Case study ● Communities

Responsible Data

Our Responsible Data programme brings together a community of people committed to using data more safely and ethically for social change, providing a space to share challenges and develop practical ways of tackling them.

Growing the responsible data community

We kicked off with an in-person Responsible Data Forum event in Oakland (US) in early 2014. Conversations around ethics, privacy, information security, and legal aspects of working with data were happening separately rather than under one umbrella – so, we partnered with some key organisations in all these spaces to talk about how to address this.

Over the past two years, we’ve organised or co-organised 11 events, and collaborators on the Responsible Data work now include Amnesty International, Greenhost, HURIDOCS, Leiden University’s Peace Informatics Lab, Open Knowledge, Ushahidi and Oxfam. Each Responsible Data Forum event focuses on a particular topic involved in using data in social change work, prioritising making space for discussion and debate, identifying shared challenges and proposing practical solutions.

Co-creating and hosting practical resources, and conducting original research into responsible data issues.

Encouraging wider participation through mailing lists, newsletters and online hangouts.

Bringing together diverse individuals to discuss, learn and develop practical resources to tackle responsible data issues in particular sectors or areas.

Growing community, on and offline

The events bring together individuals that would not otherwise have the opportunity to work together: activists, academics, developers, hackers, journalists and more. By creating a space for discussion around the term ‘responsible data’, the community has opened up discussions about sector-specific challenges that often continue beyond the actual convening.

As well as bringing people together in person, we also dedicate time to supporting the responsible data community online, through an open mailing list where practitioners can ask other community members questions and a newsletter, Mission: Responsible, that analyses responsible data challenges across different sectors and shares information about others’ work. We’re constantly looking to learn from others working on responsible data-related issues, and have hosted webinars, facilitated workshops and held presentations at events on discussions on topics ranging from de-identifying personal data to data use in the Ebola crisis.

"When I first encountered the responsible data community, I wasn’t sure it had room for my concerns about data representation. A few hours into the Responsible Data Forum, I realised that all of this was actually new for all of us. Whether it’s data security, privacy, due process, risk assessment and what not, we were taking the first steps towards a responsible data culture. And we were doing it together."

- Mushon Zer-Aviv, @Mushon

Resource creation

The responsible data community doesn’t just aim to identify challenges: it tries to address them, too. Each Responsible Data Forum focuses on creating a series of resources to tackle existing problems (available at, and we’ve worked with others to create resources including the Responsible Data Handbook, a guide to using data responsibly in international development projects, and the Responsible Data Reflection Stories, a series of in-depth investigations of challenges raised by using data in advocacy.

We also try to make sure that the resources arise from real community needs. For example, many of the reflection stories were gathered from community members, while we conducted user research into how people used the Handbook and remixed the content to include slide decks and bite-size online content.

The responsible data community is an open, diverse community talking about everything from data ethics, digital security, to practical challenges that arise when we use or share data in new and unusual ways. We’d love for you to join us. Sign up to be part of the discussion list, to receive the newsletter every two weeks, or keep an eye on the #responsibledata hashtag.

“I think the Responsible Data Project is essential at this time.”

- Patrick Ball, Human rights scientist


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