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This is a guest post from Anna Crowe, Research Officer on the Privacy in the Developing World Project, and  Carly Nyst, Head of International Advocacy at Privacy International, a London-based NGO working on issues related to technology and human rights, with a focus on privacy and data protection. Privacy International’s new report, Aiding Surveillance, which covers this topic in greater depth was released this week.

by Anna Crowe and Carly Nyst

NOV 21 CANON 040

New technologies hold great potential for the developing world, and countless development scholars and practitioners have sung the praises of technology in accelerating development, reducing poverty, spurring innovation and improving accountability and transparency.

Worryingly, however, privacy is presented as a luxury that creates barriers to development, rather than a key aspect to sustainable development. This perspective needs to change.

Privacy is not a luxury, but a fundamental human right

New technologies are being incorporated into development initiatives and programmes relating to everything from education to health and elections, and in humanitarian initiatives, including crisis response, food delivery and refugee management. But many of the same technologies being deployed in the developing world with lofty claims and high price tags have been extremely controversial in the developed world. Expansive registration systems, identity schemes and databases that collect biometric information including fingerprints, facial scans, iris information and even DNA, have been proposed, resisted, and sometimes rejected in various countries.

The deployment of surveillance technologies by development actors, foreign aid donors and humanitarian organisations, however, is often conducted in the complete absence of the type of public debate or deliberation that has occurred in developed countries. Development actors rarely consider target populations’ opinions when approving aid programmes. Important strategy documents such as the UN Office for Humanitarian Affairs’ Humanitarianism in a Networked Age and the UN High-Level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda’s A New Global Partnership: Eradicate Poverty and Transfer Economies through Sustainable Development give little space to the possible impact adopting new technologies or data analysis techniques could have on individuals’ privacy.

Some of this trend can be attributed to development actors’ systematic failure to recognise the risks to privacy that development initiatives present. However, it also reflects an often unspoken view that the right to privacy must necessarily be sacrificed at the altar of development – that privacy and development are conflicting, mutually exclusive goals.

The assumptions underpinning this view are as follows:

  • that privacy is not important to people in developing countries;
  • that the privacy implications of new technologies are not significant enough to warrant special attention;
  • and that respecting privacy comes at a high cost, endangering the success of development initiatives and creating unnecessary work for development actors.

These assumptions are deeply flawed. While it should go without saying, privacy is a universal right, enshrined in numerous international human rights treaties, and matters to all individuals, including those living in the developing world. The vast majority of developing countries have explicit constitutional requirements to ensure that their policies and practices do not unnecessarily interfere with privacy. The right to privacy guarantees individuals a personal sphere, free from state interference, and the ability to determine who has information about them and how it is used. Privacy is also an “essential requirement for the realization of the right to freedom of expression”. It is not an “optional” right that only those living in the developed world deserve to see protected. To presume otherwise ignores the humanity of individuals living in various parts of the world.

Technologies undoubtedly have the potential to dramatically improve the provision of development and humanitarian aid and to empower populations. However, the privacy implications of many new technologies are significant and are not well understood by many development actors. The expectations that are placed on technologies to solve problems need to be significantly circumscribed, and the potential negative implications of technologies must be assessed before their deployment. Biometric identification systems, for example, may assist in aid disbursement, but if they also wrongly exclude whole categories of people, then the objectives of the original development intervention have not been achieved. Similarly, border surveillance and communications surveillance systems may help a government improve national security, but may also enable the surveillance of human rights defenders, political activists, immigrants and other groups.

Asking for humanitarian actors to protect and respect privacy rights must not be distorted as requiring inflexible and impossibly high standards that would derail development initiatives if put into practice. Privacy is not an absolute right and may be limited, but only where limitation is necessary, proportionate and in accordance with law. The crucial aspect is to actually undertake an analysis of the technology and its privacy implications and to do so in a thoughtful and considered manner. For example, if an intervention requires collecting personal data from those receiving aid, the first step should be to ask what information is necessary to collect, rather than just applying a standard approach to each programme. In some cases, this may mean additional work. But this work should be considered in light of the contribution upholding human rights and the rule of law make to development and to producing sustainable outcomes. And in some cases, respecting privacy can also mean saving lives, as information falling into the wrong hands could spell tragedy.

A new framing

While there is an increasing recognition among development actors that more attention needs to be paid to privacy, it is not enough to merely ensure that a programme or initiative does not actively harm the right to privacy; instead, development actors should aim to promote rights, including the right to privacy, as an integral part of achieving sustainable development outcomes. Development is not just, or even mostly, about accelerating economic growth. The core of development is building capacity and infrastructure, advancing equality, and supporting democratic societies that protect, respect and fulfill human rights.

