Private Sector Data for Humanitarian Response: Closing the Gaps

Jos Berens at Bloomberg New Economy Forum: “…Despite these and other examples, data sharing between the private sector and humanitarian agencies is still limited. Out of 281 contributing organizations on HDX, only a handful come from the private sector. 

So why don’t we see more use of private sector data in humanitarian response? One obvious set of challenges concerns privacy, data protection and ethics. Companies and their customers are often wary of data being used in ways not related to the original purpose of data collection. Such concerns are understandable, especially given the potential legal and reputational consequences of personal data breaches and leaks.

Figuring out how to use this type of sensitive data in an already volatile setting seems problematic, and it is — negotiations between public and private partners in the middle of a crisis often get hung up on a lack of mutual understanding. Data sharing partnerships negotiated during emergencies often fail to mature beyond the design phase. This dynamic creates a loop of inaction due to a lack of urgency in between crises, followed by slow and halfway efforts when action is needed most.

To ensure that private sector data is accessible in an emergency, humanitarian organizations and private sector companies need to work together to build partnerships before a crisis. They can do this by taking the following actions: 

  • Invest in relationships and build trust. Both humanitarian organizations and private sector organizations should designate focal points who can quickly identify potentially useful data during a humanitarian emergency. A data stewards network which identifies and connects data responsibility leaders across organizations, as proposed by the NYU Govlab, is a great example of how such relations could look. Efforts to build trust with the general public regarding private sector data use for humanitarian response should also be strengthened, primarily through transparency about the means and purpose of such collaborations. This is particularly important in the context of COVID-19, as noted in the UN Comprehensive Response to COVID-19 and the World Economic Forum’s ‘Great Reset’ initiative…(More)”.