510’s vision is to use (big) data to positively impact faster & more (cost) effective humanitarian aid. Yet, it is vital that the opportunities of using data go hand in hand with ethical standards on how to use data in a responsible manner. In April 2017, a Data Responsibility Project Team with a multidisciplinary background was formed within 510 with the goal of creating a concise and practical policy that would ensure the responsible use of data in our daily work. The result is an 11 page short document that incorporates principles of data responsibility (see below) into our projects.

Ethical considerations that go beyond compliance

When collecting and utilizing personal data, the new EU General Data Protection Regulation imposes vital obligations upon organisations in terms of data protection. While conforming with data protection requirements is an important step to enhance transparency, data responsibility takes into account ethical considerations that go beyond compliance.

Responsible use of data means bearing in mind the consequences that the use of data could have on vulnerable people around the world and taking measures to avoid putting individuals or communities at risk. The collection and utilisation of potentially sensitive data may negatively impact vulnerable individuals or communities – despite the good intentions.

Assessing the benefit of data-driven solutions in every humanitarian context versus their potential harm, requires awareness about how to use innovative data technology and (open) data in a responsible way. Humanitarian actors should take advantage of the opportunities provided by (open) data, but they should do so responsibly.

We define Data Responsibility as “the responsible usage of data (including collection, storage, processing and dissemination) with respect to ethical standards and principles in the humanitarian context, bearing in mind potential consequences and taking measures to avoid putting individuals or communities at risk”.

Data usage should be: legitimate, lawful, fair and respectful of data subjects’ rights

Data Responsibility accentuates the importance of data usage being legitimate, lawful and fair while respecting the rights of data subjects, such as obtaining informed consent from individuals or communities that the data usage may pertain to.

The importance of the responsible use of data is becoming increasingly recognised in the humanitarian field with key actors such as UNOCHA, UNHCR, Oxfam, Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, Brussels Privacy Hub and the International Committee of the Red Cross providing valuable insight and resources on the topic. Even so, acknowledging the important work that has already been done on the topic, 510 deemed it beneficial to form a basis for how to handle data within the work context of our team. This led to the creation of a policy that has specifically been tailored for feasibility to aid our team members in using data responsibly.

510 Data Responsibility Policy: a concise and practical ‘living’ document

Given that 510 is at its core a team dedicated to working on data-driven solutions for humanitarian aid, our policy has been designed for practical use. It ventures to incorporate the principles of Data Responsibility in our daily work for easy and functional application by our team members in various projects – the concise nature of the policy aids this goal. These principles are essential to our policy: each principle emphasizes vital considerations concerning the responsible use of data. The policy has also been structured according to a data life cycle to provide general guidance on common stages and steps within (data-driven) projects.

510 Data Responsibility Policy – Complementary documents: Checklist and Guidelines for Threat and Risk Assessment

Lastly, the policy is complemented by a separate checklist for simplified application of the policy to specific projects, and guidelines for a threat and risk assessment in case the checklist raises ‘red flags’ (i.e. highlights potential risks) see the figure below:

510’s data responsibility documents: policy document, checklist document and threat and risk assessment guidelines.

We hope that this policy will contribute to ongoing policy debates and exchange of experiences and best practices – thereby encouraging the responsible use of data in the humanitarian ecosystem.


You can use our policy for non-commercial purpose and as a base for adapting your own policy, but please be so kind to give us some credit and reference it by indicating the following sentence where appropriate:

Please note that we used the data responsibility policy as initially developed and drafted upon initiative of NLRC 510 as a source of inspiration and starting point for the adaptation of our own policy, for the content and performance of which we carry sole responsibility.

Written by Jocelyn Dannhauer, Kamal Ahmed & Jarl Mattias Larsen

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