Perhaps it’s time to question what we collect

by | Aug 21, 2021 | ICT4D |


Why do we collect data? Why do we need to register people? Most of the time it can be traced back to process and audit. Simplistically, we collect data to prove we did what we said we were going to do to real people and to track the impact. Practically, we often collect personal data to be able to figure out the aid allocation they are entitled to, to ensure we are interacting with the same person we did last time, and to track interaction and impact over time. And yes, sometimes we collect data speculatively.

But perhaps we don’t need to. Perhaps we can delete it much faster than we realise. Or perhaps there are other reasons we want the data.

To determine the aid entitlement for a household, there are pieces of information we need. Things like size, gender, vulnerabilities, age, etc. about the people in the household. While names help to humanise the experience, names do not affect entitlement. However, if the aid is a one off distribution, once the information is collected and the entitlement determined, all the data can be deleted. We could create a token of any sort, which can be used to collect the entitlement. If there are multiple distributions, the entitlement might change due to birthdays, but that too can be easily factored into the token.

If there is one lesson to learn from Afghanistan it is that we need to think deeply and differently about data minimisation and purpose limitation. We often can achieve the purpose for which we collect data with a LOT less data than we collect and deleting it much faster than we do. Perhaps it’s time to question if we actually need the data we think we do.

And yes, there are challenges to overcome. New births and deaths add some additional complexity to address. But all of these challenges can be overcome, if we want.

The choice is up to us.

Photo by Tim Mossholder


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