Every 5 or 10 years, I need to renew my drivers’ licence and passport. It’s not difficult, but it is an admin task that costs me time and money. However, I do enjoy driving and traveling. I comply with the law and renew my documents because I have to, while I drive and travel often because I want to.
In our digital work, we often talk about ‘informed consent’ being required from the individual before we can collect, store, share their data. Often consent is mentioned in relation to GDPR, the upcoming Californian law, or various other data protection laws and legal frameworks. Most of our discussions about it are framed from the perspective of ‘we have to’.
In the ‘have to’ space, we tend to seek the minimum, the letter of the law. “Tell me what the requirement is, so I can meet it and move on.”
What would it look like if consent was a desirable. If it was something we wanted to do and sought after it. Many civil society and humanitarian organisations talk of being ‘beneficiary-centric’ and keeping the person at the heart of what they do. If we applied this lens to consent, would we behave differently?
Perhaps it would. Perhaps not. We’d likely have different conversations; more interesting ones. We’d likely switch from talking about compliance and start talking about agency and accountability. It is also likely we’d talk much more about four types of illiteracy – linguistic, digital, data, and identity. And hopefully we regularly improve the 3 As:
A: Create Awareness amongst the people who the data is about regarding why we need the data, how it is used, with whom it is shared, the choices they have, the opportunities digital presents for them and how to live wisely in a digital world. Raise awareness creatively using multiple methods. Some examples include using banners, pamphlets, videos, theatre groups, focus groups (based on gender) or even a voice recording done by a local leader or respected person.
B: Enable Access for people to all the data we have about them and enable them to use their data however they wish without our involvement. Allow them to access and control it, and where possible, give the data we collect about beneficiaries to them.
C: Ensure Alternatives are available for people to refuse to provide data but still receive aid and that our frontline staff do not feel they will be accused of fraud because they provided aid without collecting data first.
At the heart of consent is agency and choice. And we have the agency to make the choice about how we want to approach consent. Do we want to focus on compliance or the people we seek to serve.
The choice is up to you.