We are living through a digital revolution.

We send 294 billion emails a day, 65 billion WhatsApp messages, 96 million instagram photos, and around 500 million tweets. In exchange for the services they provide we, citizens, give away our data to tech companies. We do so without much thought. A report in 2018 found that 77% of us have no fundamental objection to sharing our data [1].

Data has also become ubiquitous in social welfare. Processes of accountability and measurement introduced in the 80s have transformed providers of agencies in relentless collectors of information about their beneficiaries. Nobody has calculated the volume. But it, too, is substantial.

Most social welfare information is used to prove to the outside world that an organisation is worthy of the investment. The purchaser decides the data points, the provider organisation is the intermediary. The service user supplies the necessary data. As Hood says [2], the focus is on hitting the targets and missing the point. The point is the citizen who gives up the data.

A group of women in the U.K. and Netherlands are reflecting on what happens when his model is stood on its head. What would it mean for women in receipt of social welfare to own and/or control their own data?

The women belong to a movement of self-reliant groups. They come together. They jell. They support each other. They save and make loans to each other. They build enterprises together.

At the end of 2020, four women from self-reliant groups in Scotland came together to work on, what they called, a wevolutionary idea (a reference to the organisation WEvolution that supports the movement).

Data for me, not for others.

With the help of the Tudor Trust the women are turning the idea into reality. It involves:

  1. Women thinking about data that is useful for them. What would they want to know so they and their self-reliant groups can grow?
  2. Making a digital ‘object’ that could seamlessly record the data they need and feed it back so they can learn.
  3. Owning the data, and agreeing the ethical principles to guide the collection, control, and sharing of the data.

The four catalysts have now taken this conversation to other members of self-reliant groups…

More reading:

[1] See the full report here: https://dma.org.uk/uploads/misc/5b0522b113a23-global-data-privacy-report—final-2_5b0522b11396e.pdf

[2] Christopher, H., & Hood, C. (2006). Gaming in targetworld: The targets approach to managing British public services. Public Administration Review66(4), 515-521.

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