Data and Displacement: Assessing the Practical and Ethical Implications of Targeting Humanitarian Protection

Lead Research Organisation: University of Warwick
Department Name: Politics and International Studies

Abstract

Data-driven practices of targeted humanitarian protection are in urgent need of assessment, since these raise a range of practical and ethical questions that directly impact at-risk populations. While the targeting of protection needs through the production of data is common practice, the proliferation of large-scale quantitative, biometric and visual data within the humanitarian field is unprecedented. Established in 2014, there are presently 10,055 datasets for 253 locations from 1219 sources on the Humanitarian Data Exchange (HDX). This project produces a timely and robust analysis of data-driven protection targeting, focusing on two contexts that are characterised by conflict and high numbers of internally displaced persons (IDPs): northern Nigeria and South Sudan. It does so by assessing the implications of the production and use of large-scale data in targeting humanitarian protection, particularly on those most directly affected by such developments: IDPs themselves.

The increasing production and use of large-scale data is not unique to the field of humanitarianism. However, the stakes are particularly high when it comes to data-driven practices of targeting protection for those most at risk. Humanitarian interventions are designed to protect the most vulnerable groups, hence any misuse or miscalculation in the use of data can have a drastic effect on at-risk populations. Careful assessment of the practical and ethical implications of data-driven targeting of protection is thus foundational. It is often assumed that humanitarians can be trusted more than commercial organisations or governments in collating and using large-scale data, due to their mandate of 'do no harm'. Yet it is vital to examine the potential risks, exclusions and biases or vulnerabilities implicit in the production and use of such data. While data can enable quicker, efficient and improved evidence-based responses, critical questions surrounding processes of data collection and what counts as evidence, the ethics of data collection and its use, and the accountability and protection of the data produced in contexts of vulnerability are increasingly necessary.

Our research addresses these questions based on the research team's combined interdisciplinary academic and operational expertise. The project brings together academic researchers from the UK and Nigeria with practitioners from the International Organisation for Migration - the United Nations Migration Agency, which is responsible for the Displacement Tracking Matrix (DTM). DTM is the system deployed to track and monitor displacement and population mobility, and forms one of the largest data collectors on IDPs globally. Our project examines the work of DTM in the context of wider datasets used for the targeting of humanitarian protection in northern Nigeria and South Sudan. It focuses on practical and ethical challenges that arise in the collection and use of such data, and undertakes in-depth research with local stakeholders and internally displaced communities. The project asks: How effective is the data-based targeting of humanitarian protection in practice? Who benefits from such practices - and who is excluded? And how can the data-driven targeting be developed to reduce the chances of vulnerable groups falling through the cracks of humanitarian protection?

The project contributes: an interdisciplinary perspective on the practical and ethical implications of data-driven humanitarian targeting in sub-Saharan Africa; an operationally-driven analysis of the efficacy of data-driven humanitarian protection in contexts of conflict and displacement; a qualitative assessment of the impacts of the production and use of large-scale data for at-risk populations; and methodological insights regarding the utility of mixed methods approaches for the analysis of large-scale data.

Planned Impact

Beneficiaries of this research with which the research team already have contact include:
- POLICY MAKERS AND DONOR COMMUNITIES: ALNAP, DFID, ECHO, ODI, Start Network, USAID,
- INTERNATIONAL, INTERGOVERNMENTAL, AND GOVERMENTAL AGENCIES: African Union, FAO, IOM, OCHA, UNHCR, UNICEF, UN Special Rapporteur for the Human Rights of IDPs, WFP
- NGOs/CIVIL SOCIETY: ACTED, British Red Cross, Community Empowerment for Progress, Confident Children Out of Conflict, Danish Refugee Council, ECS- Episcopal church of South Sudan, Girl Power Initiatives, Human Development Initiatives, Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team, Impact Initiatives, Intercom Africa, IRC, 510 Netherlands Red Cross Data Initiative, Plan International, MapAction, Mercycorps, Missing Maps, MSF/Doctors without Borders, Norwegian Refugee Council, Oxfam, Salvation Army, Save the Children, SEYP, UMCOR - United Methodist church,
- RESEARCHERS AND INFORMATION NETWORKS: Data Science and Ethics Group (DSEG), Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data, International Association for Crisis Response and Management (ISCRAM), Joint Inter-sectoral Analysis Group, UN Global Information Management Working Group, Warwick Humanitarian Data Research Collective

