Each time Jane interacts with a new organisation, she responds to a similar set of questions, shows the same identity documents, over and over again. She doesn’t know what happens with the information she provides or who else it is shared with. But, she tells me it’s the NGO game she needs to play. And sometimes she wins the lottery and receives aid.
At the moment in the aid world we collects heaps of data about the people we seek to serve. Personal data about who they are, who they are related to, health status, nutrition status, economic status and so on. We track our interactions with them and in some projects track how they interact with others, where they spend the money we give them, and so on. And we hoard this data. It is basically impossible for the person or persons about whom this data is to access it themselves. And we justify our behaviour through policies, philosophies, and models.
We are the centre of our and their data universe. The hinge point. All the while claiming to be ‘beneficiary centric’ in our approaches.
But what would it look like if we weren’t the centre? If we enabled the people we seek to serve to be the centre of their data universe? If they were ‘holding’ the data about themselves, their families, and when they choose to, they can expose it to us. But it also means we can be ‘cut off’ from the data too.
This is what data portability, digital wallets, and even self-sovereign identity scratches the surface of.
This is a fundamental philosophical choice. One that acknowledges we currently have enormous privilege and power. But is is not just a philosophical or theoretical choice, it is a real, practical, ‘hand on the heart this is who we are’ choice. It asks are we willing to give up some of our power and transfer it to the ones we seek to serve?
The choice is up to us.