Resource Data

Crowdsourcing data to track SDG progress

Tracking progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is critical to their achievement, but there are significant data gaps that make this crucial exercise difficult. A new study led by IIASA explored the use of a citizen science tool known as the Picture Pile to see how it could help monitor the SDGs.

Newswise – The 17 goals, 169 targets and 231 indicators of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by UN member states are a model for achieving a better and more sustainable future for all. They address the global challenges we face, including poverty, inequality, climate change, environmental degradation, peace and justice. Tracking our progress as we work towards it will be key to their success, but official statistics alone will not be able to produce the information at the scale needed to measure progress and feed into the indicator framework. SDGs, which suffers from significant data gaps. To fill this gap, new approaches to data collection and production are needed. Collecting the necessary data through citizen science tools and approaches is one way to complement and improve official statistics.

Previous research undertaken on the use of citizen science data in monitoring the SDGs has mainly focused on its potential to fill the information gaps that countries, international organizations, and data and statistical communities need for a successful development. informed policy development. In their study published in Environmental science and policy, the authors therefore sought to highlight how individual citizen science tools can contribute more concretely to SDG processes. The study specifically looked at the use of a mobile and web application called Picture Pile to see how it could contribute to SDG monitoring and where its potential lies under the SDGs.

Picture Pile is a web and mobile application designed for the rapid classification of images from, among other things, satellite images, geotagged photographs and drone images. The initial idea behind the application was to provide large amounts of baseline data needed for training and validation of remote sensing mapping products such as land use maps and deforestation maps. The images are assembled into a stack and provided to the Picture Pile application for classification by volunteers. Sorting works by showing users an image and then asking them a question like “Do you see damaged buildings?” To which the player responds by sliding the image to the right to indicate “yes” or to the left for “no”. If the answer is not clear, there is also an option to drag the image down to answer “maybe”.

“Our analysis revealed that Picture Pile could directly contribute to the monitoring of eight indicators, and support seven indicators by providing additional information. As an individual tool, Picture Pile could help monitor fifteen indicators under SDGs 1 (end poverty), 2 (zero hunger), 11 (sustainable cities and communities), 13 (climate action), 14 ( life underwater), and 15 (life on land), where there are huge data gaps, ”says Dilek Fraisl, lead author of the study and researcher in the IIASA Novel Data Ecosystems for Sustainability research group .

“Picture Pile can also provide baseline data, for example, to produce new remote sensing products that could be used in SDG indicators. The data could also be used to validate and correct existing products, ”adds Linda See, co-author of the study, researcher in the same program.

The researchers found that the app could help fill data gaps under the SDGs and make the SDGs and other national goals local, thereby encouraging citizens to get involved in monitoring and reporting efforts. . In addition, Picture Pile data can inform policy by providing accurate and timely data, and help raise awareness of societal issues. It can also directly address societal issues, for example when used to identify and document post-disaster damage to support timely responses and help those in need.

The researchers note that to take advantage of this particular tool for SDG monitoring, its potential must be harnessed through the development of use cases in collaboration with governments, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and relevant custodian agencies. . In addition, mutual trust needs to be established among key stakeholders to agree on common goals that would facilitate the use of Picture Pile or other citizen science tools and data for SDG monitoring and impact.

“While Picture Pile has great potential to complement official statistics for SDG monitoring and reporting in a time-efficient and resource-efficient manner, its use for the SDGs is a process that will require time, effort. capabilities and a change in the status quo. mentalities and approaches. Building partnerships that include NGOs, governments, custodian agencies, universities, civil society organizations and other stakeholders will almost certainly be at the heart of the development of future national statistical systems, ”says Fraisl.


Fraisl, D., See, L., Sturn, T., MacFeely, S., Bowser, A., Campbell, J., Moorthy, I., Danylo, O., McCallum, I., Fritz, S. ( 2021). Demonstrate the potential of Picture Pile as a citizen science tool for SDG monitoring. Environmental science and policy DOI: 10.1016 / j.envsci.2021.10.034

About IIASA:

The International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) is an international scientific institute that conducts research on the critical issues of environmental, economic, technological and social changes facing us in the twenty-first century. Our findings provide valuable options for policymakers to shape the future of our changing world. IIASA is independent and funded by prestigious research funding agencies in Africa, the Americas, Asia and Europe.