We Don’t Collect Data, We Borrow It

Data Zetu’s new Community Insights package shares open data about community-identified challenges in Tanzania.

Samhir Vasdev
Data Zetu
Published in
4 min readSep 18, 2017


This blog post was published as part of the Data Zetu project. Data Zetu is now an initiative of the Tanzania dLab, a local NGO that promotes innovation and data literacy through a premier center of excellence. For more information about the dLab, visit www.dlab.or.tz. For more information about the Data Zetu project, visit www.irex.org.

Young women vote to prioritize challenges in a Listening Campaign in Temeke District, Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania. Photo: Emanuel Feruzi / Code for Tanzania

Throughout the year, our team has been visiting communities to understand everyday challenges that are faced by people living there. These Listening Campaigns, as we call them, surface “pain points” identified by the community members themselves, resulting in hyperlocal, contextualized, and specific information about what matters most to Tanzanians in these areas.

The Listening Campaigns collected hyperlocal, contextualized, and specific information about what matters most to Tanzanians in these areas.

Today, now that we’ve finished the first round of Listening Campaigns in Temeke District (one of our priority areas), we’re excited to publish our Community Insights package and invite other stakeholders to use this data to address their own needs.

Click here to jump to the Community Insights package

Click here to jump directly to all of the community-identified pain points

When we began these Listening Campaigns, our intent was to gather this community-level information in order to shape the subsequent activities of our program. Since we believe that meaningful data use occurs when it’s meant to address a specific problem, we needed to collect information about these problems first.

But Data Zetu isn’t about simply extracting information from people for our own use. Rather, our goal is to share that data back with the communities who generated it. Because at the end of the day, it’s really their data; we’re just borrowing it. Our hope is that, by releasing this information, we can equip others with more information in order to make better decisions, for instance about prioritizing attention and investments according to real needs.

At the end of the day, it’s really their data; we’re just borrowing it.

After all, these pain points represent a powerful dataset; they are effectively a recent and ground-level poll of issues that community members prioritize as most important for their well-being and health. For example, the Pain Points dataset within the Community Insights package shows that, in some wards in Temeke District (a densely populated urban area in Dar Es Salaam), community members and leaders repeatedly highlighted the growing illegal use of certain drugs as a major challenge.

The Pain Points dataset within the Community Insights package includes insights community members about various issues areas. This slide presents information about adolescent challenges.

Although the prevalence of drug abuse may not seem like a groundbreakingly new insight, participants in our Listening Campaigns were themselves surprised to hear how widespread the issue has become across the streets in their wards. These kinds of realizations are powerful, because they can help coalesce attention and investment of resources to address these challenges.

Silas Temu, Nuru Magwaza, and Emanuel Feruzi of Code for Tanzania presented data from the Listening Campaigns to the District Executive Director’s office in Temeke District. Photo credit: Jumanne Mtambalike / Sahara Sparks.

Of course, simply publishing a dataset — no matter how compelling its content — doesn’t necessarily lead to meaningful use of that data. To help avoid contributing to the data graveyard problem, we’re excited to spend more time with the same community leaders who were present at the Listening Campaigns while this data was produced. Together, we’ll explore the information, supporting them on the skills needed to engage meaningfully with the data in order to synthesize it.

And we don’t only intend to do this with community leaders in the wards where we conducted our Listening Campaigns; we’re encouraged by stories of other stakeholders, such as PEPFAR DREAMS partners and USAID representatives, who have also expressed interest in seeing this data as they plan their respective activities.

This process is ongoing, but a vital first step is publishing these Community Insights. More importantly, we’re doing so under an open Creative Commons license, which invites anyone to use the information for any legal purpose, provided they give proper attribution and share any derivative products using the same license. This ensures that our collected data becomes a public good that can benefit others as much as it does our own team.

The Community Insights package is released with a Creative Commons license to encourage re-use.

In addition to the pain points data, the Community Insights package includes a detailed explanation of our methodology, in case other organizations might be interested in conducting similar exercises. This is an important step towards a culture of democratized data. If you conduct a similar exercise — or if you use this pain points data in some way — please contact us to share your experience!



Samhir Vasdev
Data Zetu

Tech, design, strategy. Advisor for Digital Development at IREX.