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The Gold Standard Data Responsibility Toolkit for Cash Transfers

By Linda Raftree on June 2, 2021

cash transfer technology

While all humanitarian programmes collect large amounts of data, in Cash and Voucher Assistance we collect large volumes of data that is often shared with multiple actors. Much of the data we collect is highly sensitive and private, and we collect it from and about very vulnerable people.

It’s important to design our programmes and manage data in ways that reduce the possibility that this data is used – accidentally or purposefully – in ways that cause harm or that unfairly exclude designated individuals or groups from benefits. Types of harm that have been associated with data and digital technologies include:

  • Risk of injury, for example, when data is used to identify, locate and specifically cause physical, emotional or psychological harm to an individual or group.
  • Denial of services or discrimination based on data, including opportunity losses and economic losses when data is used for decisions about who is eligible.
  • Human rights violations, such as loss of dignity, liberty or privacy when data is used in ways that dehumanizes individuals or when data collection is invasive.
  • Deliberate targeting and harassment of the poor through new technologies, or when massive amounts of information are held and could used against someone indefinitely.
  • Erosion of social or democratic structures, for example, through manipulation, amplification of power imbalances or misinformation.

Data management is critical to CVA

We work with sensitive data throughout the entire CVA process. So, in the same way that safeguarding, protection and ‘do no harm’ are core parts of CVA and other humanitarian programming, data responsibility should be incorporated into all that we do as CVA practitioners.

While the Data Responsibility Toolkit: A Guide for CVA Practitioners is aimed at CVA, much of the guidance can extend to other humanitarian programmes as well. The new toolkit offers a range of ways to work data responsibility into programme planning, design, implementation, monitoring, evaluation, accountability and learning) activities.

The toolkit offers a ‘gold standard‘ to which organizations should aspire and identifies both legal and ethical implications that we should be mindful of in our treatment of data.

Data responsibility is about more than just data.

Like other valuable goods, data has become a commodity. Individual data points are normally converted into valuable information that is used by different actors for all kind of purposes – those that help and those that harm.

A whole ecosystem has grown up around data collected and processed through CVA. Data can confer power and economic benefit to individuals, humanitarian agencies, local and national governments, financial service providers (FSPs), third-party monitors (TPM), technology companies and non-state actors, all of whom are handle data in CVA.

Data responsibility requires contextualization.

A variety of actors collect, manage, use and share data in CVA. There are different organizational mandates and motivations, power dynamics and levels of skills and knowledge at play.

You’ll need to find agile and adaptive ways to mitigate risks and harms associated with data, especially in conflict-affected or fragile contexts. Data responsibility will depend on everyone involved in the programme cycle, from individual enumerators and frontline staff through country management teams, FSPs, partners and donors. At times, protecting data can put humanitarian staff and frontline workers at risk, too.

Data responsibility is not a solo activity

You’ll need to involve different parts of your organization and multiple types of expertise as you consider how to ensure data protection and to mitigate potential data-related harms in CVA.

This will require technical skills such as information security, data systems administration, data analysis and architecture; legal and business administration, compliance and an understanding of finance; gender, inclusion, protection and safeguarding; and soft skills like negotiation and consensus-building.

Data Gold Standard Toolkit

In this toolkit, we offer a range of ways to work data responsibility into programme planning, design, implementation and MEAL tech (monitoring, evaluation, accountability and learning) activities. The toolkit offers a ‘gold standard‘ to which organizations should aspire and identifies both legal and ethical implications that we should be mindful of in our treatment of data.

We recognize that it will not always be possible to achieve the gold standard. There will always be trade-offs in terms of speed, budget and other factors to consider, and we know that CVA practitioners will be pulled in many directions.

In those cases in which our organizational capacity falls far short of legal and ethical standards, however, we might need to halt activities because our data collection could lead to harm or because it could break the law.

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Written by
Linda Raftree has worked at the intersection of community development, participatory media, rights-based approaches and new information and communication technologies (ICTs) for 20 years. She blogs at Wait... What?
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