Time to think about responsible data

Recent news from the Ebola crisis to earthquake in Nepal triggered massive humanitarian response from all over the world. Following the general trend in digitalisation, this response is now increasingly ICT-driven and several “Hackathons” are organised to help with the information flows on the ground. This has in the past proven to be particularly effective back in 2010 after the crisis in Haiti and is now replicated (see, e.g., this event and that one). But however great the motivation and positive outcome are it is very important in that context not to forget to do thing responsively. From the data collection, to its storage and its analysis one has to keep in mind the specificities of the context. That this data is about individuals that are in distress and need help. That this data will remain there after the crisis is solved. That this data could be used in many unpredicted ways in the future, even possibly against the population.

Some weeks ago I attended an expert meeting in Den Haag and a workshop in Palo-Alto on the topic of responsible data and blogged about those trips here and there. There are several important and interesting things to consider and discuss around the issue of data-deficit (areas stroke by crises are typically also those for which the least data is available, even a simple list of geo-located hospitals can be a challenging piece !), the need for human-centred design (all the data relates to people which must be in the center of the ICT design and kept “in the loop”) and the important need for data governance and re-use agreements (it is too often unclear who can be held accountable if something goes wrong and key data is too often seldomly shared).

Though the most interesting way to look at all this from a digital humanities point of view is to observe how similar the issues are: a researcher surveying households in the Netherlands and a crisis mapper completing a map of damaged properties in Nepal will face similar challenges in terms of data ownership, privacy, preservation and reuse. Both the digital humanities and the crisis respondents are busy looking at how to best tackle those challenges. As far as I can tell, they currently do this each within their own community. Now is probably a good time to start doing that together and learn from each other.

To find out more you can follow the links in this post and also have a look at those additional ones:
• Proceedings of the expert meeting http://www.responsible-data.org/proceedings.html
• Proceedings and presentations of the workshop http://knoesis.org/hemant/symposium/aaai2015
• An excellent book which is relevant to anyone working with data related to individuals https://responsibledata.io/ways-to-practise-responsible-development-data/