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Global Development Institute

Data Gathering and Justice in the Urban Informal Sector: Views from the Frontline

Terry Gibson

Abstract

This case considers the challenges faced by civil society organisations (CSOs) in gathering and applying data in urban informal contexts. Given that one billion people are estimated to live in such contexts globally and that the number continues to grow it is clearly important to build understanding of these localities; understanding which CSOs have found difficult to acquire. The specific case is the development of participatory data gathering and knowledge creation programmes – ‘Views from the Frontline’ (VFL), ‘Action at the Frontline’ (AFL) and ‘Frontline’ – by the Global Network for Disaster Reduction and application of that knowledge to influence practice in informal urban contexts.

It challenges tactical approaches which assume that knowledge will necessarily lead to effective action, highlighting the barriers faced in the VFL, AFL and Frontline programmes. It therefore investigates structural, distributive and instrumental aspects of data justice, highlighting the necessity for a nuanced and strategic understanding which takes account of power structures, if knowledge is to support effective social transformation. The discussion and findings contribute to the developing understanding of data justice and apply this specifically to the activity of CSOs in attempting to engage in informal urban contexts. They highlight the role of ‘small data’ gathering and application as having both process benefits through the engagement of participants, and impact benefits through increased visibility and voice for informal urban populations.

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