Turning data-driven accountability into meaningful action for civil society

Merle Rutz

Impact & Accountability Coordinator, CIVICUS

*All views and statements represent those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of Accountable Now.



Are we representing and amplifying the right voices? Are our programmes and campaigns geographically inclusive? How can we support our vision with actual data in order to make good strategic decisions?

These are some of the pressing questions we in civil society today are having to ask – and answer. Accountability and data-driven decision-making have become buzz words in the civil society sector. And yes, the idea of turning information into real-time and meaningful action to deepen our impact and achieve our mission seems a valuable ambition. But how does this look in practice – with the realities of competing systems or reporting standards, differences in data or tech proficiency within teams, and difficulties to measure long-term impact of human rights campaigns and advocacy work? What if the data is not perfect yet? And how do we use data and our learnings to shift power?


At CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, our mission is clear: to strengthen civil society and citizen action for a more just, inclusive and sustainable world. We do this by defending civic freedoms and democratic values; strengthening the power of people to organise, mobilise and take action; and empowering a more accountable, effective and innovative civil society.


CIVICUS has recently invested in several systems and processes to capture and analyse programmatic and organisational data to improve data utilisation, inform decision-making, and ultimately help us effectively implement our Strategic Plan 2017-2022. One of these systems is our new monitoring and evaluation platform called DevResults. Established in late 2017, the Impact and Accountability team ensures that data generated from various programmes, research and advocacy work is integrated into these processes. The purpose is to promote evidence-based decision-making, increase organisational impact and ensure that we are accountable to all our stakeholders for actions taken. In addition, this data needs to be able to facilitate knowledge management and organisational learning – allowing us to timely adapt and course correct in response to changing circumstances. In order for us to reap the rewards of such systems and processes, we also require an internal culture change that prioritises evidence, learning and reflection as a way of working.


CIVICUS is still at the beginning stages of this journey and we continue to learn every step of our way. In Global Accountability Week, we would like to share some initial learnings with you.


1.You don’t need to wait for a perfect data set to take action. Insights were gathered from the very first data entry onto DevResults, and even although the data was not complete or perfect, we still detected one of our first trends. We have a female staff majority, yet our external voice (op-eds, research pieces, etc.) was male. The CIVICUS Communications team reacted immediately and has supported female staff to strengthen their writing capacities to contribute more content and is proactively reaching out to those who have not written on behalf of the organisation before. This very blog – my first for CIVICUS – bears testimony to that.

2. Even small insights can help improve future programming. Another example of how data has helped us improve relates to our SPEAK! campaign. This campaign is beginning its second iteration and, while 2017 was a very successful effort engaging thousands of people across the globe, data showed that we fell somewhat short in our engagement with the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. As a result, for 2018, we made sure to recruit at least one campaign resource in the MENA region to engage more proactively with organisations and people on the ground – and, most importantly, in Arabic! Join us as we SPEAK! with each other on 16-18 November 2018 with three days of global citizen action.

3. Data informs the decision but decisions can’t be made in a data vacuum. Our data collection and analysis work is accompanied by impact reflections. These are held in August and September of each year to review the previous year’s results in relation to progress against our strategic plan, to identify data gaps, blockages and accelerators as well as to amend our organisational accountability framework, if needed. Our first impact reflections this year also discussed CIVICUS’ most recent constituents survey, which presented not only great satisfaction rates but also recommendations for improvement and a wish list to the Secretariat. Actions are being taken to include these recommendations in our action plan, as well as to share the results and data across the alliance. Discussing and making sense of our data, and then communicating it in a “digestible” way takes time but is worth the efforts (see more details and an infographic in this recent CIVICUS blog post).

We hope these shared learnings have provided some food for thought. We would love to hear from you and your organisations, to understand the changes and shifts that have been helpful to you in becoming more evidence-driven and effective, as well as your stakeholders’ responses to your modified approaches. Please leave a comment below or get in touch via merle.rutz@civicus.org.



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