The benefits of development and humanitarian assistance can be delivered without unnecessary and disproportionate limitations on the right to privacy. The challenge is to improve access to and understanding of technologies, ensure that policymakers and the laws they adopt respond to the challenges and possibilities of technology, and generate greater public debate to ensure that rights and freedoms are negotiated at a societal level.

Technologies can be built to satisfy both development and privacy.

Download the Aiding Surveillance report.

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Image captured from page 19 of the Polis report.

Who cares? Challenges and opportunities in communicating distant suffering: a view from the development and humanitarian sector, a study conducted by Polis, (the journalism think-tank within the Department of Media and Communications at the London School of Economics- LSE) with Plan UKlaunched yesterday in London.
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The study complements several pieces of research released over the past year or two on the UK public’s perception of foreign aid, development, giving, and the NGO sector; including Intermedia’s Building Support for International Development, the UK Public Opinion Monitor/Institute of Development Studies’ What Does the Public Think, Know and Do about Aid and Development? report, the Oxfam/Bond/DfID Finding Frames report and the Overseas Development Institute’s Understanding Public Attitudes to Aid and Development.

Whereas the other reports focus on various aspects of how the public sees charity, development and foreign aid, the Polis report gives a window into the debates and challenges of those working in advocacy, marketing, campaigning, fundraising and communication departments at INGOs. As my Plan UK colleague, Leigh Daynes, writes in the introduction:

‘…Our work to inform, to educate, to campaign for change and to recruit long-term supporters to fund change is valid. Often it is life-saving. Yet the least understood area of our work often is the impact of our communications on public understanding of and support for aid and development. The public are telling us they are saturated with suffering, that we are charming or disarming them into acts of compassion, and that we are abusing their emotions….

…Understanding the impact of the “lingua franca” of our industry matters because it has fuelled a template approach to the media reporting of suffering. It matters because the exponential growth in access to mobile and social media technology and platforms means we are no longer the de facto guardians we once were. And it matters because it speaks to the power between us and them, and you and me.’

As more and more research is done, the ways that the sector is shifting become clearer and I hope we will start to see some positive changes in the aid and development industry and the way it communicates with the general public.

Some angles and voices that could help round out the discussion are still missing, however. I would like to see research on the opinions of local and international staff managing programs on the ground. Most organizations have fierce internal discussions on how marketing and fundraising is done, as program staff often feel that some marketing and fundraising approaches are demeaning, disrespectful and undignified in their portrayal of program participants.  (For more on this, ask Talesfromthhood to share some of his blog posts with you, join some of the discussions on AidSource, or follow the #smartaid hash tag on Twitter). Some program staff worry that the long-term impact of media and fundraising shock tactics and overly simplistic messaging ‘cancels out’ the short-term gains achieved through program or emergency aid funding – a point that is raised in some of the research above – and that this contributes to two-dimensional views on aid and development and to the negative stereotypes about certain countries in Africa, Latin America and Asia that deter longer-term development and self-determination. It would be interesting to know more from this perspective.

What do donors want? Image captured from page 9 of the report.

At the same time, INGOs are hard-pressed to come up with different and viable ways of funding their work, so this type of campaigning and fundraising continues. Although I’m familiar with some of the challenges my marketing colleagues face, I was struck seeing the kinds of donor demands that INGOs are expected to meet listed in the report. I was reminded of something a marketing colleague once said: ‘Poverty porn. That’s a good term. It is a lot like real porn. People don’t like to publicly admit to watching and responding to it, but in private it’s another story. People say they don’t like poverty porn and sad, desperate stories, but when you look at the numbers, it’s what makes them reach into their pockets and give.’

I would also like to see some research with the subjects (unfortunately often presented as ‘objects’) of INGO aid and marketing materials.  How do program participants feel about how they are portrayed? What impact does it have on them and their own perspectives and self-determination, if any? Strong voices on this come from diaspora communities and from blogs such as Africa is a Country, Uganda 2012: Trending Our Own Stories, and great projects like My Africa Is; but I’d also like to see some in-depth research and objective focus groups that talk with those who are most often shown in INGO marketing. Are people aware of how they are being represented? Do they care? Many of us speculate about this when we bash ‘poverty porn’ but I’ve yet to see published research that involves actual ‘beneficiaries’ of INGO programs or people and communities appearing in INGO marketing and fundraising pieces in this discussion. (Maybe I’ve missed it – if you know of  any, please share!)

