Over the past few years, responsible data has become a hot topic within the world of international development and humanitarian aid. As funding agencies push for open data and data-driven decision making, and digital technologies continue to evolve, development workers, researchers, and other individuals involved in supporting aspects of the data lifecycle are becoming increasingly concerned with what it means to responsibly collect, manage, transmit, and share data in responsible ways.
[Image: U.S. Embassy Kampala, http://devinfo.digitaldevelopment.org/5daysofdata]
As part of the effort to promote responsible data practices, USAID sponsored a #5DaysofData Campaign and Twitter chat, held during the week of May 13, 2019. Spearheaded by USAID and mSTAR, this campaign launched the publication of the new resource, Considerations for Using Data Responsibly at USAID.
Thursday’s live Twitter chat, hosted by USAID’s Global Development Lab (@GlobalDevLab), sparked discussion through eight questions. Four takeaways, in no particular order:
1. Concern for Subjects
One of the top concerns among international development researchers and practitioners are potential risks to people, particularly vulnerable populations. Data subjects — individuals, communities, or organizations — and their privacy, safety, and well-being must be factored into how data is collected, managed, stored, transmitted, and shared.
It is widely understood that researchers and the development community at large are responsible for protecting the data that they collect, yet many organizations and individuals aren’t necessarily clear about — or following — best practices for safeguarding data.
2. Data/Information Security
Information/data security is a huge issue. Yet, at FireOak, we’re concerned about information and data security being referred to as “IT Security,” as it is described in USAID’s guide. Information security is not simply a technology issue — everyone who is involved in collecting, transmitting, storing, or managing data must be responsible for using appropriate practices, tools, and techniques to safeguard data.
Plus, as more people have access to data, chances increase for data breaches, data leaks, unauthorized access, or other type of security incidents.
The location where the data collection occurs is an important consideration. Cultural belief systems, customs, conflict (political, local, familial), ideas of what “privacy” means, and the ability to obtain informed consent (where the data subject truly understands the parameters of the project), and local/national regulations all play roles in responsible data collection, management, and use.
4. Informed Consent
Obtaining informed consent is an ethical — and, in many cases, legal — requirement for research involving human subjects. Yet, in many cases, it can be difficult to ensure that consent is truly informed. In some cases, data subjects may not fully understand what data is being requested, how it is intended to be used, or how it could potentially be used in the future.
Informed consent provides data subjects with the option to say “no” to sharing their data. It is critical that individuals understand their rights. Gaining informed consent shows respect to data subjects and their right to make decisions that are best for them — reiterating the call for ethical data collection practices.