This blog post was originally published in the Data Values Digest on June 21 here. 

The data for development community needs a stronger common vision for data ethics, rights, and governance, according to a recent survey in which nearly 90 percent of respondents agreed or strongly agreed with this statement.*

From the #RestoreDataRights movement in Africa to calls from national statisticians in Latin America, there’s growing awareness that data and tech are powerful tools that can either address or entrench inequalities. Change is needed to ensure we’re on course to use them in ways that improve lives—rather than making people who are already marginalized even worse off.

This is what led to the creation of the Data Values Project (and this publication) more than a year ago. A year in, there’s clear consensus on the need to shift power structures in data. How has the Data Values Project contributed to this shift? Results from the Global Partnership’s annual survey show how sharing knowledge is helping to build a movement for change. This week, we’re dropping in to discuss these results and how they fit into the past year of open consultation. 

In the survey of partner organizations (including governments, NGOs, international civil society organizations, academia, and more), 85 percent of people said that exposure to new ideas has been the most valuable part of the Data Values Project so far. 

These aren’t exactly “new” ideas. Contributions have emerged from the lived experiences of our contributors and rigorous analysis and research from our partners, many of whom have been working on these issues for decades. These are people like Data4Change’s Bronwen Robertson, who spoke passionately about building data confidence, and Gwen Phillips of the Ktunaxa Nation, who explained how data has been used in ways that disempower Indigenous communities. 

More than 300 people from 63 countries have contributed to the search to better understand what should characterize just data systems. We’ve heard from people around the world about what’s working and what’s not. Data Values Project contributors have explained how giving local communities power to design data and share insights with decision makers can create positive change, what it really takes to put values of inclusion and equity into action, and how to foster participatory data governance. Contributors have also addressed some of the tensions in this movement, as when Martina Barbero wrote about trade-offs between privacy and security and Josh Powell warned of the threats to Afghans of development agencies’ collection and use of data. 

Unlocking the power of data to create positive social change while protecting people from harm is obviously a key concern of the data for development community. Consultations in the Data Values Project indicate that including people in designing data systems and in decisions about how data is managed are important, as are cultures of transparency and data sharing among governments and organizations. You can read more about these ideas in the Data Values Projectnwhite paper, a final version of which is set for publication in July. 

As the survey demonstrated, sharing knowledge is a pivotal component of shifting power in data and practices. The power and potential for change of the Data Values Project comes front the breadth of perspectives it brings together. That’s why we’re asking you to join us by sharing your ideas and joining the movement. Email us at DataValues@data4sdgs.org with ideas for contributions and sign up for our mailing list to learn more about ways to get involved in the Data Values Project. 

 

*About the annual survey: Each year, the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data asks its more than 600 partners for feedback through its annual partner survey. Data reported here are based on the 2021 annual partner survey’s 132 responses. The majority of respondents (41 percent) in this year’s survey were from government partners. Non-governmental and multilateral organizations made up the second and third largest groups of respondents at 24 percent and 14 percent, respectively. Explore the full, anonymized dataset here.