The ‘Who Cares’ report notes in the conclusion that:

  • transparency, accountability, ‘value for money,’ and impact are becoming more important to the donor public
  • public trust is a central concern for NGOs in their work and their communications
  • the sector needs to assume more collective responsibility for ethically appropriate portrayal of disaster victims (eg, in compliance with Article 10 of the Red Cross Red Crescent Code of Conduct)
  • new technologies and competition mean that fundraisers are seeking supporters outside of their traditional constituencies
  • traditional gatekeepers of aid are being challenged by new media’s ability to put donors and ‘beneficiaries’ in more direct contact

As INGO institutional leadership space opens up to more people from ‘the global South’, diaspora communities grow, social media allows for commercials and fundraising appeals to reach global audiences (including people in the countries where INGOs implement their programs), attention is paid to the ‘new bottom billion‘ and new fundraising mechanisms arise (for example, INGOs raising funds within countries where they are implementing programs), it will be interesting to see how the conversations and approaches shift and change — or if they remain the same with new actors taking on the same challenges.

Stay tuned for further research and reporting over the next couple of years from Polis and download the report here.

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  1. Share
    Looking forward to group conf call with CORE today ref: Photos, ethics, values and INGO/NGO work.
    Tue, Apr 03 2012 06:55:44
  2. This morning I participated in a massive conference call about photography in aid and development, and the ethics and values that surround photos taken and used by NGOs. The call was organized by CORE Group (@coregroupdc). Now maybe I’m exaggerating here, but the call organizer, Ann Hendrix-Jenkins, read off a list of participants that went on forever. I’m estimating that there were something like 40 or 50 people listening in from as many organizations. This topic has always been important for a strong segment of NGO staff and it seems to be gaining steam again.

