Data in international development: a look at the (potential) dark side of ICT4D

22 February 2015

Yesterday, I gave a talk at the Stiftung Neue Verantwortung here in Berlin, about the work I’ve been doing looking into how data is being used in international development. I adapted a presentation I did together with Becky Kazansky at last year’s re:publica, which you can see online here, where we talked about the unintended consequences of increased uses of technology in development.

For yesterday’s talk, I focused more on case studies of how technology is currently being used in ICT4D, and introduced the group to some situations that are simultaneously welcomed in the ICT4D sphere while being met with horror by privacy advocates. I also talked a little about the new UN Data Revolution report which came out at the end of last year, and recommendations that they are giving for the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals.

Here are the slides I used yesterday:

In terms of ways forward, I’m glad to see that global development organisations and donors are establishing their own Codes of Conduct (though these aren’t necessarily data-focused), or responsible data policies - I especially like the way that Oxfam has been developing their own organisational policy, and I would love to see other organisations adapt this or even come up with their own, hopefully in an equally open and consultative manner.

Further resources

One of my favourite papers (and one that I quote often!) is this, “Making design safe for citizens: A hidden history of humanitarian experimentation” by Katja Jacobsen (2010). It uses frameworks that I’ve found provide a really useful way of talking about the topic - tame zones vs wild zones, vulnerable citizens vs. valuable citizens, for example.

Another useful piece is this from the New America Foundation - “Dialing Down Risks: Mobile Privacy and Information Security in Global Development Projects” by Hibah Hussain (2012). Linda Raftree’s blog is always a great source of information on these kinds of topics, as she blogs on community development and technology, and the Responsible Data site also has a growing number of resources on these topics.


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