Improving Data-Driven Advocacy in the Western Balkans

Improving Data-Driven Advocacy in the Western Balkans

Improving Data-Driven Advocacy in the Western Balkans

Through the ad-hoc grant support from Project “Protecting Civic Space – Regional Civil Society Development Hub” implemented by the Balkan Civil Society Development Network (BCSDN) and financed by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), the Center Science and Innovation for Development (SCiDEV) and the Western Balkans European Social Survey Regional Network organized a regional conference in Durrës in December 2021 and published a policy document on the relevance of data-driven advocacy in the Western Balkans and ways in which it can be strengthened. In addition to the regional aspect, the conference used participatory and collaborative approach in developing the policy document. Deputy Director of the European Social Survey also addressed the participation of the regional conference highlighting the importance of having each economy of the Western Balkans in the map of data collection and publication of the European Social Survey.

Our drive for this initiative was threefold: first, one of our pillars of work is precisely evidence-based policy making and data-driven advocacy and action-oriented research. Second, we have contributed to the implementation of the European Social Survey in Albania and collaborated with universities on using the data for policy actions. Third, we are part of the Western Balkans European Social Survey Network and worked for the most part of the past two years online and thus needed to reconnect and revitalise the Network. As such, this ad-hoc grant provided us a window to bring together members of our network and work collaboratively to produce a practical policy document with specific recommendations and raise awareness regarding the relevance of data-driven advocacy in our region.

Data is essential for effective, evidence-based advocacy and can used to sway stakeholder opinion, to identify new policies or ones that require revision, and to develop recommendations for systemic change. The rationale that motivates data-driven advocacy is that evidence-based policymaking is an approach that will lead to better outcomes than arbitrary, intuitive, or opportunistic and populist-driven decision making. However, in practice is in the Western Balkans, researchers in academia and civil society alike, face a multitude of challenges as frontrunners of data-driven policy advocacy. These include the lack of willingness and interest from policymakers in using data for policymaking, as well as the insufficient skills of researchers in data analytics and visualization, communication, and advocacy. The media is another important actor that can facilitate data-driven advocacy. However, journalists in the region have low data literacy skills, and are subject to considerations set by the editorial policy of the media outlet they work in.

Our policy document presents a series of recommendations for researchers, academia, civil society, policy makers and media. Primarily, it argues for the need for specialised data analytics trainings; improving researcher’s communication skills; sharing experiences of advocacy between academia and civil society in the region, as well as abroad, particularly in countries with a strong tradition of using data for policy advocacy; increasing funding for research; and encouraging the creation and strengthening of regional collaborations such as the Western Balkans European Social Survey Network.

We have now been able to capitalise on the regional conference and policy document, by engaging with stakeholders at regional level to push for data-driven advocacy and raise awareness on the need for strengthening the shift towards advocacy and policy development based on data and evidence that helps to improve civic dialogue and the cooperation between civil society and public institutions but also including other stakeholders such as academia and media. In addition, it contributes to increase the space for action and support for participation in decision making processes of civil society organisations by building partnerships with academia and media.

At SCiDEV we have developed other programmes based on the recommendations of this policy document such as the “Words to Action” Campaign that enables young people to conduct action-oriented research, learn and practice data-driven advocacy. At the same time, we have piloted a regional research mobility programme for youth focusing on data-driven advocacy at regional level. The collaboration with some of the partners of the Network is ongoing and we are working on joint fundraising and strengthening exchange of experiences and peer to peer support.