    After I started tweeting about it, a couple of people asked if I’d be writing a blog post. So here it is. I’ve ‘Storified’ it since I was tweeting instead of taking notes, and because there was a nice side conversation happening with folks on Twitter too. (See the Storify here – it looks a little bit nicer there than it does here.)
  3. Share
    “Humanitarian photography is a hot button issue.Touches on dignity, how we do our jobs, & our ideas about ourselves, others & our work.”
    Tue, Apr 03 2012 11:08:52
  4. The call organizers had earlier conducted a survey about NGO images, policies, consent, and operational processes around photographers and photography and shared it with participants ahead of the call. The organizers also suggested a couple of links to check out beforehand, including an Aid Watch post (“Adorable child in NGO fund-raising photo sues for royalties“) and a link to a photo  that appeared in the New York Times. These two links and other similar “poverty porn images” had sparked the discussions that led to the decision to organize today’s call. [update: here is the original discussion thread on Linked In]
  5. Share
    Jeez – like 50 orgs on this CORE call re: photography, ethics and values. Discussing: @aidwatch post ht.ly/a3gYA & more
    Tue, Apr 03 2012 11:06:19
  6. Share
    I’m reminded that these discussions happen all the time among INGOs, even when they are not documented on Twitter or a blog.
    Tue, Apr 03 2012 11:10:46
  7. Share
    Second photo touching off this conversation is NYT image from last year re Somalia famine. ht.ly/a3i0s #povertyporn
    Tue, Apr 03 2012 11:13:32
  8. Share
    Also reminded that blogs can and do touch off broader and wider discussions that often we never know are happening….
    Tue, Apr 03 2012 11:14:45
  9. Share
    @meowtree I think too many people online forget that about a lot of issues. Not all discussions are necessarily open for outside viewing.
    Tue, Apr 03 2012 11:16:09
  10. Share
    @meowtree Shoot, I forgot about the call! Are you going to write a post about it?
    Tue, Apr 03 2012 11:28:06
  11. Share
    @meowtree Would have loved to be there but couldn’t… Will you report?
    Tue, Apr 03 2012 11:36:40
  12. Laura Pohl (@lauraepohl) from Bread for the World gave a short introduction to the topic along with some points to think about.
  13. Share
    What considerations do NGOs (and journos/freelancers) need to go through before publishing a photo? Appropriate use? Consent? What else?
    Tue, Apr 03 2012 11:16:15
  14. After this introduction, Jim Stipe from Catholic Relief Services gave a quick summary of the survey highlights, and we had a group discussion around some of the key issues detected in the survey and additional ones sourced from the participants on the call. 
  15. Heartening to know most INGOs have photo policies saying images must show dignity, & image usage is restricted/protected to some staff.
    Tue, Apr 03 2012 11:21:54
  16. Share
    Hearing: INGOs don’t seem to have policies stating photo must match/relate to/be part of story or have policies re: copyright of photos.
    Tue, Apr 03 2012 11:23:38
  17. Share
    Hearing: often pgm staff are taking photos, but many INGOs don’t train staff on policies or good techs for photos or on photo ethics.
    Tue, Apr 03 2012 11:25:47
  18. Share
    Hearing: What about consent for photos? We need to discuss this much more. It’s key to a good photo policy.
    Tue, Apr 03 2012 11:26:57
  19. Share
    @meowtree Unable to keep up today, busy. But have you asked @irinnews input? I use their photo service. Will catch up soon. Thanks for topic
    Tue, Apr 03 2012 11:28:38
  20. Share
    My question: what is ‘informed consent’? what are different ways to get it? how to ensure ppl rlly understand use of their image and story?
    Tue, Apr 03 2012 11:37:41
  21. Share
    @meowtree you can’t ensure that ppl understand use of their image unless they know context in which it will be used & understand its nuances
    Tue, Apr 03 2012 11:40:12
  22. Share
    Re: informed consent – how not to intimidate ppl with consent forms? Also – shd we be applying US consent laws to local settings? or not?
    Tue, Apr 03 2012 11:39:02
  23. Share
    @meowtree @jcdonner thanks brilliant, parallel questions for researchers being encouraged in IDRC SIRCAII programme, spread it
    Tue, Apr 03 2012 11:40:34
  24. Share
    Also: how does consent differ when children/under 18s are involved? what about difference btwn traditional and social media use of images?
    Tue, Apr 03 2012 11:40:32
  25. Share
    @meowtree What I learned from ethnography: entirely contextual and subjective. Even when you’ve succeeded, you’ve failed. But you must try
    Tue, Apr 03 2012 11:41:52
  26. Share
    @meowtree When in doubt, err on the side of caution.
    Tue, Apr 03 2012 11:42:32
  27. Share
    Someone asks: What about before and after pictures in the case of malnutrition? is it better to show the “after” picture to show progress?
    Tue, Apr 03 2012 11:42:41
  28. Share
    Another Q: what about when working with images of people in conflict settings? where use of their images may endanger them?
    Tue, Apr 03 2012 11:43:25
  29. Share
    Comment: Takes a lot more ppl, resources and planning than we think to do this right. We seldom put enough emphasis on ethical image/video.
    Tue, Apr 03 2012 11:44:51
  30. Share
    @meowtree In the West we focus on “informed consent” re: the individual–but in other cultures, the community consent is more important
    Tue, Apr 03 2012 11:40:28
  31. Share
    .@meowtree good discussion of photos in #ict4d vs journalism here is.gd/G4oGsC
    Tue, Apr 03 2012 11:20:44
  32. Share
    Comment: Need to work with US media also to help have more ethical use of images.
    Tue, Apr 03 2012 11:46:26
  33. Share
    Re. #povertyporn conversation @meowtree is tweeting: all humanitarian/devt agencies should have comms ombudspersons to defend those depicted
    Tue, Apr 03 2012 11:47:19
  34. Share
    @meowtree I’ve always found Photovoice UK’s ethical guidelines useful in regard to some the issues at your discussion photovoice.org/images/uplo…
    Tue, Apr 03 2012 11:47:47
  35. Share
    [ 1] MT @meowtree Comment: Takes a lot more ppl, resources, planning than we think… We seldom put enough emphasis on ethical image/video
    Tue, Apr 03 2012 11:48:29
  36. Share
