By Mitch Hulse
At last week’s NetHope Global Summit, technology leaders from leading global nonprofits came together to discuss the need for the community to address crucial challenges of data privacy and security. These discussions very often included candid reflections on the challenges these organizations have faced while striving to implement effective policies in the face of ongoing cybersecurity concerns, as well as responsible collection and management of sensitive data across field programs.
Learning from failure is a familiar reality among the NGO community and that sentiment has guided how it collectively is working toward addressing major concerns surrounding privacy and security.
As one example, PATH shared how they have responded and improved their organization’s technical literacy in the wake of a cyberattack. The attack did not have a negative impact on PATH’s long-term operations; to the contrary, the organization’s response to the incident provided insight on how other NGOs can improve their own technical literacy across their teams and better prepare themselves from future breaches.
In addition to building technical literacy at the organization level, practitioners in the field need to consider how they can reconcile data collection, sharing, and analysis with continued concerns around privacy and security in their field programs. Collecting, sharing, and managing data collected by practitioners in the field is de rigueur. Alongside these activities, NGOs are continuing to face challenges in how their organizations evaluate large amounts of dynamic and sensitive information.
To that end, NetHope led a workshop that introduced tangible practices as to how NGOs can improve their data management protocols responsibly and effectively in the field. Oxfam shared how some of their teams have piloted a Responsible Data Management Training Pack. These modules build off the Responsible Data Forum and teach field practitioners how they can develop strategies to deal with data in an ethical and secure fashion--especially with regards to collecting and analyzing personal identifiable information.
Efforts such as Oxfam’s responsible data policy are leading examples of how NGOs can leverage project data and analysis considerably and sustainably in the field. Further collaboration among similar partners operating in the field can build up a wide-ranging responsible data narrative across the NGO sector. Outside of Oxfam’s specific work in this space, organizations that may be unfamiliar with adopting responsible data protocols can look to other parts of the digital development community, such as the Digital Principles Forum, to familiarize themselves with robust and effective data management practices.
With increasing concerns of cybersecurity at the organization level and upholding data privacy and security practices in the field, NGOs need to ensure that they stay ahead of anticipated challenges.
Going forward, the NGO community can tap into the expertise from private sector technology companies and cooperate with mobile network firms or banks that are already familiar with handling large amounts of data, as Michelle Dennedy, Cisco’s Chief Privacy Officer, discussed during her plenary talk. Michelle is pictured above with Joel Urbanowicz, Director of Information Security and ICT Operations for Catholic Relief Services, and John Ghent, co-founder and CEO of Sytorus, who participated in a panel at the Summit on the future of data protection for international NGOs.
Over the next year, the NetHope community can continue to hold frank discussions and debates on protection, security, and technical literacy. In so doing, organizations can partner together to leverage technology and data safely, sustainably, and effectively across their programs.
Mitch Hulse is a graduate student in the Public Policy & Global Affairs Program at the University of British Columbia and participated in the NetHope Global Summit 2017 in Vancouver, Canada. His studies focus on economic development policy, information communication technology, and principles for digital development. You can follow him on Twitter @mitchhulse.