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Intro to the Responsible Data for Children Principles: Participatory

Posted on 3rd of August 2023 by Sara Marcucci

Intro to the Responsible Data for Children Principles: Participatory
Intro to the Responsible Data for Children Principles: Participatory

This blog is part of a running series from the Responsible Data for Children initiative highlighting each of the RD4C principles and real-life efforts to realize them. You can learn more about this series here.

What Does Participatory Mean?

The Participatory principle highlights the necessity of actively involving and seeking input from those who are impacted by data use, such as children, their caregivers, and the communities in which they reside. Within the context of a data-based initiative, it is imperative for actors to inform and engage with individuals and groups, paying attention to marginalized and vulnerable populations. 

By adopting a participatory approach, actors can gather valuable insights and perspectives from key stakeholders. This approach goes beyond simply informing individuals and groups; it involves engaging them in meaningful dialogue and decision-making processes to ensure their voices are heard, their needs are understood, and their concerns addressed consistently throughout the entire lifecycle of data initiatives, from the planning to implementation, to ensure the activities capture people’s insights and feedback regularly and are relevant to their needs.

The participatory principle is related and complementary to the people-centric principle. However, while the people-centric approach means considering the effects of data practices on children and communities, prioritizing their well-being over efficiency gains, being participatory underscores the importance of engaging and informing individuals and groups affected by data use. Both approaches are complementary and essential for ensuring ethical and impactful data use. 

When being participatory, it is important for the organization leading the data initiative to give particular attention to marginalized and vulnerable populations, as they may have unique challenges and perspectives that need to be taken into account, so as to avoid perpetuating and generating new discriminations through the use of data.

To engage with these groups in a just and ethical way, it is important to approach them being mindful and respectful of the challenges and vulnerabilities these individuals may face. Proper training for enumerators, officers, and all involved in the data initiative is essential to equip them with the necessary skills to approach conversations with empathy, respect, and cultural sensitivity, ensuring the well-being and safety of those involved.

In addition, it is important for the organization to ensure the engagement with vulnerable populations is coordinated, so as to prevent the burden of overlapping or duplicative activities. Collaboration among multiple actors and organizations involved in data initiatives is crucial for streamlining efforts and minimizing disruptions within these communities. 

Through the ethical involvement of these groups, and by gaining their unique and marginalized perspective, organizations can hope to address potential biases, inequalities, and power imbalances that may exist in the data ecosystem.

How Have Others Pursued Being Participatory?

An example of the Participatory principle in action can be observed through the deployment of InForm, an Open Data Kit-based data collection and management tool. InForm centralizes dispersed data streams, ensuring the secure storage of collected data on a single platform, and facilitating data analysis and visualization. 

An impactful instance of using the InForm platform occurred during emergency response efforts in Mozambique and Zimbabwe. In March 2019, Cyclone Idai struck near Beira City, Sofala Province, causing immense devastation through powerful winds and heavy rainfall. This disaster resulted in the loss of numerous lives, destruction of livelihoods, and damage to property. The region witnessed hundreds of fatalities, with Mozambique alone facing a staggering 2.2 million people requiring urgent assistance.

InForm's participatory nature is especially reflected in its reliance on collaborative engagements. Indeed, the initiative actively involves and seeks input from various stakeholders, including the local communities affected by the cyclones, partner organizations such as the World Food Program (WFP) and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and other key actors. By incorporating their perspectives, needs, and local knowledge, InForm ensures that the data handling processes are shaped by the insights and expertise of those directly impacted by the disaster.

What Resources Can I Use to Be Participatory?

RD4C has developed two tools in particular that may be useful in an effort to be participatory. First, the 22 Questions methodology offers a set of questions for quickly evaluating projects or systems that manage data concerning children, adopting a participatory approach. 

Additionally, the RD4C Studio Methodology provides a participatory tool for organizations striving to address children's needs through data. The Methodology comprises a sequence of interdisciplinary participatory workshops following a five-step approach, namely (1) Kick-off, (2) Research, (3) Convene & Ideate, (4) Output Draft, and (5) Release. This participatory approach empowers organizations to prioritize pressing issues, gather diverse insights from key stakeholders, and work collectively towards impactful and responsible data use for the well-being of children.


We hope this blog has been useful to you in helping you understand what it means to be participatory. Please return to our blog next week when we’ll discuss our next principle or subscribe for updates to the RD4C initiative by signing up to our mailing list here.

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