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Why Responsible Data for Children Is Different from Other Data Governance Approaches

A review of the value that the Responsible Data for Children initiative provides to its participants

Posted on 15th of June 2023 by Andrew Zahuranec, Eugenia Olliaro, Stefaan Verhulst, Friederike Schuur

Why Responsible Data for Children Is Different from Other Data Governance Approaches
Why Responsible Data for Children Is Different from Other Data Governance Approaches

It has been four years since the 2019 launch of the Responsible Data for Children (RD4C) initiative. In that time, the initiative has taken a survey of its work and assessed what added value. We’ve asked ourselves how RD4C is different from other data governance approaches. What are its benefits? 

The Value Proposition

RD4C is a framework for assessing risks and opportunities for advancing children’s rights through data and across the data lifecycle that is grounded in a set of principles for responsible data handling. Born out of the RD4C initiative, a collaboration between The Governance Lab at New York University and UNICEF, it recognizes that children face unique vulnerabilities that can be best addressed by spotting the particular risks and opportunities in the contexts that children reside in. 

Core to RD4C is the recognition that data moves through distinct stages from collection to use and impact. It recognizes data as a process with often overlapping yet distinct stages. In each of these stages—from collecting, processing, sharing, analyzing, and using—actors can intervene to protect and empower children. This approach allows RD4C to complement other legal and regulatory frameworks around the world while possessing its own unique value proposition. Organizations who have adopted RD4C’s principles-led approach see it as having the following benefits: 

  • Principled, yet Flexible:  One of the great advantages of principles is that they provide a common framework that can be adapted to a large number of contexts. From country to country or issue to issue, RD4C’s principles-led approach provides a useful supplement to policies, providing contextual flexibility to fill in the gaps that might be left by the more “rigid” requirements imposed by laws and regulations.
  • Accountability-Focused: When adopted across an organization, RD4C complements policies in creating a culture of accountability. and prevent policies from becoming a “box-ticking” exercise. With easy-to-use tools and tangible principles, stakeholders can progressively embrace a culture of ethical behavior and decision-making and apply it in their every-day work. This prevents policies from becoming a “box-ticking” exercise and, in turn, leads to increased trust and legitimacy among stakeholders and increased policy compliance.
  • Approachable: A principles-based data governance regime, such as RD4C, helps actors to promote responsible data innovation. It asks organizations to think proactively, encouraging experimentation. In this way, principles promote practices that enable new data uses at scale while ensuring that ethical principles are upheld. By grounding responsible data practices at seed stage, it can also help avoid false starts, such as investment in non-value aligned efforts, and accelerate the transition to (data-led) scale.
  • Educational: RD4C provides a framework for making sense of the complexity inherent in modern data use. Through the data lifecycle, organizations are able to understand the different processes that go into data and the ways they can use new technologies, policies, and practices to improve it. It allows them a way of understanding the world as they make decisions.
  • Aspirational: RD4C provides a goal for different organizations to work toward as they try to help and empower children. As they seek to overcome constraints to their capacity and resources, the RD4C principles serve as a “north star” that organizations can navigate toward while acknowledging different landscapes and limitations that might exist on the ground. 

In these ways, RD4C enables responsible data governance and empowers organizations to realize the promise of existing policies. Today’s world requires flexible, context-specific guidance that can promote responsibility and is well-suited to manage the complexity of data use in different regions of the world. 

Your feedback matters! Since its inception, the RD4C initiative has aimed to be field-oriented, driven by the needs of both children and practitioners across sectors and contexts. If you have any comments on the above or suggestions on where to focus our attention in 2023, please contact us at [email protected]


Photo by Greg Rosenke/Unsplash is licensed under CC0

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