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Call for Papers

Data Responsibility White Paper Series from Yale School of Public Health and UN IOM

Volume I: Defining Data Responsibility

Due April 30, 2022 (see full submission details below)

About Data Responsibility

Data Responsibility, a new series of peer-reviewed papers from the Yale School of Public Health, seeks submissions from practitioners and academics addressing data responsibility in humanitarian response, immigration/migration management and assistance, economic development, and public health sectors (submission details below). This new series is an initiative between the Yale School of Public Health and the United Nations’ International Organization for Migration. It will publish approximately five volumes of peer-reviewed, publicly accessible white papers over three years from a range of stakeholders and academics.

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 collection and 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.

About Volume I: Tensions and Tradeoffs

Volume I of Data Responsibility has two purposes:

  1. define data responsibility pedagogically and practically; and
  2. identify the tradeoffs and tensions organizations encounter in their efforts to be ‘data responsible’ towards marginalized and/or highly vulnerable populations. This volume seeks to define data responsibility based on the premises that different organizations have different 'centers of gravity,' which may not be explicitly stated and acknowledged, and that these centers of gravity produce recurring tensions and tradeoffs. ‘Centers of gravity’ are defined in this series as the primary liabilities actors are trying to prevent and the primary objectives they are trying to achieve through data and information and communication technologies (ICTs). Data and information communication technologies may include data acquisition methods, e.g. CDR, Remote Sensing, Big Data, Mobile Data collection, participatory mapping (e.g. HotOSM) as well as other digital tools used for data collection, storage, and analysis. The sectors relevant to this series use data for a variety of different but commonly repeating purposes. These include, though are not limited to: advocacy, mapping and targeting, resource allocation, communicating with communities, connecting populations to services, service delivery and supply chain tracking, and registration and identity management.

Paper abstracts for Volume I should address one of the following tensions in the form of a case study, quantitative or qualitative analysis, commentary, or other original work. Proposals (due APRIL 30, 2022) should include an abstract and short explanation connecting the proposal to the relevant tension and may include a description of methodology (optional). Submission details are provided below.

Tension I: Partnerships: What are the divergent power relationships and liabilities/institutional risks between stakeholders? Papers should interrogate various stakeholders’ centers of gravity to evaluate power relationships and better understand the data ecosystem, highlighting the role of complex, multi-stakeholder partnerships. Partnerships are often a prerequisite for organizations to be able to work with data, and papers can consider the pros and cons of these partnerships, the ecosystem that results from partnerships, and the operational capacities/tech literacy of actors. In some instances, organizations may not understand the risks related to the use of data on vulnerable people.

Tension II: Purpose Limitation and Purpose Specification: What situations, pressures, and actors change the limits and specific purposes originally assigned to data sets and projects over time? Papers seek to capture either specific cases and/or evidence of generalizable trends that identify challenges to responsibly setting and sustaining limits and specifications on the purposes of data collection and use. Questions in this work area can include, though are not limited to, the following: What potential limitation and purpose creep is commonly occurring in which sectors and why? Do certain parts of the data life cycle appear to have more instances of limitation and specification change than others? How do funding constraints, data scarcity, and the complexity of collecting data in non-permissive environments encourage limit and purpose creep? When is changing the originally-agreed purpose limitation and specification considered responsible, and what best practices exist in this area? What mitigating measures are being taken by whom to prevent the erosion of purpose specification and limitation?

Tension III: Risk Mitigation: What are some emerging theories of risk mitigation? Whose risk is being mitigated, who chooses, and how do we know mitigation is occurring? Papers should evaluate networks of networks and their transparency, interrogate mitigatory steps, including data minimization, purpose limitation, and accessibility (vs. openness) of data, based on their effectiveness, and contextualize relevant harm pathways. They should also consider who determines what mitigating steps should be taken and when such steps are sufficient. Additionally, papers may question what data is used for what purpose, and when that is meaningful. For example, do institutions understand the potential harm pathways that might be present in datasets that they produce, transact, and/or retain?

Tension IV: Individual Protections for Group-based Harms: How do institutions reconcile individual-centric data protection regimes with technologies that can often cause large-scale group harms? Papers should address how legal regimes center individual rights (often around privacy) when harms often manifest in group contexts without violating those individual data protections or rights developed for/in analog settings. Papers may also address rights to recourse (and lack thereof) which are often centered on individuals for communities reflected in the data.

Tension V: Technical Possibilities and Governance Gaps: How do institutions respond when the technical possibilities of a method or tool to do harm exceed the current governance available to mitigate or prevent it? Data offer many technical possibilities to target, exploit, or exclude groups which exceed existing governance and ethical frameworks. Papers should consider what technical possibilities exist and how harms occur that are not countenanced by agreements and policies, but are happening in the technical due to contextual situations. Papers should also analyze how harms are avoided (or not) in the absence or gaps of regulatory, legal, professional, and technical codes and consider potential ‘red flags.’

Tension VI: Conflicting and Missing Legal and/or Ethical Regimes: Relevant frameworks for data collection and use include conflicting ethics, laws, regulations, and technical/corporate-based regimes. What regimes are ‘in charge,’ what gaps exist, and how do/should institutions navigate these regimes? Papers should consider gaps and conflict between national law/regulations, supranational law/international law, and End User License Agreements (EULAs) and other contracts in data ecosystems. Papers may consider how technical/corporate-based regimes could be supplanting other traditional forms of regulation, including EULAs, Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs), etc.

Submission Information

Please submit the following by APRIL 30, 2022 to

  • Abstract (350 words) (format) (Please note that we will accept fully written papers if available.)
  • short explanation identifying which tension (above) your proposed paper is responding to.
  • (Optional) Description of Methodology

Proposed papers can take the form of case studies, qualitative or quantitative analyses, commentaries, etc. but must be original work. Approximately one ‘general’ abstract and one narrower abstract will be selected to represent each tension. Proposals will be evaluated based on strength for additional articles as well as for subsequent volumes.

Authors will be informed of acceptance of submission following a peer-review period of approximately four weeks. Accepted authors will be asked to submit a complete article within approximately six weeks. The first volume will be published in Summer 2022.

Please direct questions to:

Please Email Submissions to: