The data we collect. Who is it for? Sometimes it’s helpful to remember it’s for us, at least that’s the decision we’ve made so far. Not for the people whom we seek to help, perhaps it should be, but right now it’s for us. It’s for our reports, our audits, our internal processes, our need to appease a donor or another stakeholder.
If it were for the person about whom the data is, our systems and processes would likely look a lot different. When the problem we are trying to solve is how to be more efficient, more effective, to reduce costs, etc., our systems are designed to solve that problem.
In our defining of the problem, we also need to define ‘for whom’ – so when we desire a more efficient system, we also need to define for whom. Depending on who it is for, our solution may look radically different.
So when humanitarian agencies collect biometric data, they have define their ‘who is it for’ as themselves or their donor, but certainly not the person in need of aid. In fact almost all humanitarian information systems have defined their ‘who is it for’ as the agencies themselves and their donors. And there is an aspect of this that is ok, needed, and appropriate. However, when we talk about our systems as for the vulnerable people, we mislead ourselves.
If, in the design of our systems, we considered the vulnerable person as one of the key stakeholders, then it would be easy for the vulnerable person to ‘see’ their data, to access it, to use their data without our involvement. Then our systems would not be blackboxes hid behind legal wall, but they would be accessible for the people about whom the data is.
The great thing, the seed of hope in all of this, is that the “for whom” is a choice, our choice; so what choice will you make today?