Data sharing and third-party monitoring in humanitarian response

Diepeveen, S., Bryant, J., Mohamud, F., Wasuge, M. and Guled, H.
Publication language
Date published
30 Sep 2022
Research, reports and studies
Data ethics, Data protection / Responsible data management, Monitoring

Responsible data sharing is a growing area of concern in the humanitarian sector. The adoption of new digital tools and a drive for more granular monitoring of programmes have meant humanitarian crises are increasingly ‘data-rich’ environments. Efforts to gain better understanding of contexts, quantify the impact of programmes and coordinate responses have meant more data sharing seems unavoidable. Yet at the same time, concerns around the impact of such a trend have grown more prominent. Major data breaches, including those recently affecting the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), have raised questions around the risks to already-marginalised people when data collected by aid providers is inadequately protected and falls into the wrong hands. 

The introduction of private sector actors to support humanitarian action can bring new opportunities for using data, but also different sets of risks. Third-party monitoring (TPM) is a key part of this picture of humanitarian data that encompasses sharing and risks. TPM – the process of an independent entity assessing the outputs and performance of programmes – is a growing industry in the humanitarian sector. One report in 2016 estimated that in Afghanistan alone, approximately $200 million had been spent on TPM annually since 2006 (Sagmeister and Steets, 2016). With increasing pressure on funders to justify their spending, TPM is seen as a necessary element of the contemporary, digitally enabled humanitarian system. It is also a reliable and independent means of ensuring accountability through third-party monitors’ (TPMs’) impartial assessments of humanitarian programmes. Data is central to this work, with organisations often gathering and analysing valuable information on aid users that can be personally identifiable and sensitive. As a result, these monitoring organisations should be considered a key part of the humanitarian data system, which is more usually understood as being limited to humanitarian organisations, funders and crisis-affected people.

This working paper explores risks and mitigation efforts around data sharing for the humanitarian sector through a focus on the data sharing relationships involved in third-party monitoring. It provides insights into data sharing risks linked to the introduction of external, often private sector, organisations into the humanitarian ecosystem. It interrogates the nature and distribution of risk, data responsibility, and opportunities for mitigating risks and realising value through data sharing for the diverse stakeholders involved. The intention of this paper is to shed some light on a less-explored but important group of actors and processes of data sharing in the humanitarian sector. In doing so, it aims to highlight wider issues and propose recommendations that are applicable for the responsible sharing of data in the sector more generally.