    Interesting commentary on INGO photo policies & the ethics of humanitarian photography by @meowtree.
    Tue, Apr 03 2012 11:48:35
  37. Share
    @meowtree @giantpandinha I really like the ombudspersons idea but they would need to be local?
    Tue, Apr 03 2012 11:49:28
  38. Share
    @miskellaneous @meowtree Anybody with an empathetic impulse would be a good start. But yes, eventually, why not local?
    Tue, Apr 03 2012 11:50:32
  39. Share
    @meowtree photos and ethics such a big topic. I find the whole issue of people coming back from mission trips and volunteering with these
    Tue, Apr 03 2012 11:49:52
  40. Share
    @meowtree photos equally disturbing. Take a snap of a poor kid and then put on facebook – where’s the dignity and ethics in that? Volunteer
    Tue, Apr 03 2012 11:50:36
  41. Share
    @meowtree eduction is equally important, but so hard!! At the very least, if you wouldnt want a similar image of your mum/child/bro etc to
    Tue, Apr 03 2012 11:51:35
  42. Share
    @meowtree be shown are the world or usesd in the same way, then think twice. (this concept doesnt go down well when I mention it to people).
    Tue, Apr 03 2012 11:52:16
  43. Share
    .@meowtree One challenge – a Western audience that is eager to consume #povertyporn. Many INGOs seek to reach out to that audience.
    Tue, Apr 03 2012 11:51:08
  44. Share
    Comment: tension btwn fundraising people, program people. What is the concept of what the org is doing? Charity? solidarity?
    Tue, Apr 03 2012 11:55:08
  45. Share
    @meowtree @miskellaneous I find the “golden rule” goes a long way. Would I want my child, my niece/nephew depicted this way? Ever?
    Tue, Apr 03 2012 11:54:02
  46. Share
    @giantpandinha @meowtree yes it’s my golden rule too though there are somethings it misses like cultural understandings of modesty
    Tue, Apr 03 2012 11:57:06
  47. Share
    @miskellaneous @meowtree I remember a moment with my agency’s graphic designers when we cropped a woman’s belly peaking out from her t-shirt
    Tue, Apr 03 2012 11:58:00
  48. Share
    @miskellaneous @meowtree Again, the golden rule worked there. (But you are right @miskellaneous, might not work in every situation.)
    Tue, Apr 03 2012 11:59:46
  49. Share
    Comment: can we look at studies on the use of photos and impact on donors & learn. Also look at ethics vs what works w fundraising?
    Tue, Apr 03 2012 12:07:06
  50. Share
    Comment (mine) and what about participatory media? How often do we promote people’s own photos/videos of themselves/their communities?
    Tue, Apr 03 2012 12:07:55
To finalize the call, we heard a summary from Jim of some of the areas that the group could consider forming smaller groups to dig into and work on further, including: 
  • Issues around consent, alternative ways to obtain consent, release forms, and how to get truly informed consent.
  • Ethics of both taking photos and ethics of using photos – these are related yet separate issues.
  • What makes for a good NGO photo? What’s a good vs bad photo? What works and what doesn’t?
  • How do you grow your options for getting more high quality photos? How to train your staff on good photography? How to find and work with good freelance photographers? How to plan out a shoot and put the right amount of time into it? How to ensure photos are taken ethically?
  • Creating a photo policy, what does a good photo policy look like? what should it contain?
  • How to tell better stories? You can document your programs with photos and you can tell visual stories – these are 2 different things….
  • Getting good photo captions. If you don’t have good captions, photos are less useful.
  • Other places to source photos; eg., if you don’t have the photos you need, where can you go to get them?
  • Photo journalism vs NGO photography – similar yet different, different approaches and goals. Let’s discuss this.
  • Vocabulary for talking about photos in order to articulate to staff why one photo better than another. Turning gut sense into language and tools.
  • Looking at studies on the use of photos and their impact on donors, what can we learn from that? How to reconcile the different set of ethics that we may find in terms of ‘what works’ for fundraising and what is ethical?
  • What about participatory media and people portraying themselves and their own images
  • An Ombudsperson within INGOs who can defend the rights of those being photographed
  • The question of how people perceive you when you go from doing program work to becoming a photographer in the same afternoon. 
  • The related question about what happens when your organization makes you do both things? Who owns the photos? Do you get paid if your organization uses them? What if you are using your own equipment? How is your organization using you if that’s not your job in the first place? What are you expected to do and how much of this should you actually be doing?
  • Budgeting. We need to begin inserting budget into the conversation. How much can we pay photographers, or do we invest in training our own staff?
  1. Share
    Well pointed out by @miskellaneous: our “golden rule” re. depiction of “the Other” sometimes “misses cultural understandings of modesty”.
    Tue, Apr 03 2012 12:08:55
  2. Share
    However, I still believe some “golden rule” is better than none, and the bottom line should be: err on the side of caution.
    Tue, Apr 03 2012 12:10:15
  3. Share
    Comment: What about when you’re asked to be both a “program” person and also take comms/PR photos? How does community view you?
    Tue, Apr 03 2012 12:08:59
  4. Share
    Comment: what are the rules when your focus is pgm, but ‘photographer’ is added to your task list before you go out to ‘the field’?
    Tue, Apr 03 2012 12:10:10
  5. Share
    @meowtree @julienne_l I work with youth and struggle with this a lot. How do you keep integrity and get ppl to pay attention? #povertyporn
    Tue, Apr 03 2012 12:04:39
  6. I’m looking forward to continuing the discussions as this is an issue that constantly jumps out at me. It’s fantastic to know that there is such a strong contingent of NGO staff who are keen to address the issues around how we take and how we use photographs of the people that we work with.
  7. Share
    That’s it for tweets from @coregroupdc conversation on #povertyporn, photos, ethics and values. More later – discussions will continue.
    Tue, Apr 03 2012 12:11:55

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