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Data and Displacement: Assessing the Practical and Ethical Implications of Targeting Humanitarian Protection

This project assesses the practical and ethical implications of targeted humanitarian protection across two conflict contexts in sub-Saharan Africa.

The Principal Investigator on this project is Professor Vicki Squire in the Department of Politics and International Studies. It will focus on two country contexts in Nigeria and South Sudan. Combining academic and operational expertise through an international interdisciplinary collaboration involving the International Organisation for Migration, the research examines data-driven humanitarian targeting in terms of its impact on vulnerable populations of Internally Displaced People (IDPs).

The project is funded under the AHRC-DfID Collaborative Humanitarian Protection Research Programme.

Data-driven practices of targeted humanitarian protection are in urgent need of assessment, since these raise a range of practical and ethical questions that directly impact at-risk populations. While the targeting of protection needs through the production of data is common practice, the proliferation of large-scale quantitative, biometric and visual data within the humanitarian field is unprecedented. Established in 2014, there are presently 10,055 datasets for 253 locations from 1219 sources on the Humanitarian Data Exchange (HDX). This project produces a timely and robust analysis of data-driven protection targeting, focusing on two contexts that are characterised by conflict and high numbers of internally displaced persons (IDPs): northern Nigeria and South Sudan. It does so by assessing the implications of the production and use of large-scale data in targeting humanitarian protection, particularly on those most directly affected by such developments: IDPs themselves.

The increasing production and use of large-scale data is not unique to the field of humanitarianism. However, the stakes are particularly high when it comes to data-driven practices of targeting protection for those most at risk. Humanitarian interventions are designed to protect the most vulnerable groups, hence any misuse or miscalculation in the use of data can have a drastic effect on at-risk populations. Careful assessment of the practical and ethical implications of data-driven targeting of protection is thus foundational. It is often assumed that humanitarians can be trusted more than commercial organisations or governments in collating and using large-scale data, due to their mandate of 'do no harm'. Yet it is vital to examine the potential risks, exclusions and biases or vulnerabilities implicit in the production and use of such data. While data can enable quicker, efficient and improved evidence-based responses, critical questions surrounding processes of data collection and what counts as evidence, the ethics of data collection and its use, and the accountability and protection of the data produced in contexts of vulnerability are increasingly necessary.

The research addresses these questions based on the research team's combined interdisciplinary academic and operational expertise. The project brings together academic researchers from the UK and Nigeria with practitioners from the International Organisation for Migration - the United Nations Migration Agency, which is responsible for the Displacement Tracking Matrix (DTM). DTM is the system deployed to track and monitor displacement and population mobility, and forms one of the largest data collectors on IDPs globally. Our project examines the work of DTM in the context of wider datasets used for the targeting of humanitarian protection in northern Nigeria and South Sudan. It focuses on practical and ethical challenges that arise in the collection and use of such data, and undertakes in-depth research with local stakeholders and internally displaced communities. The project asks: How effective is the data-based targeting of humanitarian protection in practice? Who benefits from such practices - and who is excluded? And how can the data-driven targeting be developed to reduce the chances of vulnerable groups falling through the cracks of humanitarian protection?

The project contributes: an interdisciplinary perspective on the practical and ethical implications of data-driven humanitarian targeting in sub-Saharan Africa; an operationally-driven analysis of the efficacy of data-driven humanitarian protection in contexts of conflict and displacement; a qualitative assessment of the impacts of the production and use of large-scale data for at-risk populations; and methodological insights regarding the utility of mixed methods approaches for the analysis of large-scale data.

WP1 will undertake geospatial analysis of coverage and efficiency of datasets, focusing on data visualisation and spatial exclusions. It will investigate different issues around the coverage, granularity and interoperability of humanitarian datasets, as well as their efficacy in the distribution of humanitarian assistance. It will also examine the degree to which existing datasets from agencies active in northern Nigeria and South Sudan are related to decision-making involved in humanitarian work, as well as to spatially intersecting inequalities, saturation, access or exclusions in the coverage and analysis of the datasets.

