“Data can empower vulnerable people by making their needs visible to decision-makers.”
This is what many advocates for data for development have been saying for years. The logic is that with visibility comes pressure for policies that respond to the needs, and a tool to elicit accountability for failure to deliver on promises. After all, as the saying goes: “good data makes it impossible to do nothing.”
So, let us repeat: we need data. More data. Better data. Data that projects voices and increases visibility —especially those at risk of being left behind.
But what if this promise of data—to expose the experiences of the most vulnerable people—can only be fully realised if vulnerable people are themselves at the center of the process of producing it?
What if the key to leveraging data for a better world was not only to improve the process of gathering data on ‘young people’, ‘women’, and ‘those affected by violence and exclusion’, but to actually involve them in those efforts? Not only to improve availability of data, but to improve engagement and inclusivity of stakeholders in data eco-systems: as producers, analysers, users, and communicators of data. What if the effect of this approach went beyond ‘strengthening national statistical systems’, to improve the impact of vulnerable people’s own efforts to change their lives and societies: as peacebuilders, development actors, and active citizens?
Around the world, women and young people are over-represented among the poor and marginalized. As one half of the human race, and one whole of its future, there is a need for them to influence the decisions that affect their lives. The image of Greta Thunberg calling United Nations (UN) Member States to account is familiar to many of us: the mocking “blah blah blah” over a perceived failure to adequately respond to the environmental, social and humanitarian emergencies that disproportionately affect women and young people.
UN Security Council Resolutions 2250 (2015) on youth, peace and security (YPS) and Resolution 1325 (2000) on women, peace and security (WPS) stress that women and young people must therefore play an active role in the policies, projects, programmes designed to address these crises. That is why, with the support of the EU and in partnership with UNOCT, UNDP’s ‘Preventing Violent Extremism (PVE) Through Promoting Tolerance and Respect for Diversity, Phase II’ is supporting women and youth peacebuilders in Southeast Asia to participate in those processes, and to develop the skills they will need to lead them in future.
In doing so, women and youth become empowered to shape policies and projects, laws and budgets, because they produce the data that these initiatives are based on. They participate in the monitoring processes that support their effective implementation. And they participate in the state-society dialogues that shape how budgets are invested: the people, places and problems that benefit from critical resources. In three countries—Malaysia, Thailand and Philippines—the project is supporting youth to conduct the public perception surveys used to inform UN investments in prevention of violent extremism (PVE) at global and regional level, as well as the government policies and plans to prevent and respond to the drivers of radicalization at national and local levels. In the Philippines, UNDP is supporting women’s organisations and young peacebuilders to monitor implementation of the National Action Plan on Prevent Violent Extremism; giving these community-based organisations a formal role and seat at the table with senior government officials.
This PVE project is pairing young peacebuilders with experienced researchers to co-design the survey tools and methodology. They co-analyse the data, co-develop recommendations, and lead in communicating the findings to UN entities and their government, civil society and academic partners. Through this engagement, the project aims to empower women and youth with a voice and visibility in policy, planning, legislative and programme development processes, while ensuring the quality of the data, ethics of the process (including safety of participants), and steady transfer of skills over the course of progressively more youth-led research processes.
Young peacebuilders around the world are asking for this support. They know that their meaningful participation in policy processes requires the depth of knowledge that comes from active participation in data collection, analysis, and communication. A global study of youth peacebuilders conducted by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue in 2019 found that youth peacebuilders identify support to build their capacity on data and analytics as a critical priority, in order to strengthen the impact of their work. 31% of youth-led organizations surveyed identified skills in research, monitoring and evaluation as critical to their contribution to the SDGs: the second most important priority after funding.
This PVE project’s distinctive approach to data collection and analysis not only succeeded in including the experiences of vulnerable people in policy-making processes, it also enabled vulnerable groups to be physically present in places where those policies are designed and monitored. By empowering women and young people to become active in the process of collecting, analysing and communicating data, UNDP is succeeding in implementing the ‘human-centered design’ approach where the so-called ‘vulnerable people’ become the authorities on issues that development programmes are designed to address; as experts on the problems that policies are intended to solve; and as emerging statisticians who are active in the making of a better world.