5 best practices to ethically use digital tools in humanitarian contexts

monday.com Emergency Response Team

Digital tools have the potential to significantly improve the efficiency and effectiveness of humanitarian response efforts, but it is important to ensure that their use is ethical and respects the needs and rights of affected populations.

In this blog, you will find 5 best practices that aid organizations can use to ensure that the use of digital tools is ethical and respects the affected communities.

In context

The United Nation's Digital Cooperation Framwork recognized the potential of digital technologies to promote development and address global challenges. The Framework focuses on using digital technologies to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of humanitarian response efforts.

The UN's approach to digitally transform the humanitarian aid sector to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of response efforts, also considers the ethical and privacy concerns of those affected by crises.

Center for Humanitarian Data by OCHA
The centre is focused on using digital tools and technology to collect, process, analyze, and share data related to humanitarian crises. To build capacity among humanitarian organizations, and to promote the use of data and technology to inform decision-making and improve the effectiveness of response efforts.

Why efficiency matters

The Global Humanitarian Overview 2023 by OCHA predicts that in 2023 a new record for the number of people requiring humanitarian aid will be reached, with 339 million people in 69 countries requiring assistance, 65 million people more compared to 2022.

1 in every 23 people now needs humanitarian assistance

And the number is increasing day by day

The increasing gap between the needs of those requiring humanitarian aid and the resources available to meet those needs makes it crucial to find innovative ways to ensure that humanitarian efforts are as efficient and effective as possible.

Efficiency is key in humanitarian work. Every moment counts in making a difference for the affected ones.

In a previous blog post, we discussed the challenges and opportunities that the use of technology can present in emergency response.

Why ethics matter

  • Digital tools can greatly impact the lives of the people affected by the emergency.
  • The use of digital tools in emergency response could involve collecting sensitive data, such as personal information, medical records, and location data, which must be handled ethically and securely.
  • The use of digital tools can also have unintended consequences if not used ethically, such as perpetuating biases or infringing on privacy rights.
  • In order to provide meaningful aid, the dignity of the affected population is a leading north star, and ethical considerations must be aligned.

So, is efficiency compatible with ethics when using technologies in humanitarian aid contexts?

Ensuring ethics can often lead to more efficient and effective outcomes in the long run.

Digital tools that offer solutions, efficiency, and effectiveness can be valuable assets for aid organizations as they strive to achieve their missions. In order to achieve a positive and effective balance with digital tools, it is important to carefully consider the ethical implications of using them in humanitarian contexts.

5 best practices for aid organizations

Ensuring an ethical and respectful use of digital tools in humanitarian contexts.

  1. Obtain informed consent: Before collecting or using any personal data, it is important to obtain the informed consent of the individuals whose data is being collected. This includes clearly explaining how the data will be used and ensuring that individuals understand their rights and have the ability to opt out of data collection if they choose.
  2. Protect privacy: Aid organizations should take steps to protect the privacy of individuals whose data is being collected or used. This includes implementing appropriate security measures to prevent unauthorized access to data and using data only for the specific purposes for which it was collected.
  3. Be transparent: Aid organizations should be transparent about their data collection and use practices, including clearly explaining to individuals how their data will be used and who will have access to it.
  4. Respect cultural differences: It is important to consider and respect cultural differences when using digital tools, including differences in attitudes towards data privacy and the use of technology.
  5. Regularly review and update policies: Aid organizations should regularly review and update their policies and procedures related to the use of digital tools to ensure that they are in line with best practices and evolving ethical considerations.

Overall, it is possible for efficiency and ethics to coexist when using technologies in humanitarian aid contexts, and it is essential to carefully consider both considerations.

We want to leave you with some useful tool that emergency response teams can examine, in order to maximize the positive and efficient use of digital tools. Sit with your team and answer these questions.

  • Is the technology appropriate for the context? Will it meet the needs of the people it is intended to help, and is it feasible to use it in the given environment (e.g. reliable electricity and internet access)?
  • How will the technology be used? Will it be used to gather or disseminate information, facilitate communication, or provide some other service? How will it be integrated into existing processes and systems?
  • What are the potential risks and drawbacks of using the technology? Are there any concerns about data privacy or security, or potential unintended consequences?
  • Who will be responsible for managing and maintaining the technology? Will there be sufficient capacity and resources to ensure that it is used effectively and sustainably?
  • How will the technology be funded and sustained over the long term? Is there a plan in place to ensure that it will be available to the people who need it, even after the initial humanitarian response has ended?

By carefully considering both efficiency and ethics, it is possible to strike a balance and use digital technologies in a way that benefits all stakeholders in humanitarian aid contexts.

Aid organizations have the ability to decide how they want to utilize and implement the available tools, and we are pleased to provide a flexible and accessible means to support their efforts.

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