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:
- Civil society organizations should seek permission for the data they collect, and treat it with the same integrity with which they treat donations of time or money. Collecting data from constituents is a voluntary relationship. Civil society organizations have an opportunity – and an obligation – to define themselves as society’s trusted stewards of people’s digital data. This starts with permission.
- Civil society organizations should treat digital resources with integrity and respect, just as they do financial and human resources. CSOs need data policies and practices that respect, protect, secure, and govern digital data in ways that protect the privacy of those represented in the data. Due to security concerns and resource limitations, the best approach to data privacy for most CSOs is minimum viable data collection. Don’t collect what you can’t protect.
- Civil society has a public purpose. Sharing appropriate elements of your work – findings, data, strategies, challenges, impact – often aligns with mission. Designing data practices with openness and sharing in mind from the beginning requires the development of appropriate consent and privacy practices.
- Civil society’s digital data use should be designed from and for diversity. Civil society is diverse and inclusive by design. It thrives on its multiplicity. Pluralism in action includes diverse voices and approaches to governing digital data, the transparency and auditability of data and algorithms, and an open and interoperable tech stack.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Public benefit depends on learning and sharing with others. Open what you can.