Data-driven advocacy recognizes that data is essential for effective, evidence-based advocacy. It can be used to sway stakeholder opinion, identify new policies or ones that require revision and 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 “because information can reduce uncertainty about the best course of action”. This is particularly relevant for countries with socio-economic challenges, such as high unemployment and large inequalities, weak education and healthcare systems, and low trust in institutions, where better policies informed by data can lead to more sustainable development.

Yet, 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.

This Policy Document presents a series of recommendations for researchers, academia, civil society, policymakers, and media. Primarily, it argues for the need for specialized data analytics training; 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.

This policy document is jointly prepared by the Center Science and Innovation for Development (SCiDEV) and the Western Balkans European Social Survey Regional Network with the support of the 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).

Improving Data-Driven Advocacy in the Western Balkans