by | Nov 4, 2021 | ICT4D |


Witness can conjure up a variety of ideas in our minds. For some, we may think of accidents or incidents we have seen over the years. For others, it may have some sort of religious evangelistic notion. And for others, we may think of the ‘witness’ stand in a court room. Witnessing can be about trying to give proof of an event or idea with the hope of converting others to your way of thinking. Or witnessing can be much more in the present. Much more ‘as you are going through life pointing out experiences, evidence.’

In this vein, what are some things to look for ethical, rights-respecting development and humanitarian data practice? 

Look for the 3As:

  • Awareness: How much awareness is being created amongst the staff and the people about whom the data is about why it is needed, how it will be used, with whom it will be shared (and why), and if they can access it? In addition to awareness, are we checking for understanding, not in the moment, but after the information is shared
  • Alternatives: Are recipients of aid offered alternatives? Can the person say no and still access aid? They should be able to.
  • Audits: Most aid agencies are obsessed with compliance. Therefore, use this and audit if awareness (and understanding) is being done and if alternatives are being offered.


  • Follow the liability – most agencies push it downstream from donors to UN/NGOs to local orgs to the recipients themselves.  This gets hidden in the world of consent, which is why ICRC’s decision to use the legitimate interest legal basis rather than the consent basis is so interesting.  It feels like holding onto the liability is more in line with being an humanitarian/development agency as it is not what a data company wants to do.  And too many agencies are behaving like data companies not aid agencies. 
  • Follow the money – how much is being invested in responsible data practices and development – not technology, but capacity and literacy.  How much is being invested in figuring out how to minimise the amount of data we collect in the first place? This is not just about the capacity of organisations, but also of the communities we are wanting to help as well.  And this takes time, money, and intentionality.


Most actors in the aid ecosystem talk of putting people at the centre of our work, but we seem to forget this when we come up with our data management strategies.  However, in most organisations there are pockets of people, members of staff who are quietly discussing this.  Quietly talking about data portability for the aid recipients.  Diverse groups of people in organisations having regular conversations and debates about these issues – not about compliance, but about how to improve.  This is not a technology problem or challenge, it’s more of a human problem. These voices need to be amplified and we need to find ways to connect with each others.

So there you have it , some things to look for. To witness.   Conversations about these won’t result in a lovely template that is globally applicable, but it might help reduce the number of negative surprises communities encounter in the future.

Photo by DJ Johnson


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