Responsible data in development

November 17, 2014 in Uncategorized


In mid-October, on behalf of the Personal Data & Privacy WG, I joined a group of development data experts from around the world, to co-author a book on the topic of responsible data in international development. We launched the first version of the book just 4 days after we met, and it is now available for download here.

We used the ‘booksprint’ method to produce the book, which involved bringing together people from a variety of sectors, to write the book from start to finish, in three days. We had no preparatory work laid out beforehand, and we were lucky to have the process was facilitated by Barbara Ruehling, who has done this many times before, on a range of topics.

Having people from different backgrounds to work with on the book brought a great richness to the text itself; too often, the conversation happening within the digital security crowd is a world away from the discussions within the international development movement. But this time, we had digital security experts, collaborating intensely with development practitioners, data nerds, and privacy advocates, to produce the book.

We produced the book as a first attempt to understand what ‘responsible data’ might mean within the context of international development programming. We decided to take a broad view of ‘development’, and, hopefully, some of the information within the book will also be useful for those working in related fields, such as human rights defenders, or activists.

We decided to focus, however, on ‘development’ due to the growing hype around the ‘data revolution’, with the UN Secretary General’s Data Revolution Group releasing just last week their report, A World that Counts. We see potential for harm that accompanies data and technology within the development context, which is too often ignored, and we wanted to focus on this.

The authors of this book believe that responsibility and ethics are integral to the handling of development data, and that as we continue to use data in new, powerful and innovative ways, we have a moral obligation to do so responsibly and without causing or facilitating harm. At the same time, we are keenly aware that actually implementing responsible data practices involves navigating a very complex, and fast-evolving, minefield – one that most practitioners, fieldworkers, project designers and technologists have little expertise on. Yet.

The team behind the book was:
Kristin Antin (engine room), Rory Byrne (Security First), Tin Geber (the engine room), Sacha van Geffen (Greenhost), Julia Hoffmann (Hivos), Malavika Jayaram (Berkman Center for Internet & Society, Harvard), Maliha Khan (Oxfam US), Tania Lee (International Rescue Committee), Zara Rahman (Open Knowledge), Crystal Simeoni (Hivos), Friedhelm Weinberg (Huridocs), Christopher Wilson (the engine room), facilitated by Barbara Rühling of Book Sprints.

The book is available for download now, under a CC-BY-SA license; please feel free to remix and reuse it.

It is also catalogued as a relevant resource on the Personal Data & Privacy WG wiki.

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