Addressing the ‘doctrine gap’: professionalising the use of Information Communication Technologies in humanitarian action

Nathaniel A. Raymond and Casey S. Harrity at HPN: “This generation of humanitarian actors will be defined by the actions they take in response to the challenges and opportunities of the digital revolution. At this critical moment in the history of humanitarian action, success depends on humanitarians recognising that the use of information communication technologies (ICTs) must become a core competency for humanitarian action. Treated in the past as a boutique sub-area of humanitarian practice, the central role that they now play has made the collection, analysis and dissemination of data derived from ICTs and other sources a basic skill required of humanitarians in the twenty-first century. ICT use must now be seen as an essential competence with critical implications for the efficiency and effectiveness of humanitarian response.

Practice in search of a doctrine

ICT use for humanitarian response runs the gamut from satellite imagery to drone deployment; to tablet and smartphone use; to crowd mapping and aggregation of big data. Humanitarian actors applying these technologies include front-line responders in NGOs and the UN but also, increasingly, volunteers and the private sector. The rapid diversification of available technologies as well as the increase in actors utilising them for humanitarian purposes means that the use of these technologies has far outpaced the ethical and technical guidance available to practitioners. Technology adoption by humanitarian actors prior to the creation of standards for how and how not to apply a specific tool has created a largely undiscussed and unaddressed ‘doctrine gap’.

Examples of this gap are, unfortunately, many. One such is the mass collection of personally identifiable cell phone data by humanitarian actors as part of phone surveys and cash transfer programmes. Although initial best practice and lessons learned have been developed for this method of data collection, no common inter-agency standards exist, nor are there comprehensive ethical frameworks for what data should be retained and for how long, and what data should be anonymised or not collected in the first place…(More)”