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Would you give up your personal data for development?

Prasanna Lal Das's picture



If you joined us at the World Bank for Open Data Day on Saturday, February 23, you heard about the DC Data Dive slated for March 15-17. 


If you're playing catch up, read more about the plans and potential impact for future Data Dives. Also have a look at what colleagues at a Data Dive in Venice accomplished by analysing World Bank contracts and vendors. And now, read the cross-posted blog below from UNDP's Giulio Quaggiotto and World Bank's Prasanna Lal Das who ask: Would You Give Up Your Personal Data for Development? 



Originally posted on the UNDP Blog

Data philanthropy (as defined in Robert Kirkpatrick’s seminal post) was very much on the minds of participants such as the World Bank at the the data dive that UNDP organized last week in Vienna, courtesy of KDZ and the Open Knowledge Foundation – Austrian chapter.


If UNDP and the World Bank want to tackle questions such as the real time measurement of poverty, many argued, we need to get ahold of currently closed high frequency sources (from sensors to social and customer data) and this will most likely require companies to open up – at least in part – some of their data assets (incidentally, data philantrophy was also on display at the event, with QCRI and Text to Change making available some of their datasets for data scientists to delve into… kudos!).


There seemed to be a broad consensus that corporate data philanthropy was going to become the norm soon – with some participants suggesting that open data should become an indicator for corporate social responsibility (and perhaps a requirement to bid successfully, say, on international development organization contracts?).



Of course, this approach raises a whole range of questions and challenges – from privacy to prior informed consent, all the way to personal safety and security.

The World Economic Forum’s report and work on rethinking personal data (balancing growth and protection) will hopefully shed some light on some of these thorny issues.


The debate will no doubt continue at the DC data dive in Washington DC on March 15-17.


In the meantime, we would still love to hear from you:


Would you give up your personal data for development?


In other words, given the appropriate checks and balances, would you like to be given the option to make some of your data public, should this help develop better policies? And what would you share?


  • But the conversation also took a more unexpected twist when the “data divers” mentioned the growing willingness of individuals to ‘donate’ personal data for the public good:
  • Could this be a promising venue to explore for development organizations?
  • Should we start a “donate your data” campaign targeting individuals, rather than corporations? Is some type of individual data likely to be more useful/practical to start with?
  • Should we perhaps steal a page from the corporate book and follow the example of, say, companies like Fitbit that encourage individuals to share their health data? And what about the Quantified Self movement: a potential ally?
  • Or is a more appropriate role for us to push for policy change so that we can have open, collaborative trust frameworks between individuals, governments and companies that would encourage the (willing) sharing of personal data?



imho this is starting from the wrong end i.e. thinking data will solve problems, as opposed to the activity that data can catalyse. both data mining and data donation fall on the -ve side of that equation. (sorry about the geek joke re: dan

Thanks Laura and great blog. This could be a fascinating area for further exploration. I should also add that the Vienna event would have been impossible without the support of OKFN Austria (thanks again @boomblitz). Fair point Dan about data not being the answer by itself - we actually agree on that one. Think the point we're trying to raise with the dives is that we can use data differently than we do, and that data can inform our work in ways that it doesn't right now. How exactly - that's what we hope to get to. Wish us luck!

Great piece. A few quick comments. First I don't think that Data Philanthropy is the best term. If this becomes the norm, private sector actors will view the act of sharing as a corporate write off and it will get marginalized. The challenge is to identify the incentive structures and measurable economic returns for the sharing of private sector data. We need to prove in the economic return of a shared data commons. Otherwise, this is just feel good CSR work. It's a nice intuitive way to raise the awareness on the new possibilities but a trap if we don't drop it relatively soon
Regarding "high frequency" personal data, we need to recognize those bits have the most value and that this is also where vast amounts of "unknown unknowns" lie. The risk of unintended consequences--particularly civil and human rights -- should not be underestimated. Thoughtful and disciplined use of personal data (and the algorithms they will inform) needs to be carefully governed. Absent strong metadata (with provenance and permissions) we have no means to enforce the shared principles that will underlie data-driven development. It sounds corny but we need to really embrace the uncertainty of all these new opportunities and risks. Just like the safeguards placed on human genome research we need to create the clinical labs where individuals, business, legal and technical experts can experiment and fail. addtl thoughts at:

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