Giving Compass’ Take:
• This research-informed guide is designed to help funders find and ask the right questions to achieve responsible data sharing.
• Who are you sharing data with now? How is data being shared? Who should be receiving data?
• Learn more about the importance of clear and useful data sharing.
Data and digital technologies are changing the way that international development programs are implemented. For years, donors, implementers, and host-country governments have turned toward evidence-driven programming to maximize the impact of development efforts.
These exciting developments have also brought new tensions. A push for greater openness—epitomized by data sharing requirements within USAID’s Development Data Policy —promises to make evidence and information available to a wider audience than ever before. At the same time, such data sharing has reignited debates about data ownership, privacy, and informed consent. In both developed and developing countries, high-profile privacy incidents have eroded public trust in the ability of governments and private companies to keep data secure. All of this happens against a backdrop of increasing private-sector involvement in development, where differing norms and cultures of data use can come into conflict.
This document aims to provide USAID staff and local partners with a framework for identifying and understanding risks associated with development data. It is meant as a conversation starter—to highlight important concerns and provide actionable advice—to help those who use data in development programs maximize utility while also managing risk. By starting to have conversations around responsible data practices, staff and partners will begin to build competency in this area. USAID’s Journey to Self Reliance includes supporting countries to build their own technological capacity and readiness by taking ownership of their data and being held accountable that it is kept safe.
Each section of this document provides resources for specific questions that may arise during your work using data. There are also tools and tips for how to help guide discussions or navigate areas of responsible data practice that may be unclear or a point of tension. Tools are provided to help you think through hard questions—not necessarily to answer those questions.
Data use — Data can be used to maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of programs and activities, with the goal of improving outcomes. They can help us target interventions to the people or communities who will benefit the most. When shared with others, data can help us to build support and consensus by communicating challenges and possible solutions. Some programs share data directly with the people we serve, helping them to make more informed decisions about their own health or livelihoods. Intended use should guide our decisions about data collection and management in order to avoid needless expense or risk.
Privacy and security — Data carry substantial risk, both for data subjects and for data stewards (e.g., implementers and donors). We are responsible for taking appropriate measures to minimize the risk to individuals based on data that is collected.
Transparency and accountability — We are also responsible for sharing information with the people affected by our projects, host-country governments, and the U.S. taxpayers who fund our work. We need to be transparent about our programs and whether they are effective. We should also use data to improve the planning, effectiveness, and efficiency of future programs and activities. We should make data openly available for the public good. We should encourage the application of existing data to new purposes with the goal of achieving breakthroughs and insights.
These three areas are frequently in tension with one another. Understanding these tensions and working to balance them can help us work responsibly and highlight questions about risk and benefit surrounding our data. For example, a single-minded focus on data use might lead to over-collection of sensitive data, leading to potential privacy risks. On the other hand, if we prioritize privacy and security above all else, then we might delete data soon after collection. If done carelessly, this could compromise the records retention necessary for transparency and accountability.