We believe that organisations implementing technology and data projects need to base their decisions in solid, practically focused evidence.
We combine hands-on experience from our direct practical support with in-depth research, so that we can understand where technology and data can make the most difference for activists and social change projects.
Our research projects span a variety of sectors, and as a result, we’re able to draw out shared challenges across sectors.
We believe that research shouldn’t be locked away in PDFs, so we also launched our Library, an online repository of all our research outputs in an open, accessible and easy-to-read format. All our research is published under a Creative Commons ShareAlike licence, and we’re thrilled to see our peers remix or republish our work.
We want to ensure that rights-focused organisations are making the most of data and technology, while at the same time helping them navigate the novel and significant risks that these new technologies present to their organisation and personnel. For these and for many other reasons, we continually apply our research work to the human rights sector in a variety of ways.
In an effort to support everyone in the human rights field in navigating the complex environment of digital data for human rights, we launched DatNav. In 2016, we partnered with Amnesty International, and Benetech, to help them understand how digital data could be better integrated into the work of human rights researchers.
Tech Tools for Human Rights
We researched how human rights defenders are facing the new possibilities, challenges, and expectations of using technology tools for human rights documentation. With the support of the Oak Foundation, in 2016, we looked into how human rights defenders are working in this fast-paced context, and how the use of technology tools is affecting their work.
Our Responsible Data work advocates for human-rights respecting use of data in the social sector. We believe that to have lasting impact, social change organisations must use data and technology to reach their mission and use it in ways that align with that mission. Responsible data is a framework for doing just that. Through our research, we’ve applied that framework to a variety of sectors to highlight areas for future work and investigation,.
Responsible Data in Agriculture
The agriculture sector is creating increasing amounts of data, but not everyone can access it or has the ability to use it effectively. In 2016, Global Open Data in Agriculture and Nutrition (GODAN) commissioned us to research how power imbalances play an important role in how we think about and use data in the agriculture sector.
Responsible Data Reflection Stories
Launched in 2016, our Reflection Stories on Responsible Data give a structured knowledge base with nine case studies outlining the unforeseen challenges and (sometimes) negative consequences of using technology and data for social change – on subjects ranging from social media verification and opening the wrong data, to recognising uncertainty in statistics.
Responsible Data at Oxfam
In 2015, Oxfam was the first international NGO to develop a Responsible Data policy. Two years on, we looked into how Oxfam’s Responsible Data policy is being translated into practice. We helped Oxfam understand how the concept of responsible data is perceived within the confederation, and how the Responsible Data policy is being implemented in practice – is it changing project-level implementation on a practical level, or rather on an ideological level of raising awareness around these issue?
Responsible Data at Oxfam
The Engine Room has collaborated on several projects in the field of civic tech, in an effort to enable or enhance the engagement and communication of citizens with political systems through technology.
Tool Selection research
Organisations are increasingly making technology tools central to their project strategies, but there is relatively little evidence showing how these technology tools get chosen, and even less to suggest whether some selection processes are more effective than others. Until March 2016, we led a two-year research study investigating how transparency and accountability projects choose technology, and identifying strategies that could make a difference to projects’ success.
Starting in November 2015, we worked with Amnesty International on an exciting new initiative to enable volunteers to support the human rights research process over the Internet. Specifically, we explored microtasking, the process of many people contributing small tasks to complete a bigger project.
New technologies and data science practices present opportunities for civil society to help guide us to better environmental outcomes. We partnered up with environmental organisations to research the challenges and new uses of data and technology in the field of environmental justice.
Rainforest Technology Primer
In 2016, we published a primer for using technology to monitor and share information on rainforest issues, land rights and indigenous rights. The primer, available in print and online, demonstrates in concrete use cases how technology can help organisations and activists, gives practical advice for next steps, and links out to more detailed guidance elsewhere.
Because of the level of interest we received after its initial launch, we translated the primer and made it available online in our Library, in five languages (English, Spanish, Portuguese, French and Bahasa Indonesia).
Quick-start guide to socially responsible investment
We worked with Rainforest Foundation Norway (RFN) to put together a quick-start guide for organisations that don’t know much about how socially responsible investment works, but want to use the data they collect to influence companies’ actions.
The guide, based on interviews with more than 30 people internationally, explains how socially responsible investors find and use information about rainforests, describes how investors can affect companies’ actions, and suggests ways for civil society organisations can collect and use data in a way that reaches more investors, financial analysts and information providers.
Citizen-generated-data (CGD) is data that people or their organisations produce to directly monitor, demand or drive change on issues that affect them. Citizens actively give this data, thus providing direct representations of their perspectives, and an alternative to datasets collected by governments or international institutions. In 2015 and 2016, we looked into how CGD can empower people in the political realm, as well as how we can confront the challenges related to CGD across a huge array of issues and geographic regions.
DataShift learning zone
In 2015 and 2016, we worked with DataShift to lead their Research and Learning initiative to understand better how citizen-generated data can be used to monitor and understand the Sustainable Development Goals. Through this work, we managed a portfolio of research outputs from partners, and carried out our own research and documentation too.
‘Changing What Counts: how can citizen-generated and civil society data be used as an advocacy tool to change official data collection?’
Country analysis: East Africa
Country analysis: Nepal
Country analysis: Argentina
As part of our collaboration with DataShift, in 2016, we explored how government hosting of citizen-generated data sets (CGD) can benefit both government and civil society. We looked into the opportunities and challenges that come with CGD initiatives, and how these initiatives can increase collaboration between government and civil society on the collection and sharing of data.