Building Data Responsibility into Humanitarian Action

Stefaan Verhulst at The GovLab: “Next Monday, May 23rd, governments, non-profit organizations and citizen groups will gather in Istanbul at the first World Humanitarian Summit. A range of important issues will be on the agenda, not least of which the refugee crisis confronting the Middle East and Europe. Also on the agenda will be an issue of growing importance and relevance, even if it does not generate front-page headlines: the increasing potential (and use) of data in the humanitarian context.

To explore this topic, a new paper, “Building Data Responsibility into Humanitarian Action,” is being released today, and will be presented tomorrow at the Understanding Risk Forum. This paper is the result of a collaboration between the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), The GovLab (NYU Tandon School of Engineering), the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, and Leiden UniversityCentre for Innovation. It seeks to identify the potential benefits and risks of using data in the humanitarian context, and begins to outline an initial framework for the responsible use of data in humanitarian settings.

Both anecdotal and more rigorously researched evidence points to the growing use of data to address a variety of humanitarian crises. The paper discusses a number of data risk case studies, including the use of call data to fight Malaria in Africa; satellite imagery to identify security threats on the border between Sudan and South Sudan; and transaction data to increase the efficiency of food delivery in Lebanon. These early examples (along with a few others discussed in the paper) have begun to show the opportunities offered by data and information. More importantly, they also help us better understand the risks, including and especially those posed to privacy and security.

One of the broader goals of the paper is to integrate the specific and the theoretical, in the process building a bridge between the deep, contextual knowledge offered by initiatives like those discussed above and the broader needs of the humanitarian community. To that end, the paper builds on its discussion of case studies to begin establishing a framework for the responsible use of data in humanitarian contexts. It identifies four “Minimum Humanitarian standards for the Responsible use of Data” and four “Characteristics of Humanitarian Organizations that use Data Responsibly.” Together, these eight attributes can serve as a roadmap or blueprint for humanitarian groups seeking to use data. In addition, the paper also provides a four-step practical guide for a data responsibility framework (see also earlier blog)….(More)” Full Paper: Building Data Responsibility into Humanitarian Action