Ethical Guidelines for PeaceTech

by Jennifer Easterday

JustPeace Labs is proud to announce the release of Ethical Guidelines for PeaceTech, the first in its series of practical guidelines for PeaceTech stakeholders.

The guide was first presented for feedback from peacebuilding practitioners at the 2016 Build Peace conference. There we held a workshop and sought input from peacebuilders from all over the world with a range of experiences and expertise.

Peacebuilding, development, and human rights programs are increasingly turning to technology — specifically Information and Communication Technology, or ICT — to connect with and assist local communities. It is widely acknowledged that although ICT provides great promise, there are also significant risks and ethical considerations that must be taken into account before using technology in these fields. This is especially true when using technology in post-conflict contexts.

Experts have created a number of relevant and useful ethical guidelines and good practices (such as the ICRC’s Professional Standards, the Principles for Digital Development, and the Responsible Data Forum), and the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative has recently released the Signal Code, a human rights approach to using technology in humanitarian responses to crisis.

However, there is still a need for a practical guide to ethical PeaceTech that focuses specifically on the challenges of working with technology in post-conflict situations. Something that peacebuilding, development, and human rights practitioners can turn to when planning and executing ICT programs; that software programmers can rely on when tackling complex coding challenges; that private corporations can utilize; and that funders can turn to when deciding how to fund technology programs in post-conflict situations.

This is why we are developing a core set of practical guidelines to address these needs:

  1. Ethical Guidelines for PeaceTech
  2. Ethical Coding for PeaceTech Programmers
  3. Ethical ICT Business Practices for Post-Conflict States
  4. Ethical Guidelines for Funding Post-Conflict Technology Projects

With our first guide, peacebuilders, development specialists, and human rights advocates who want to use ICT in their work can find guidance on answering questions like:

  • What exactly are our ethical obligations to our users?
  • How do we get informed consent in a way that users can truly understand?
  • How can we better understand how the local context where we’re working impacts our work — and our data?
  • What data can we ethically collect? What data should we collect?
  • How can we build conflict-sensitivity into our program?
  • How can we make sure we are not putting our users at risk?
  • Is there anything we need to make sure our programmers do (or don’t) put into the code?
  • How can we protect our users if we have to, or decide to, share our data with third parties?

The guide is loosely organized by a program or project lifecycle. The first section introduces ethical, privacy, and security challenges that arise when using ICT in peacebuilding or post-conflict contexts. It also discusses steps to take in order to understand the context in which you are working and how to be inclusive and avoid bias in data collection. The second section presents considerations for how to meet ethical obligations in practice, from the planning and strategy phase onward.

Future guides will tackle similar issues targeted to different PeaceTech stakeholders, including software engineers, private corporations, and funders. Each will be written with needs and interests of each user group in mind, and in consultation with industry experts.

Together, we hope that this comprehensive set of guidelines will help promote the ethical use of ICT in post-conflict contexts.

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