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Deep dive into Digital Accountability

In this futures deep dive, we explored how digital trends are challenging existing definitions and mindsets around accountability in the humanitarian sector. With both opportunities and challenges in mind, we considered how the humanitarian sector can effectively uphold digital accountability towards the forcibly displaced. 

"Digital accountability should mean co-created digital solutions - more opportunities for affected people to exercise power directly - to shape, drive and decide on projects/aid assistance themselves."

"We need to shift to more independent accountability mechanisms that operate separately from aid organisations."

"Accountability is about using our power responsibly: in how we act (manage projects/people and resources); behave (our conduct); engage communities and RESPOND  and remedy when stated promises/commitments are not met."

Desirable future 

The desirable future we co-created in this deep dive, is a future in which: 

  • We don’t just focus on innovating bigger and better but to do no harm. We work on solutions that are already out there - especially local. The needs of users are at the center and users are involved and are allowed to make decisions. 

  • We (the humanitarian sector) shift power to people and become redundant. 

  • We contextualize the work we do. 

  • Everything is done locally by the people affected. Feedback and complaints are not mediated by same organisations delivering services. 

  • The humanitarian sector has agreed on privacy normative and technological frameworks and our frameworks are accepted and respected by States/donors/armed groups/private sector.  

  • We collaborate across the sector, and we have systems and processes that unify us according to humanitarian values. 

  • Accountability is thought and practiced across and continuously.  

  • We are predicting and acting. 

  • Affected communities participate in the design of the way data is used. They know about their rights, have control over their data, know how to use it and take advantage of it. Databases are decentralized, data is anonymized and protected. Data is a common good and the benefit has to be brought back to the community. 

  • Artificial intelligence (AI) enables us to be reachable and fast responsive. AI will be mainstream and inclusive. 

Bridging tomorrow and today

For this desirable future to be realised, we need: 

  • To make accountability more into a practice - less a science. 

  • Organisations to collaborate more (beyond just INGOs/UN) and to be driven by local solutions. We also need collaborative, long-term planning with key sector participants. 

  • A digital Core Humanitarian Standards (CHS) certificate that increases freedom to operate with digital/data. 

  • More open-source solutions that can be adapted easily. 

  • A political and mindset shift - from donors and practitioners etc. to value people and partnerships and power shifts. 

  • Shift in the way we measure impact to prioritising people-centred outcomes (participation, listening, co-design processes). 

  • Shift in power from us owning data to people. We also need sharing of analysis of data with beneficiaries. 

  • Digital literacy courses for humanitarian staff and for affected communities. 

Identifying avenues for change: What can we do today? What can we do together? 

To offer digital literacy courses for humanitarian staff and to affected communities, we need to: 

  • Team up with academic institutions. 

  • Accept 'learn by doing' as a necessary means. 

  • Create two different tracks: one for humanitarian staff and other to affected communities. 

  • Example for children done with Save the Children: 

  • Create courses that are abundant and complimented by program activities within agencies. 

  • Include, among others, data security, how to use and apply new tech in a responsible way and how to opt in and opt out of digital solutions. 

  • Understand the status of digital literacy at affected community. 

To make inter-agency guidelines for how to be digitally accountable, we need to: 

  • Create guidelines (a how-to handbook) that link to established normative standards; and/or regulatory system, Core Humanitarian Standards (CHS) and other verification processes. 

  • Create guidelines that are fluid, not set in stone and adaptable. We need to make these guidelines give direction instead of setting hard cut rules so that they are adaptable to the local context. 

  • Engage people in need in the whole design process of these guidelines 

  • Involve the government as long as it doesn't infringe on human rights and humanitarian principles. 

  • Work as a collective and harmonise and merge the guidelines that exist across different NGOs. 

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