Case study ● Research

Responsible Data Reflection Stories

We often hear anecdotes about potentially harmful data management. But it’s difficult to talk about responsible data challenges. To make conversation easier, we published a set of case studies outlining specific challenges for advocacy organisations: the Responsible Data Reflection Stories.

Why reflection stories

Again and again we heard from social change organisations that it would be a helpful learning experience to discuss concrete responsible data challenges in the open. So we started collecting real-life examples of the risks advocacy groups face, in order to identify new strategies for engaging with technology and data responsibly. 

Finding and elevating


Find people with stories of responsible data challenges.


Explore the challenge with people involved on all sides.


Tell the stories and share in an accessible format.

Story examples

We gathered stories from a huge range of sectors, and have many more leads to follow up. Below, you can see three examples of topics we covered in the report which was published in February 2016.

Recognising uncertainty in data

We spoke to Human Rights Watch and the Human Rights Data Analysis Group (HRDAG) to learn how they work with data from conflict zones, particularly in Syria. There are several groups providing data on casualties and deaths in Syria, and their estimates of crucial figures differ greatly. What is a responsible way to approach and integrate uncertainty in data for advocacy use?

New uses of social media

Samaritans, a mental health support organisation in the United Kingdom, launched a new application in 2014 called Samaritans Radar that monitored Twitter and flagged tweets to followers that used specific keywords or phrases that could “offer people a second chance to see a tweet from someone they know who might be struggling to cope.” Though the app was carefully designed, it was suspended less than a month after launch due to privacy concerns.

Innovation in health

In Argentina, an organisation called Fundación Huesped that works on access to treatment for HIV/AIDS patients set up an Innovation Lab in 2015 in recognition of the expanding relationship between health services and technology. This story outlines potential solutions, like digitising the appointments system at public hospitals, and the associated responsible data challenges that arise with sensitive data of this nature.

For full details on these and more stories, check out the full set of Reflection Stories here. [Update January 2018: we are updating the stories and will have them back online ASAP!]

Shared strategies

Through our research we identified some shared strategies to mitigate against responsible data challenges. We collated these into an Overview and summarised what we found: taking the time to get lots of different perspectives and think through as many potential outcomes as possible – not just the best case – is crucial.

Next steps

All of the material is released under a CC-BY-SA 4.0 license – and we hope that others can take this content and remix or reuse it. In this set of stories, we focused exclusively on responsible data challenges within advocacy, but we received many tips from other sectors that were facing similar challenges. In the future, we’d love to continue to add to this knowledge base.

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