Nongovernmental organizations focusing on public interest, development, and humanitarian aid have sought to collect a vast amount of personal information. Some of this is the byproduct of viewing more data as an important tool for providing better, more targeted services and to better serve their charges; organizations have also been forced to collect more information to demonstrate accountability and results to funders. In order to address these trends, there has been a significant push in recent years to policies, procedures, and protections for using data about and on behalf of beneficiaries.
Nonprofit public interest organizations tend to have missions that prioritize societal good. This makes them potentially well-positioned to develop responsible data collection and use policies that are state-of-the-art in terms of upholding ethical principles and respecting and protecting data subjects, including vulnerable populations and beneficiaries of aid. But many nonprofit organizations are not equipped with the resources, training, or expertise needed to implement sophisticated legal, technical, and ethical compliance regimes or to understand how certain data collection, use, and sharing activities could put the communities they serve at risk. Understanding how data – by itself – can create the risk of liability for organizations is an additional challenge.
A growing effort within academia and civil society aimed at responsible data governance has led to the development of principles and guidance for how data should be collected, used, and shared in ways that maximize value and minimize harm to beneficiaries and other vulnerable individuals.