The RD4C Principles
Principles to guide responsible data handling toward saving children’s lives, defending their rights, and helping them fulfill their potential from early childhood through adolescence.
Engaging and informing individuals and groups affected by the use of data for and about children.
Operationalizing responsible data practices and principles by establishing institutional processes, roles, and responsibilities.
Ensuring the needs and expectations of children, their caregivers, and their communities are prioritized by actors handling data for and about them.
Prevention Of Harms Across The Data Life Cycle
Establishing end-to-end data responsibility by assessing risks during the collecting, storing, preparing, sharing, analyzing, and using stages of the data life cycle.
Aligning the breadth of data collection and duration of data retention with the intended purpose.
Protective Of Children’s Rights
Recognizing the distinct rights and requirements for helping children develop to their full potential.
Identifying and specifying why the data is needed and how the intended or potential benefits relate to improving children’s lives.
From our blog
New developments from RD4C.
AnnouncementAnnouncing the Next Phase of RD4C
Data has the potential to support service delivery that can improve the lives of children. Misuse of data — as well as missed use of potentially valuable information — can also pose serious threats to children’s safety, well-being, and development. Actors working to advance children’s rights around the world need guidance, tools, and support to navigate the constantly evolving data ecosystem, capitalize on opportunities to use data responsibly to benefit children, and avoid harms resulting from irresponsible or ineffective data handling. The GovLab and UNICEF have sought to support organizations dealing with these issues through its Responsible Data for Children Initiative (RD4C). RD4C supports best practice in data responsibility; identifies challenges and develops practical tools to assist practitioners in evaluating and addressing them; and encourages a broader discussion on actionable principles, insights, and approaches for responsible data management. Today, we are delighted to announce the launch of the second phase of this project. The new effort builds on a first phase of work in which The GovLab conducted three intensive field observations with UNICEF country offices in diverse environments and created an in-depth report on the current state of responsible handling of data for and about children. Products from this phase also suggested specific pathways for improving data practices; offered customized recommendations for UNICEF country offices and implementing partners; provided case studies on notable data systems; and included lightweight tools that could be used across the children’s data ecosystem. This work further informed the development of a set of principles that are now helping to guide responsible data handling at UNICEF and beyond. These RD4C Principles are: Participatory: Engaging and informing individuals and groups affected by the use of data for and about children; Professionally Accountable: Operationalizing responsible data practices and principles by establishing institutional processes, roles, and responsibilities; People-Centric: Ensuring the needs and expectations of children, their caregivers, and their communities are prioritized by actors handling data for and about them; Prevention of Harms Across the Data Lifecycle: Establishing end-to-end data responsibility by assessing risks during the collecting, storing, preparing, sharing, analyzing, and using stages of the data life cycle; Proportional: Aligning the breadth of data collection and duration of data retention with the intended purpose; Protective of Children’s Rights: Recognizing the distinct rights and requirements for helping children develop to their full potential; and Purpose-Driven: Identifying and specifying why the data is needed and how the intended or potential benefits relate to improving children’s lives. The second phase of RD4C will expand on these initial outputs. Some of the work that The GovLab and UNICEF are undertaking over the next year includes: Continuing to promote and enable the use of the RD4C Principles, especially in development and humanitarian contexts, in harmony with other important guidelines and best practices, such as the IASC Operational Guidance on Data Responsibility in Humanitarian Action and UNICEF’s Children’s Data Governance Manifesto; Developing and testing a new methodology and platform for auditing data systems to better understand their alignment with the RD4C Principles and identify areas for improvement; Developing detailed case studies on diverse, instructive uses of data from across the UNICEF ecosystem to identify key lessons and provide the field with good practices that can be replicated in other contexts; Creating new training programs and curricula in responsible data handling to support UNICEF field staff and other actors working to advance children’s rights; and Producing and disseminating regular insights, updates, news, and developments on responsible data to advance children’s rights. The new RD4C.org website will act as the hub for all of this work. Please check back regularly to stay up-to-speed on new happenings from the initiative, and sign up here to join the RD4C community to be alerted to new developments and opportunities for collaboration.Read more
- The responsible use of data for and about children: treading carefully and ethically
