The topic comes to life when you hear policymakers from diverse backgrounds describe how implementation is changing their citizens’ lives.

In Kenya, citizen-generated data activities included gathering testimony and radio call-in data from communities at risk of antimicrobial resistance. Insights are being used to strengthen the country’s surveillance systems as well as understand local trends in attitudes to antibiotic consumption, tailoring response efforts.

Kenya’s National Statistics Bureau is also working on common reporting standards that allow citizen-generated data from small local communities to be compared in reporting.

In Ghana, efforts focus on empowering citizens to be agents of change. An app called Let’s Talk has been piloted and is being scaled up. The app allows anonymous reporting for women and girls who have suffered sexual violence.

Capturing granular data strengthens calls for resources to combat the issue. Other citizen-generated data apps produced by the government include CleanApp Ghana which lets citizens report and map waste and trash dumping to target local service providers’ efforts.

Other apps track and collect data to monitor Sustainable Development Goal progress on indicators as diverse as marine litter, equitable policies for disabled persons, and attitudes to public services. Together they aim to empower communities to actively participate in shaping the delivery of public services.

In Colombia, rising inequality presents enormous challenges. For that reason, the government’s Vice President also serves as the Minister of Equality of Colombia with a high focus on tackling inequality.

The government is investing in disaggregated data and statistics to guide the design, implementation, and assessment of public policies and decisions, promoting the inclusion of those in most vulnerable situations.

Civil society and citizen-generated data on minorities and communities living in hard-to-reach locations such as indigenous communities are critical for effective public policy. Colombia’s statistical office DANE has recently developed guidelines on intersectional approaches to make marginalised populations visible through data.

These guidelines have led to ministries and government agencies including more inclusive data on gender and other demographics in their data systems.

When civil servants come together, a message that comes through clearly is that these bright spots of innovation must be underpinned by investment, strong institutional systems and an informed and engaged citizenry that can keep its government to account.

The government of Colombia funding this cooperation is testimony to the increasing agency of global South countries to shape their own fair data futures. We now call for other countries to directly fund South-South work on data for inclusive and equitable policies and approaches.

A little funding goes a long way here, investing in inclusive data improves data quality, timeliness, availability, openness and inclusivity and, in doing so, supercharges social and economic progress. Together, we can improve the impact of all our work through collaboration and mutual learning.