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New USAID Guide: How to Use Data Responsibly in International Development

By Guest Writer on May 13, 2019

usaid responsible data guide

As development practitioners, we have a responsibility to the people impacted by our programming, to local governments and partners, and to our own organizations to think about how we are collecting, using, storing, and sharing information. We should:

These broad responsibilities are frequently in tension with one another, and balancing them requires not only following best practices for data management and data security, but understanding the context where you operate as well as the risks and benefits of your decisions.

Considerations for Using Data Responsibly at USAID

USAID is committed to using data responsibly. The Agency has developed comprehensive policies and guidance that adapt to keep pace with changing contexts, including those in digital technology. USAID believes that responsible data use is critical to advance country stability and self-reliance.

Responsible Data GuideOur new guide Considerations for Using Data Responsibly at USAID is a resource to help all USAID staff and partners have better conversations about data–more specifically, how to balance the tremendous opportunity presented by data with the associated risks.

The guide aims to provide USAID staff and local partners with a framework for identifying and understanding risks associated with development data. It is meant as a conversation starter—to highlight important concerns and provide actionable advice—to help those who use data in development programs maximize utility while also managing risk.

The guide is also intended to supplement overall understanding of the “Address Privacy and Security” principle of the Principles for Digital Development. The guide provides resources for some of the more clear cut issues around working with data. These are augmented by tools, tips, and worksheets that can help guide discussions around areas of responsible data use that may be less clear or a point of tension.

Three Responsible Data Scenarios

Responsible data practices require having a conversation with multiple stakeholders throughout the life of the project to continuously assess how well you are balancing data tensions. For example, here are three responsible data scenarios that are not clear cut decisions.

Data Security

A text message can send potentially life-saving information to a woman in a rural village who has limited access to healthcare. But if her shared family mobile phone is accessed by another member of her family, her safety could be in danger due to the sensitive nature of her health information. Should you send the message to save her life? Or protect her safety by delivering the information in person?

Data Privacy

Your organization knows the residential locations of disabled people in a community. Local government first responders are requesting access to this information so that they can have it in case of an emergency or national disaster. Should you sacrifice privacy in order to provide potentially lifesaving information? What if you didn’t get consent from those individuals to share their data?

Data Use

Another development organization is requesting population-level data about refugee needs in the camp where you work in order to provide better services to the population. The surrounding towns are hostile to the camp, and information surrounding them is carefully guarded. Should you share the data? Or do the risks of the data getting into the wrong hands outweigh the benefits?

We All Need to Be Responsible with Data

No matter our position, we have a role to play in making sure information is used responsibly at our organizations. This is not just an issue for IT security staff, privacy experts, or even data managers. Each of these voices are critical for comprehensively addressing the responsible use of data.

  • A contracting officer may have a better understanding of how to protect the organization you work for;
  • A program officer may have greater insight into the local context and practices of the population you are working with;
  • A data manager will know more around best practices for protecting privacy;
  • A staff member from headquarters might have requirements to fulfill around opening datasets and reporting to donors or other stakeholders.

We have great responsibility in the work we do as development practitioners. One of those responsibilities is to understand the implications of how we collect, use, share, and protect information and mitigate potential risks.

By Rebecca Saxton-Fox, Advisor, USAID Global Development Lab


Join #5DaysofData Twitter Chat on May 16

Join @USAID_Digital, @mSTAR_Project, @DIAL_community, @GlobalDevLab, @ICT_Works and the responsible data community for a #5DaysofData Twitter Chat to learn how you can use data responsibly and ensure that data risk is regularly considered and addressed.

#5DaysofData Twitter Chat
May 16, 2019 – 12pm EST – 16:00GMT – Your Timezone

We’ll spend a hectic hour tweeting questions, answers, ideas, and concerns. Join us or just follow along using the #5DaysofData hashtag on twitter.

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