Reposted from Ethical Research Involving Children In this series of Q&A, we speak with Stefaan G. Verhulst and Andrew Young from GovLab, (an action-oriented do-tank located at NYU) who are working in collaboration with UNICEF on an initiative called Responsible Data for Children initiative (RD4C) . Its focus is on data – the risks it poses to children, as well as the opportunities it offers. You have been working with UNICEF on the Responsible Data for Children initiative (RD4C). What is this and why do we need to be talking more about ‘responsible data’? To date, the relationship between the datafication of everyday life and child welfare has been under-explored, both by researchers in data ethics and those who work to advance the rights of children. This neglect is a lost opportunity, and also poses a risk to children. Today’s children are the first generation to grow up amid the rapid datafication of virtually every aspect of social, cultural, political and economic life. This alone calls for greater scrutiny of the role played by data. An entire generation is being datafied, often starting before birth. Every year the average child will have more data collected about them in their lifetime than would a similar child born any year prior. Ironically, humanitarian and development organizations working with children are themselves among the key actors contributing to the increased collection of data. These organizations rely on a wide range of technologies, including biometrics, digital identity systems, remote-sensing technologies, mobile and social media messaging apps, and administrative data systems. The data generated by these tools and platforms inevitably includes potentially sensitive PII data (personally identifiable information) and DII data (demographically identifiable information). All of this begs much closer scrutiny, and a more systematic framework to guide how child-related data is collected, stored, and used. Towards this aim, we have also been working with the Data for Children Collaborative, based in Edinburgh in establishing innovative and ethicalpractices around the use of data to improve the lives of children worldwide. What are the ethical considerations around the collection of children’s data? Do children have any say at all in this ‘datafication’ of their lives? Among the key ethical issues concern consent, agency and privacy. Even adults face challenges in exerting individual or collective agency in some areas of the data ecosystem, especially the use of datastreams drawn from many people to create profiles or marketing segments, for example. As Martin Tisné puts it, “we are prisoners of other people’s consent.” This is even more so for children, who are often subject to other people’s consent and decision-making. For example, unlike adults, children often do not have full agency to make decisions about their participation in programs or services that may generate and record personal data. Even when children are offered a choice to opt-in or out of a service, they may not be provided with adequate support to assess associated risks and benefits. In fact, privacy terms and conditions are often barely understood by educated adults, let alone children. There is a clear need for privacy terms that are more intelligible (for both adults and children), and for a higher bar when it comes to justifying and explaining data collection in relation to children. Does anonymous data address some of these issues? Aggregated, anonymized data is often held up as a solution to potential privacy violations and a way to balance the possibilities and risks offered by data. However, a variety of studies have shown that anonymized data rarely offers a panacea and can often continue to pose risks even for adults, for example by re-identification (aka the “Mosaic theory” that refers to aggregating different personal data as to provide a mosaic of one’s identity). When it comes to children, data that is aggregated at the group or demographic level (e.g., to contain anonymized information for all children below a certain age) offers unique challenges. This is because children as a group are often uniquely vulnerable (and visible) due in part to the lack of attention to their rights to privacy and freedom of expression. Services or products targeted specifically at children (e.g., those based in a certain location or receiving services for a particular issue) can pose disproportionate risks to the entire targeted population. Aggregated “group data” about children warrants additional ethical consideration. As it stands, current data protection policies and guidance are primarily geared toward individual-level privacy risks, and often fail to address considerations related to group data — particularly group data about children. We are seeing more and more examples of misuse of data for political and other purposes? What are some of the implications of this, especially for children’s lives? First and foremost, privacy and data responsibility are essential to children’s psychosocial growth. Having the freedom and autonomy to experiment with different identities, without prying eyes or chilling dataveillance, is important for children’s identity formation. Children’s capacities are evolving and lack of protection from persistent, invasive data generation and use could impact the way they see themselves and their futures. A sense of privacy can empower children, especially older children, to engage and build relationships with their peers more comfortably and confidently by giving them the option to decide which personal details to disclose and under what conditions. The misuse of data may thus also impact civic and political engagement among young people. Further, when data is mishandled or when data violations occur, people typically lose trust in organizations or institutions (or in the broader information ecology). This, in turn, can lead to “privacy protective behavior” where individuals are not seeking essential services out of fear of unauthorized data uses, and generally limit the potential benefits of technology. For children, as for many adults, loss of trust may be a formative experience and can have considerable impact. Distrust and privacy protective behaviors related to data