Recent years have witnessed something of a sea-change in the way humanitarian organizations consider and use data. Growing awareness of the potential of data has led to new enthusiasm and new, innovative applications that seek to respond to and mitigate crises in fresh ways. At the same time, it has become apparent that the potential benefits are accompanied by risks. A new framework is needed that can help balance the benefits and risks, and that can aid humanitarian organizations and others (e.g., policymakers) develop a more responsible approach to data collection and use in their efforts to combat natural and man-made crises around the world. In May we released together with UNOCHA , Leiden University and Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, a think-piece to inform the World Humanitarian Summit on the need for such a framework to build “data responsibility into humanitarian action”.
The report we are releasing today, “Mapping and Comparing Responsible Data Approaches”, attempts to guide the first steps toward such a framework by learning from current approaches and principles. It is the outcome of a joint research project commissioned by UNOCHA and conducted in collaboration between the GovLab at NYU and Leiden University. In an effort to better understand the landscape, we have considered existing data use policies and principles from 17 organizations. These include 7 UN agencies, 7 International Organizations, 2 government agencies and 1 research institute. Our study of these organizations’ policies allowed us to extract a number of key takeaways that, together, amount to something like a roadmap for responsible data use for any humanitarian organization considering using data in new ways.
We began our research by closely mapping the existing responsible data use policies. To do this, we developed a template with eight broad themes that determines the key ingredients of responsible data framework. This use of a consistent template across organizations permits us to study and compare the 17 data use policies in a structured and systematic manner. Based on this template, we were able to extract 7 key takeaways for what works best when using data in a humanitarian context – presented in the conclusion to the paper being released today. They are designed to be broad enough to be broadly applicable, yet specific enough to be operational and actually usable.
We are mindful that the research being presented here represents only an initial step toward better understanding the use of data in humanitarian contexts and that there are other approaches one can learn from. As much as our specific findings, we are also hopeful that the paper and our methodology can serve to further a necessary conversation around some of the important issues confronting humanitarian organizations, policymakers, and anyone else involved in humanitarian action. We welcome your comments and suggestions, which you can share below or by sending us an email (stefaan at thegovlab.org).