Civil society advocacy mobilizes government action on inclusive data in Senegal
By now, we (hopefully!) all know that inclusive data—data that accurately reflects the realities of people’s lives, especially people who are marginalized, and does so with their consent and participation—is critical to achieving the Leave No One Behind agenda.
But practical implementation is much harder than agreeing with an idea. That’s why Sightsavers and the Council of Non-Governmental Development Support Organizations (CONGAD) network brought together over 200 community members and 40 civil society organizations (CSOs) to take action in Senegal. The coalition began a national conversation about what inclusive data means to different communities and why it’s a critical building block of fair and equitable policymaking.
Their efforts eventually influenced the Government of Senegal to commit to the Inclusive Data Charter (IDC) and spurred the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Health to rethink their data practices. This includes increasing the number of indicators being monitored by the health sector on neglected tropical diseases in line with the SDGs and identification of new disability indicators for primary and secondary inclusive education to be integrated in the results measurement framework.
As Senegal's government finalizes its IDC Action Plan, we spoke to Salimata Bocoum, Sightsavers Senegal Country Director and coordinator of CONGAD’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) working group, to learn more about the national campaign.
What led you to launching an advocacy campaign on inclusive data in Senegal?
In Senegal, the needs of marginalized populations, such as women, children and persons with disabilities, are often invisible in data. This makes them invisible in critical policy decisions—from where to build schools and hospitals to COVID-19 restrictions.
People from impacted communities often aren’t aware of what data is or isn’t collected or why it matters. That means they don’t put pressure on the government to count everyone fairly and use that data to make more inclusive decisions.
CONGAD has a working group that promotes dialogue and mobilizes citizens on Senegal’s SDG agenda. I knew about the IDC through Sightsavers’ commitment and we saw an opportunity with the working group to build the capacity of CSOs, mobilize citizens, and encourage the government to take more urgent and ambitious action on inclusive data.
How did you get other civil society organizations to engage in the process?
We wanted to engage CSOs, citizens, and government officials in parallel to facilitate direct conversations between them. We knew CSOs’ leadership would be key to unlocking community and government engagement, so we aimed to build their understanding, interest, and capacities around inclusive data.
We trained 40 CSO leaders on the critical issues around disaggregated data in Senegal, focusing on high-priority sectors such as education and health. We had technical discussions to get to the heart of the issues and considered the practical implications for our own organizations and the government. These discussions built the confidence and willingness of CSO leaders to engage with the government on data issues and shaped our recommendations.
Community participation is critical to generating and using inclusive data, but it’s often under-resourced and extractive. What was your approach to community engagement?
We set out to ensure communities had both the opportunity to learn more about what inclusive data was and why it was important, as well as to shape the conversation and highlight issues they were most concerned about.
The CONGAD working group, in partnership with Sightsavers and GIZ, organized workshops with young people, women, persons with disabilities, and local farmers to talk about Senegal’s commitment to the SDGs and the data gaps that were limiting progress. We heard from over 200 people what action they wanted the government to take, and these insights were built into our engagement with the government.
After the workshop, groups of persons with disabilities led debates around disability disaggregation challenges with local council commissions; women groups conducted a study on the gendered barriers preventing their full participation in society; and youth groups set out key recommendations on how to increase citizen ownership and community engagement in line with Senegal’s decentralization policies.
How did the insights from communities and civil society shape the government’s thinking?
We had a broad consultation with the government, and they were very engaged and receptive to the insights. We were able to identify synergies between the communities’, CSOs’, and the government’s priorities, and there was consensus on the need to address data disaggregation gaps and coverage of marginalized groups. We also identified the need to build the capacity of all stakeholders at policy, technical, and practitioner levels to focus on monitoring specific SDG indicators.
Our central point of engagement was the Ministry of Economy, Planning, and Cooperation (MEPC), as they are responsible for monitoring the implementation of the SDGs. MEPC fully realized the importance of the issue and the opportunity to join the IDC.
The General Directorate of Planning and Economic Policies of MEPC publicly recognized the importance of the five IDC principles to underpin the government’s efforts for more inclusive data and their strategy to leave no one behind, noting the vital role of CSOs in helping to address data gaps. We also engaged on political and technical issues with sectoral ministries and the National Agency for Statistics and Demography.
The government was very positive about the participatory nature of the process and committed to co-develop the IDC action plan in collaboration with sectoral level ministries, civil society, and representatives of marginalized groups. As a result, there is increased consideration of data disaggregation by sectoral ministries including by disability.
What are you most proud of achieving through this process?
Senegal becoming an IDC Champion was a big achievement for all involved in the process over the last few years.
Even more than that important moment, I am proud of the participatory approach that has been taken throughout. We have not only spoken of inclusive data, but led an inclusive process that values all contributions. The government has continued this approach, developing the IDC action plan collaboratively. I think this has brought us all even closer and more aligned in our shared vision for data that leaves no one behind.
Now the challenge is to continue working together to achieve the IDC action plan—each of us has a role to play!
The Inclusive Data Charter is an open and growing initiative which supports governments and organizations to advance the collection and use of inclusive data to better understand, address and monitor the needs of people who are marginalized and ensure no one is left behind.
This resource was created by Tichafara Chisaka, IDC Program Manager and Kate Richards, IDC Outreach Manager in collaboration with Sightsavers Senegal country director Salimata Boucoum and inputs from members of the CONGAD civil society network. The program of work described in this resource was made possible by funding from Irish Aid, Sightsavers, and GIZ.