In the context of worsening humanitarian crises, aid organizations are facing increased pressure to work more efficiently, often under tightening budgets. That is, to do more with less. One perceived avenue for achieving efficiencies is through innovative uses of digital technology and the leveraging of big data. However, it is a stark reality that most humanitarian organizations lack the necessary resources and expertise to be able to make effective use of the large amounts of data they collect in the pursuit of their mandate. They thus increasingly depend on, and share data with, external actors — usually private sector actors — under the banner of ‘partnership’. While these commercial partners offer the expertise and technological tools and infrastructure needed to help aid agencies mine and analyze mass datasets at scale, their ethos and business models are often at odds with the principles of humanitarianism.
This project, sponsored by the Tilburg Law School, is thus exploring the phenomenon of ‘data partnership’ within the humanitarian sector in order to identify and address the regulatory, ethical and accountability concerns associated with this model of humanitarian aid. To do so, with the International Committee of the Red Cross as our co-convener, we are organizing three expert meetings in different locations globally (Netherlands, Geneva, Nairobi) to bring together key stakeholders to openly reflect on these issues under Chatham House Rule. These frank discussions will help us to better understand actors’ motivations and objectives in undertaking data partnerships, while also providing an opportunity for normative reflection.