Civil society organizations should manage digital data in alignment with their mission, respecting people’s privacy and their choice to participate voluntarily.

Four principles to guide civil society’s use of digital data:

  1. Pluralism
    • Civil society is diverse and inclusive by design. It thrives on this multiplicity and the sector’s technology systems and approaches for using digital data should reflect this. Digital data tools and systems should be designed to align with your organization’s mission – there is no one-size-fits-all answer.
  2. Consent
    • Were the people from whom the data were gathered actively asked to share their data?
    • Did they actively agree to let you use their data for the purposes for which you intend to use it?
    • Were they given the chance to say “no,” without penalty from your organization?
    • Can they get their information back from you if they want it?
  3. Privacy   
    • Have you collected the least possible amount of data to accomplish your goals?
    • Have you done everything you can to protect individuals from being identified?
    • Have you used proxies where needed, to avoid using information that might be linked   to people’s identities?
    • Do you have a timeline and a plan to destroy the data?
  4. Openness
    • Have you planned to share your data? Making data and findings available can help you achieve your mission. Approaching your data efforts with an assumption of openness will require you to plan for participant consent and build in privacy protecting strategies.

How digitized data affect foundations and nonprofits

Nonprofits and foundations are part of civil society, which can be defined as the voluntary use of private resources for public benefit.

The ubiquity of digital data, the new capacities it engenders, and the questions it raises about power and access require all of us to consider how we use digital data to advance our work without causing harm.

  1. Voluntary participation means we need to ask people to join in. We need their permission and they need to be able to easily stop participating.
  2. Private translates into personal protection and minimizing harm – you should not collect any more information than you absolutely need. And destroy it when you’re done.
  3. Public benefit depends on learning and sharing with others. Open what you can.