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Data Responsibility

Data Responsibility is a new project by the Yale School of Public Health, in partnership and funded by the United Nations’ International Organization for Migration. It was started in 2021 with the aim of understanding and defining the concept of ‘data responsibility’ in humanitarian response, development, migration management and assistance, and public health sectors. Data Responsibility (a) publishes an online, open-source, limited-series of volumes of peer-reviewed white papers; (b) fosters research to address identified needs in this field; and (c) enables new curricular options.

The humanitarian, development, immigration assistance and management, and public sectors now deploy data and ICTs (Information and Communication Technologies) reliant interventions as central components of their core operations on a daily basis. In the humanitarian sector, for example, these interventions include biometric registration, BDPA (Big Data Predictive Analytics), geospatial monitoring, mobile device-based cash remittance platforms, and e-health and e-education platforms.

The concept of ‘data responsibility’ often refers to a set of principles and practices that seek to address the confusing, competing, and/or unclear legal and ethical guidance regarding the data life cycle from collection to (re-)use of data. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has defined data responsibility as the “safe, ethical and effective management of personal and non-personal data for operational response.” Data responsibility has many dimensions, including technical, ethical, legal and regulatory, economic, cultural and anthropological, and operational. Harms can result from the use of digital technologies with and/or by marginalized and/or highly vulnerable populations at the intersection of these dimensions. There is an absence of clear legal protections and ethical guidance addressing complex questions about how to prevent and mitigate harms that have no clear theory of causation and/or attribution in these contexts

Data Responsibility aims to:

  • Define what constitutes “data responsibility” across humanitarian, development, public health, refugee/immigration sectors;
  • Capture and present case studies of harm resulting from these interventions;
  • Conceptualize and demonstrate what constitutes best practice; and
  • present an agenda for the development of rights-based ethical, technical and legal governance of these interventions going forward.

Data Responsibility is fully funded by the United Nations’ International Organization for Migration.


Yale School of Public Health

United Nations’ International Organization for Migration