misuse can have far-reaching consequences, such as refusal of health care, education, child protection and other public services. As new technologies are implemented and the volumes of data increase exponentially, there is a very real risk that the rights of children, and associated adult obligations in respect to these, may be overlooked. Sometimes, this can happen because requirements in place to protect them are difficult to monitor and maintain in a new technology ecology (though of course, this is no justification). Often, too, it is simply because the rights and interests of children are not prioritized or adequately considered when organizations implement data processes or systems. For example, data analysis may be undertaken by people who do not have expertise in research involving children. Similarly, service providers collecting children’s data are not always trained in how to ethically approach and manage this work. How are algorithmic decision-making efforts and the rise of AI processes like machine learning impacting the children’s data responsibility space? And potential issues continue when we look at the impact of AI and Algorithmic bias that hasn’t been developed specifically with children in mind. Much attention has been drawn in recent years to the promise and pitfalls of algorithmic decision-making. While the use of AI in decisions can in some cases expedite processes, it can also contain hard-to-detect but nonetheless tangible biases that result in real adverse effects (e.g. on those seeking medical care, business loans, parole, or jobs). These risks are only heightened when it comes to children. Once again, children may have less agency or understanding when it comes to how AI and algorithms work; they may not even know that certain processes are the result of algorithmic assessment, modelling, or prediction. As described in UNICEF’s draft Policy Guidance on AI for Children, decision-making in international development, social service provision, and education systems are especially likely to be impacted by AI-driven mediation and filtering, often without the direct engagement or knowledge of children or their caregivers. In addition, if children are impacted by algorithmic bias, they may lack the resources or knowledge to respond or seek recourse. Finally, any decision making that targets children and is based on AI that leverages population training data, may fail to take into account children’s physiological and psychological differences (from adults) resulting in potential negative implications for their physical and mental health outcomes. It is therefore imperative that any Responsible Data Use for Children framework include a component dedicated to the role of AI and algorithms. So, how do we each play a part in ensuring responsible and ethical collection and use of data in this era of escalating datafication? More critical engagement around the lifecycle of child-related data is of paramount importance. Attention needs to be given to the collection, preparation, analysis, usage, sharing and storing of children’s data. To begin with, the public sector, businesses, and civil society organizations delivering data-related services for children need to better understand the associated risks–as well as opportunities–in an environment characterized by growing quantification and datafication. We should also be asking ourselves whether and how children and young people themselves – the sometimes so-called ‘digital natives’ – are being involved in helping to address these issues. The ethical challenges surrounding the datafication of children’s lives are ongoing and continually evolving. We welcome you to join a discussion about Responsible Data for Children by visiting RD4C.org.Read more
- Launch: The Responsible Data for Children (RD4C) Toolkit
The GovLab and UNICEF, as part of the Responsible Data for Children initiative (RD4C), are pleased to share a set of lightweight and user-friendly tools to support organizations and practitioners seeking to operationalize the RD4C Principles. These principles — Purpose-Driven, People-Centric, Participatory, Protective of Children’s Rights, Proportional, Professionally Accountable, and Prevention of Harms Across the Data Lifecycle — are especially important in the current moment, as actors around the world are taking a data-driven approach to the fight against COVID-19. The initial components of the RD4C Toolkit are: The RD4C Data Ecosystem Mapping Tool intends to help users to identify the systems generating data about children and the key components of those systems. After using this tool, users will be positioned to understand the breadth of data they generate and hold about children; assess data systems’ redundancies or gaps; identify opportunities for responsible data use; and achieve other insights. The RD4C Decision Provenance Mapping methodology provides a way for actors designing or assessing data investments for children to identify key decision points and determine which internal and external parties influence those decision points. This distillation can help users to pinpoint any gaps and develop strategies for improving decision-making processes and advancing more professionally accountable data practices. The RD4C Opportunity and Risk Diagnostic provides organizations with a way to take stock of the RD4C principles and how they might be realized as an organization reviews a data project or system. The high-level questions and prompts below are intended to help users identify areas in need of attention and to strategize next steps for ensuring more responsible handling of data for and about children across their organization. Finally, the Data for Children Collaborative with UNICEF developed an Ethical Assessment that “forms part of [their] safe data ecosystem, alongside data management and data protection policies and practices.” The tool reflects the RD4C Principles and aims to “provide an opportunity for project teams to reflect on the material consequences of their actions, and how their work will have real impacts on children’s lives. RD4C launched in October 2019 with the release of the RD4C Synthesis Report, Selected Readings, and the RD4C Principles. Last month we published the The RD4C Case Studies, which analyze data systems deployed in diverse country environments, with a focus on their alignment with the RD4C Principles. The case studies are: Romania’s The Aurora Project, Childline Kenya, and Afghanistan’s Nutrition Online Database. To learn more about Responsible Data for Children, visit rd4c.org or contact rd4c [at] thegovlab.org. To join the RD4C conversation and be alerted to future releases, subscribe at this link.Read more
