Improving the operationalisation of responsible data practices within our projects can feel like a lofty, unattainable goal. Even overwhelming at times. So where can we start? What are some relatively simple first steps we can take to gain a bit of momentum? Here are three areas to consider regardless of our role or project.
Find the others
Improving our responsible data practices can feel lonely. It’s important work and not a solo act. We need to find the others. There will be others in your teams who have questions about the data we collect and how we do it. Many will keep these questions to themselves, afraid to ask questions. Therefore, an important step in finding the others is to raise your voice. I don’t mean shouting, rather I mean for you to talk to others about responsible data issues. This could be raising questions and suggesting ways to improve during meetings, but also at the ‘water cooler’ or lunch table or in COVID times the various chat rooms and messaging systems our organisations have. And here’s the important bit. When you do this, invite others to contact you to talk more – provide an invitation for others. Or create a space for the discussion to happen – just about anyone can convene a lunch time discussion or a zoom meeting – why not you?
And if you are in a leadership role in an office or project, hold a project team meeting to discuss the data practices in the project. Below are a few specific topics, but in addition two questions that are always good to ask and always generate reactions are:
- Could we accomplish the same objectives but collect less data?
- When we collect data, who are we leaving out?
Hold a meeting. Ask these two questions. Act on the ideas that come out.
Improving our understanding of Informed Consent
When talking about improving our practices around informed consent, it can be helpful to break it into two – the informing bit and the consenting bit. It’s easiest to improve how we are informing those whose data we are collecting. Therefore, bring together the team involved with or responsible for the registration, monitoring, and accountability.
- Map out the current registration process, articulating what happens at each step. Almost always, what we find is the person registering the recipient/client reads a script asking for consent and then collects the data.
- Explore the possibility of how you could do the informing prior to this step. Could you have banners in the registration area, hand out pamphlets, hold focus group discussions, and so on? And could what could be done the day before the registration happens and then on the day have your feedback and complaints staff available to answer any questions? Could you use radio? Sound trucks? Respected community leaders?
- Also explore if you can add a few questions to the monitoring surveys done of the project. Some questions to consider adding include: Why did we need to collect the data about you we did? With whom did we share it? Do you have any regrets about sharing it?
- Use the responses you get in #3 to improve #2
Improving how we do data sharing
The first step in improving data sharing is understanding what data we are sharing already. Therefore, it would be a good idea to bring your project team together and do the following:
- Map out what data you are sharing with whom in your project? Primarily focus on any legal entry different from your office – donors, FSPs, partners, suppliers, and even other parts of your global organisation.
- For each entity you are sharing data with – list what data it is, for what purpose (why), and how you are sharing it with them
- Then ask if there is a way to accomplish the same purpose, but share less data
- Determine if you have a specific data sharing agreement with each entity you are sharing data with. If so, confirm your legal department and IT information and security (InfoSec) team have approved it. If the agreement don’t exist, work with your legal and InfoSec teams to put them in place.
There you have it. 3 options. There are countless others. Which one will you choose today?
Photo by Jon Tyson