The multi-dimensional nature of this project ensures that it will benefit a wide range of non-academic users. International donor communities will acquire improved understanding of the importance of ethically sound data-driven humanitarian aid, while policy-makers will have access to higher quality data in the development of evidence-based welfare and related policies. Research briefs and reports will be circulated to policy-making communities, along with additional publications targeted to maximise participation in project workshops. International, intergovernmental, and governmental agencies will also benefit from the research by gaining a deeper understanding of best practices in the field of data-driven humanitarian targeting. Although the project is a collaborative one involving IOM, additional representatives from this user community will also be consulted throughout the project, and will receive publications and invitations to project events. NGOs will have access to an operationally-driven and academically-sound evidence source, which will advance understanding of the practical and ethical implications of data-driven humanitarianism. Civil society groups will also benefit from having opportunities to share views, challenge skewed views or misinformation, and highlight practical and ethical concerns related to the data-driven targeting of humanitarian protection for at-risk populations. The project will maximise the impact of the research on this group through workshop participation, consultation processes, as well as publications and wider dissemination mechanisms. Researchers and information networks will also benefit from the contributions of the project to methodological and epistemic debates about the production and use of large-scale data in conflict settings. The outputs of this project will be widely circulated through email lists and social media, as well as through project events. University of Warwick Press Office will organise press releases, and the qualitative interviews will be accessible as a dataset via the UK Data Service.

Involving beneficiaries and potential beneficiaries throughout all stages of the research process is integral to the impact of this project, which will:
- Invite diverse beneficiaries to review the research (research design, data collection, review, and analysis)
- Consult a diverse international Advisory Board (research design, data collection, analysis, review, and dissemination)
- Ensure timely publication of initial findings via briefs and an openly accessible report, with accessible feedback mechanisms via workshops and social media (review and dissemination)
The research team will mobilise its extensive networks to maximise impact throughout the project lifetime.
 
Description Our findings remain preliminary, and relate to:
1. The dynamic, complex, contested and incomplete nature of the humanitarian data ecosystem;
2. Issues of accountability, overlooked vulnerabilities and extreme deprivation in the use of data-based targeting for the provision of humanitarian
assistance in practice;
3. Operational challenges such as problems of connectivity and infrastructural limitations; inaccuracies and the use of dated data; and communication issues; and
4. Ethical concerns emerging in the development of data-driven humanitarian assistance, such as inconsistency in processes of gaining consent; generalised lack of IDP awareness regarding use of data and data rights/ethics; cultural barriers and sensitive protection issues.
Exploitation Route The findings of this research contribute primarily to the work of donor communities and policy makers, governmental and non-governmental practitioners and humanitarian actors, as well as to academic debates and applied research in the humanitarian field. The work is already contributing to reflection and debates across these fields and we anticipate this extending to the shaping of debates in the field when our research findings are published. We have a series of dissemination activities under development in order to facilitate this process, though we have been delayed with these due to Covid.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Government, Democracy and Justice

 
Description Our outputs are under development, but the project is having an emergent impact on humanitarian practitioners by unpacking the effects of data-based humanitarian assistance from an IDP perspective. These have informed discussions across the humanitarian field based on our engagements at a range of events, our close engagement with stakeholders via our Advisory Group and our project partnership with IOM. COVID has impacted the project's ability to engage with regional partners but this work is underway in localised terms, through our revised and delayed capacity-building activities.
First Year Of Impact 2020
Impact Types Policy & public services

 
Description Event at the Geneva Centre for Humanitarian Studies (by Tregonning G, Trigwell R, Hirani P, Jones B and Popoola O.) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Participants from the project: Grant Tregonning, Robert Trigwell, Prithvi Hirani, Briony Jones,
Omolara Popoola.

On the 24th of November, 2021, the Geneva Centre for Humanitarian Studies hosted our Data and Displacement project. During the event, our team members presented our research to get feedback on how to further develop our project. Participants from various organisations and academic institutions, including IOM, IFRC, and the Universities of Warwick, Juba and Ibadan attended this event, and there were Lots of interesting discussions on Humanitarian ethics, Humanitarian data, and the need to involve local actors in humanitarian research and decision making.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/pais/research/projects/internationalrelationssecurity/dataanddisplacem...
 
Description Online NVivo Training Workshop for University of Ibadan (By Fayehun F, Àkànle O, Williams F, Alozie, M.T) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Participants from the project team : Vicki Squire, Briony Jones, Prithvi Hirani, Grant Tregonning

The project team organised a 3-day Online NVivo Training Workshop jointly with the University of Ibadan.
-Workshop held from 28 -30 Sept/2021
-826 registrations.
-Participants were mostly postgraduate students at masters and PhD levels.
-Participants were mostly students from the University of Ibadan and other Nigerian universities, but overall attendance was diverse and includes students from regional universities such as the University of Ghana, Kenyatta University, but also other global universities such as Texilia American University, City University of Hong Kong, and Swinburne University of Technology, Australia.

