Launching a new book on Responsible Development Data

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This week I, and a group of development data experts from around the world, met for three days in a small farmhouse in the Netherlands to produce a book on Responsible Development Data. Today, we’re very happy to launch the first version: comments and feedback are really welcome, and please feel free to share, remix, and re-use the content.

Download the book here: http://tiny.cc/rddevbook

This book is offered as a first attempt to understand what responsible data means in the context of international development programming. We have taken a broad view of development, opting not to be prescriptive about who the perfect “target audience” for this effort is within the space. We also anticipate that some of the methods and lessons here may have resonance for related fields and practitioners.

The group of contributors working on this book brings together decades of experience in the sector of international development; our first hand experiences of horrific misuse of data within the sector, combined with anecdotal stories of (mis)treatment and usage of data having catastrophic effects within some of the world’s most vulnerable communities, has highlighted for us the need for a book tackling issues of how we can all deal with data in a responsible and respectful way.

Why this book?

It might have been an uneasy sense that the hype about a data revolution is overlooking both the rights of the people we’re seeking to help and the potential for harm that accompanies data and technology in development context. The authors of this book believe that responsibility and ethics are integral to the handling of development data, and that as we continue to use data in new, powerful and innovative ways, we have a moral obligation to do so responsibly and without causing or facilitating harm. At the same time, we are keenly aware that actually implementing responsible data practices involves navigating a very complex, and fast-evolving, minefield – one that most practitioners, fieldworkers, project designers and technologists have little expertise on. Yet.

We could have written another white paper that only we would read, or organised another conference that people would forget about. We tried instead to pool
our collective expertise and concerns, to produce a practical guide that would help our peers and the wider development community to think through these issues. With the support of Hivos, Book Sprints and the engine room, this book was collaboratively produced (in the Bietenhaven farm, 40 minutes outside of Amsterdam) in just three days.

The team: Kristin Antin (engine room), Rory Byrne (Security First), Tin Geber (the engine room), Sacha van Geffen (Greenhost), Julia Hoffmann (Hivos), Malavika Jayaram (Berkman Center for Internet & Society, Harvard), Maliha Khan (Oxfam US), Tania Lee (International Rescue Committee), Zara Rahman (Open Knowledge), Crystal Simeoni (Hivos), Friedhelm Weinberg (Huridocs), Christopher Wilson (the engine room), facilitated by Barbara Rühling of Book Sprints.