How Citizen-Generated Data Can Empower Indigenous Peoples: My Experience at the UNSD Expert Group Meeting

Last month, I had the opportunity to participate in a fascinating meeting organized by the United Nations Statistics Division (UNSD) in Copenhagen. The meeting brought together experts from different fields and sectors to discuss how citizens can contribute to data production and use for public policy and SDG monitoring. This topic is very close to my heart, as I have been working with the Indigenous Navigator, a global initiative that supports Indigenous Peoples to collect and use their own data, based on their own priorities and perspectives.

The Indigenous Navigator is led by a consortium of Indigenous Peoples’ organizations and their partners, including the International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA), which is based in Copenhagen. The initiative enables indigenous peoples to monitor the implementation of their rights at the local and national level, using a set of indicators aligned with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and the SDGs. The data collected by Indigenous communities is used to inform local policies and programs, as well as to advocate for their rights at the national and international levels.

The meeting was a great opportunity to share our experience and insights on how citizen-generated data (CGD) can support the rights and well-being of indigenous peoples. CGD is data that is produced by individuals or groups of people, often in collaboration with other stakeholders, such as national statistical offices, scientists, civil society organizations, or human rights institutions. CGD can be used to fill data gaps, especially for marginalized groups, to inform policies and programs, to raise awareness and mobilize action, and to enhance transparency and accountability.

Why do we need CGD?

One of the main reasons why we need CGD is that there is a huge lack of data on indigenous peoples. According to the International Labour Organisation’s 2020 report, there are more than 476 million indigenous people living in 90 countries, representing 6.2% of the global population. However, only 28 countries have data on the situation of indigenous peoples in relation to the SDGs. This means that indigenous peoples are largely invisible in official statistics and excluded from development processes.

This is not only a technical problem, but also a political one. As one of the speakers at the meeting said, “Data is power”. Data can influence how resources are allocated, how policies are designed, how problems are defined, and how solutions are evaluated. Data can also shape how people see themselves and others, how they claim their rights, and how they participate in decision-making.

Therefore, CGD is not only a way to produce more data, but also a way to produce better data. Data that reflects the realities, needs, aspirations, and values of indigenous peoples. Data that respects their rights to self-determination, free prior and informed consent (FPIC), and cultural diversity. Data that empowers them to take action for their own development.

What are some of the challenges and opportunities for CGD?

Of course, CGD is not without challenges. Some of the challenges that we discussed at the meeting include:

  • The lack of trust between state and non-state actors: How can we ensure that CGD is recognized and used by official data producers and users? How can we avoid duplication or conflict with existing data sources? How can we protect the privacy and security of data providers?
  • The concerns about quality and sustainability of CGD: How can we ensure that CGD meets the standards of relevance, accuracy, timeliness, accessibility, comparability, and coherence? How can we ensure that CGD is produced regularly and consistently over time? How can we ensure that CGD is properly documented and archived?
  • The capacity gaps among different stakeholders: How can we build the skills and knowledge of citizens to produce and use data effectively? How can we provide them with adequate resources and tools? How can we foster collaboration and coordination among different actors involved in CGD?

At the same time, CGD also offers many opportunities for advancing indigenous rights. Some of the opportunities that we highlighted at the meeting include:

  • The potential of CGD to complement official statistics and fill data gaps: CGD can provide more granular, disaggregated, contextualized, and timely data on indigenous peoples than official statistics. CGD can also capture aspects that are not easily measured by official statistics, such as culture, identity, spirituality, and well-being.
  • The role of CGD in enhancing participation and representation of indigenous peoples in decision-making processes: CGD can increase the voice and visibility of indigenous peoples in public debates and policy dialogues. CGD can also strengthen the accountability and responsiveness of duty-bearers to the rights and needs of indigenous peoples.

What are the next steps?

As the meeting concluded, there was strong agreement that CGD is a key tool for advancing indigenous rights and empowering indigenous voices. However, we also recognized that CGD is not a magic bullet. It requires careful planning, implementation, and evaluation. It also requires respect and awareness of indigenous peoples’ own initiatives and self-determination.

We also agreed that we need to continue the dialogue and collaboration among different stakeholders involved in CGD. We need to share our experiences, challenges, and best practices. We need to develop common principles, standards, and guidelines for CGD. We need to create platforms and mechanisms for data exchange and use.

Overall, I learned a lot from the presentations and discussions, and I made many new friends and contacts. I hope that this meeting will be followed by more actions and initiatives to promote CGD for indigenous rights.

If you are interested in learning more about the Indigenous Navigator, you can visit their website at







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