Data and displacement: Ethical and practical issues in data-driven humanitarian assistance for IDPs

Blog by Vicki Squire: “Ten years since the so-called “data revolution” (Pearn et al, 2022), the rise of “innovation” and the proliferation of “data solutions” has rendered the assessment of changing data practices within the humanitarian sector ever more urgent. New data acquisition modalities have provoked a range of controversies across multiple contexts and sites (e.g. Human Rights Watch, 20212022a2022b). Moreover, a range of concerns have been raised about data sharing (e.g. Fast, 2022) and the inequities embedded within humanitarian data (e.g. Data Values, 2022).

With this in mind, the Data and Displacement project set out to explore the practical and ethical implications of data-driven humanitarian assistance in two contexts characterised by high levels of internal displacement: north-eastern Nigeria and South Sudan. Our interdisciplinary research team includes academics from each of the regions under analysis, as well as practitioners from the International Organization for Migration. From the start, the research was designed to centre the lived experiences of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), while also shedding light on the production and use of humanitarian data from multiple perspectives.

We conducted primary research during 2021-2022. Our research combines dataset analysis and visualisation techniques with a thematic analysis of 174 semi-structured qualitative interviews. In total we interviewed 182 people: 42 international data experts, donors, and humanitarian practitioners from a range of governmental and non-governmental organisations; 40 stakeholders and practitioners working with IDPs across north-eastern Nigeria and South Sudan (20 in each region); and 100 IDPs in camp-like settings (50 in each region). Our findings point to a disconnect between international humanitarian standards and practices on the ground, the need to revisit existing ethical guidelines such informed consent, and the importance of investing in data literacies…(More)”.