-There were also participants from development and humanitarian organisations including; Plan International, International Institute of Tropical Agriculture and National Institute of social and economic research
- The workshop discussed the practical steps for coding qualitative data (Day 1-2)
- Also discussed the rationale for coding, coding pitfalls, as well as useful steps for addressing these pitfalls (Day 3)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
 
Description Panel at the International Humanitarian Studies Association Conference (By Squire V, Fayehun H, Jones B, Porto de Albuquerque B, Trigwell R, Àkànle O, Alozie M.T, Hirani P, Tregonning G) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Participants from the project: Vicki Squire, Olufunke Fayehun, Briony Jones, João Porto de Albuquerque, Rob Trigwell, ?láyínká Àkànle, Modesta Alozie, Prithvi Hirani, Grant Tregonning

On Nov 03, 2021, the International Humanitarian Studies Association hosted our Panel entitled 'Data & Displacement: Data Justice in Humanitarian Targeting' where our team members presented 5 papers based on the preliminary analysis of our Phase 1 interviews.
Papers titles are:
a) "They do ask, but it is not the way you ask": Data Gathering as Communication and Gaps in Humanitarian Aid for IDPs in South Sudan.
b) Data Gathering and Utilization: Humanitarian Targeting and Ethical Issues in Northeastern Nigeria
c) The Humanitarian Data Ecosystem: Utility, Efficacy and Ethics
d) Mapping the Humanitarian Data Ecosystem
e) Data injustice and humanitarian targeting in North-eastern Nigeria and South Sudan
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://conference.ihsa.info/proposed-panels/view/2122/
 
Description Participatory Ethos Podcast (By Squire V , Jones B, Tregonning G, Hirani P) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Participants from the project include: Vicki Squire , Briony Jones, Grant Tregonning, Prithvi Hirani

This Podcast provides an overview of the participatory ethos underpinning the project and it sets out strategies to integrate this throughout the research process. The strategies include;
-How to adopt a rights-based approach when conducting qualitative interviews with IDPs,
-The importance of a rights-based approach to data collection when working with vulnerable groups
-How to ensure that research is conducted in an ethically and not extractive manner
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-sy06OJ2Bus&t=6s
 
Description Phase 1 Fielwork Training Session (Online) (By Squire V, Jones B , Stevens D, Hirani P, Tregonning, G) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact Participants from the project team: Vicki Squire, Briony Jones, Dallal Stephens, Prithvi Hirani, Grant Tregonning

This online session discussed the training materials prepared by team members for the project's Phase 1 fieldwork. Seven (7) Core Team members & four (4) RAs participated in this workshop and the following activities occurred during the event;
-Presentation of fieldwork materials by team members
-Certificate of completion awarded to four (4) RAs
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
 
Description Practitioner Advisory Group Meeting (by Squire V, Stevens D, Fayehun F, Jones B, Moro L, Logo K, Porto de Albuquerque J, Trigwell R, Àkànle O, Alozie M.T, Hirani P, Tregonning G) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Participants from the project team : Vicki Squire, Dalla Stevens, Olufunke Fayehun, Briony Jones, Leben Moro, Kuyang Logo, João Porto de Albuquerque, Rob Trigwell, ?láyínká Àkànle, Modesta Alozie, Prithvi Hirani, Grant Tregonning.
- This event was held online on (8/10/20) and it was practitioner-focused.
- 7 Practitioner Advisory Group members & 12 team members attended.
-Discussed project's overarching goals, operational dimensions of the project, fieldwork issues, collaboration & thematics of the project
-Meeting summary document as output, circulated to the team and practitioner advisory group.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description Practitioner Advisory Group Meetings (Mid-term) (By Squire V, Stevens D, Fayehun F, Jones B, Moro L, Logo K, Porto de Albuquerque J, Trigwell R, Àkànle O, Alozie M.T, Hirani P, Tregonning G) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Participants from the project team: Vicki Squire, Dalla Stevens, Olufunke Fayehun, Briony Jones, Leben Moro, Kuyang Logo, João Porto de Albuquerque, Rob Trigwell, ?láyínká Àkànle, Modesta Alozie, Prithvi Hirani, Grant Tregonning)

-Online session (22/09/21)
-Practitioner Advisory Group members (7) & team members (12) attended
-Primary Audience: Practitioners
-Other Audience: Academic
-Practitioner-focused
-Discussed initial findings from Phase 1 fieldwork
-Meeting summary document as output
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
 
Description Practitioners Presentation ( by Squire, V.) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Participant from the project team: Squire, V.

17 February

Audience: 26, practitioners

This was a presentation

HPG-ODI research workshop

Title: "Tackling operational challenges in large scale crisis response for more inclusive, effective and impartial humanitarian action"
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022
 
Description Presentation of initial WP4 results as part of the research seminar series at the Geneva Centre of Humanitarian Studies (by Jones B) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Participants from the project team: Briony Jones

In this event, the WP4 arm of the project presented the initial results as part of the research seminar series of the Geneva Centre of Humanitarian Studies.
It was an online event via zoom.
All attendees were staff, associates, and students of the Geneva Centre of Humanitarian Studies
10 people attended
It was a mix of students on executive education (so humanitarian practitioners taking time out to study), academics from the University of Geneva, researchers from NGOs, and independent humanitarian consultants
Main and secondary audience were GCHS students, staff and associates. It was not recorded for wider use
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022