- Launch: The Responsible Data for Children (RD4C) Case Studies
This week, as part of the Responsible Data for Children initiative (RD4C), the GovLab and UNICEF launched a new case study series to provide insights on promising practice as well as barriers to realizing responsible data for children. Drawing upon field-based research and established good practice, RD4C aims to highlight and support responsible handling of data for and about children; identify challenges and develop practical tools to assist practitioners in evaluating and addressing them; and encourage a broader discussion on actionable principles, insights, and approaches for responsible data management. RD4C launched in October 2019 with the release of the RD4C Synthesis Report, Selected Readings, and the RD4C Principles: Purpose-Driven, People-Centric, Participatory, Protective of Children’s Rights, Proportional, Professionally Accountable, and Prevention of Harms Across the Data Lifecycle. The RD4C Case Studies analyze data systems deployed in diverse country environments, with a focus on their alignment with the RD4C Principles. This week’s release includes case studies arising from field missions to Romania, Kenya, and Afghanistan in 2019. The data systems examined are: Romania’s The Aurora Project The Aurora Project is a child protection platform developed by UNICEF Romania in collaboration with NGO and government partners. The system enables social workers and community health care providers to diagnose and monitor vulnerabilities experienced by children and their families. Through the administration of a child protection questionnaire, the system supports the determination of a minimum package of services needed by children and their families. It also enables child protection evaluation and planning work at the national level. The Aurora Project reflects many of the RD4C Principles through its collection of data for clear and well- defined purposes and the various training and guidance materials provided to users. UNICEF Romania and counterparts in the Romanian Government are still working to address challenges related to sensitive group data and the potential for disproportionate data collection and retention. Childline Kenya Childline Kenya is a helpline offering services for children subjected to violence or neglect. Since it began operations in 2006, trained counselors have responded to calls, logged major components for reporting purposes, and redirected callers to relevant services. The organization emphasizes training and the rights of children while ensuring its data collection is proportional and purpose-driven. Given the sensitivity of its work, it faces some difficulties with duplicative and complex data. Afghanistan’s Nutrition Online Database Afghanistan’s Nutrition Online Database is a web-based information system providing access to aggregated nutrition data to inform planning and service delivery at the national, provincial, and zonal level. The Public Nutrition Department (PND) within the Afghanistan Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) leads database management, with UNICEF Afghanistan acting as the lead technical developer and providing ongoing technical support. The system exists because missed use of potentially valuable data is a common challenge across the children’s data ecosystem Afghanistan. The Nutrition Online Database tries to spur the use of existing and newly developed nutrition data streams that otherwise might not inform potentially life saving nutrition planning and service delivery. It is the product of a participatory development process with key stakeholders across sectors and actors within beneficiary communities. PND, UNICEF Afghanistan, and other stakeholders support professionally accountable data use through training efforts and working groups but remain challenged by the fragmentation of nutrition systems, mandates, formats, and indicators. These factors could contribute to challenges in tracking decision-making processes affecting data responsibility across the nutrition data ecosystem. To learn more about Responsible Data for Children, visit rd4c.org or contact rd4c [at] thegovlab.org. To join the RD4C conversation and be alerted to future releases, subscribe at this link.Read more
The RD4C initiative is a joint endeavor between UNICEF and The GovLab at New York University to highlight and support best practice in our work; identify challenges and develop practical tools to assist practitioners in evaluating and addressing them; and encourage a broader discussion on actionable principles, insights, and approaches for responsible data management.
The work is intended to address practical considerations across the data lifecycle, including routine data collection and one-off data collections; and compliments work on related topics being addressed by the development community such as guidance on specific data systems and technologies, technical standardization, and digital engagement strategies.
Additional tools and materials are coming soon and will be posted on this website as they become available. Join the conversation to receive regular updates.