This will be based on a twofold method:

a) definition of quality assessment criteria by contextualising and adapting geospatial data metrics (e.g. accuracy, completeness, interoperability etc.) and mapping the decision-making processes involved in humanitarian work together with our partners in IOM DTM

b) quantitative and qualitative assessment of the datasets by implementing the assessment criteria with open-source geospatial data analysis and visualisation software (QGIS and R studio).

WP1 Team: Professor Joao Porto de Albuquerque and Grant Tregonning.

Work Package 2 (WP2) will provide contextual analysis of data production and use, with a focus on local and operational dimensions.

The project's operational focus in WP2 will assess the impact of targeting on IDPs, including the qualitative assessment of the different data collection practices used, both in terms of their inclusiveness, representativeness and potential to reflect gender and spatial inequalities in the vulnerable populations and territories covered. The research will reflect not only on the data that DTM encapsulates, but also the forms of visualisation across each of the sites in question. An analysis of the data visualisations used in practice by humanitarian targeting will investigate how visual forms are related to the data assessment criteria of WP1, as well as how they communicate latent uncertainties and underlying data inequalities. Data and visual analysis will be undertaken in order to address questions about the epistemic and political dynamics underpinning processes of data production, as well as to develop a contextually-focused assessment of the use, efficacy and ethical issues arising from data-driven humanitarian assistance.

WP2 Team: Rob Trigwell and Dr Prithvi Hirani

These work packages will provide a qualitative analysis of interviews, with a focus on IDPs and local stakeholders in northern Nigeria (WP3) and South Sudan (WP4).

Work Package Three (WP3)

Work Package Three will undertake a qualitative analysis of interviews with IDPs, humanitarian practitioners and local stakeholders in northern Nigeria. A total of 40 in-depth semi-structured interviews will be conducted with IDPs and 20 with practitioners and stakeholders. These will explore barriers to the effectiveness of data-based humanitarian targeting, particularly in situations of conflict and displacement where distrust of authorities is often rife. Ethical questions regarding who falls through the cracks are particularly sensitive and complex to assess in such contexts, hence in-depth qualitative interviews are most appropriate in ensuring care is taken in unearthing issues that can be highly controversial. A targeted snowball sampling method will be used to recruit IDPs as research participants, paying attention to intersecting vulnerability factors such as gender, ethnicity, religion, disability, age, and class. Qualitative data will be analysed thematically through an iterative manual process in the first instance, before being coded using NVivo software.

WP3 Team: Dr Funke Fayehun, Dr Olayinka Akanle

Work Package Four (WP4)

Work Package Four will undertake a qualitative analysis of interviews with IDPs, humanitarian practitioners and local stakeholders in South Sudan. A total of 40 in-depth semi-structured interviews will be conducted with IDPs in, and 20 with practitioners and stakeholders. These will explore barriers to the effectiveness of data-based humanitarian targeting, particularly in situations of conflict and displacement where distrust of authorities is often rife. Ethical questions regarding who falls through the cracks are particularly sensitive and complex to assess in such contexts, hence in-depth qualitative interviews are most appropriate in ensuring care is taken in unearthing issues that can be highly controversial. A targeted snowball sampling method will be used to recruit IDPs as research participants, paying attention to intersecting vulnerability factors such as gender, ethnicity, religion, disability, age, and class. Qualitative data will be analysed thematically through an iterative manual process in the first instance, before being coded using NVivo software.

WP4 Team: Dr Briony Jones, Dr Leben Moro and Kuyang Logo Mulukwat

Professor Vicki Squire, University of Warwick, UK (Principal Investigator)

Dr Olufunke Fayehun, University of Ibadan, Nigeria (Co-Investigator)

Robert Trigwell, International Organization for Migration (Co-Investigator)

Dr Briony Jones, University of Warwick, UK (Co-Investigator)

Professor João Porto de Albuquerque, University of Warwick, UK (Co-Investigator)

Dr Leben Moro, University of Juba, South Sudan

Professor Dallal Stevens, University of Warwick, UK

Dr Olayinka Akanle, University of Ibadan, Nigeria

Dr Prithvi Hirani, International Organization for Migration

Dr Modesta Alozie, University of Warwick, Research Fellow

Kuyang Logo Mulukwat, University of Juba, South Sudan

Grant Tregonning, University of Warwick, UK, Research Assistant

Stephanie Whitehead, University of Warwick, UK