Building an Essential Tool to Help Make Your Data Journey Responsible

Andrew Young
Jan 28 · 4 min read

By Andrew Young and Stefaan Verhulst

Data is not a thing but a journey. Numerous decisions, methods and actions along the way shape the outcome and impact of using data. Taken together they determine whether we are #DoingDataRight — a core goal of COVIDaction. To help those decision makers using data to tackle COVID-9, The GovLab is building an interactive tool to map risks and responsibilities across the data life cycle and nudge and guide responsible decision making along the journey: “The Data Responsibility Journey Mapping tool”. Join our Journey!

The Data Responsibility Journey Mapping Tool

As part of its mission, The GovLab (Tandon School of Engineering, New York University) seeks to enable more systematic, sustainable, and responsible data reuse in the public interest. Over recent years, we have sought to advance both research and practice in responsible data handling in various contexts, including as it relates to public perceptions on data reuse to address COVID-19 in cities and the safe and effective handling of data for and about children.

Informed by our work in the space, The GovLab is preparing to launch the Data Responsibility Journey Mapping tool. The tool is intended to support decision-makers involved in the design or assessment of data collaborative in their consideration of the opportunities and risks that can emerge across the lifecycle of data reuse.

The Data Responsibility Journey Tool

The Data Responsibility Journey guides the user through an interactive process starting at the Planning stage of a data collaborative, followed by subsequent Collecting, Processing, Sharing, Analyzing, and Using stages. For each stage, the user is presented with a series of key considerations to support more responsible data handling. Users are asked to indicate whether or not they have already addressed the consideration, or if it is not applicable for the project. Based on the priority areas that users have not already addressed, the Data Responsibility Journey generates a personalized Data Responsibility Strategy outlining recommended practices to address identified areas of need, as well as associated tools, guidance, and supporting resources.

An in-progress Data Responsibility Journey assessment

Especially in development contexts, data collaboratives often involve some combination of 1) Public Agencies, 2) Humanitarian or Development Organizations, 3) Large Businesses, 4) Small Businesses, and 5) Civil Society Organizations. Representatives from these different groups are faced with distinct data responsibility hurdles, and will likely require distinct data responsibility strategies. With that in mind, the Data Responsibility Journey allows users to select which of these five user groups best describes the context in which they work. It then provides a customized version of the Journey tool, surfacing only the most relevant considerations. Users are also welcome to follow the complete, uncustomized journey.

Customized entry points for different user groups

Data Responsibility for LMICs’ Response to COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown into sharp relief the potential public value of data collaboration and reuse, as well as risks related to privacy, security, agency, sovereignty, and entrenched power asymmetries. Since the start of the pandemic, hundreds of data collaboratives have been initiated around the world, and specifically in LMICs, to help address the public health, economic, and social consequences of COVID-19.

COVIDaction are supporting The GovLab in adapting the content of the Data Responsibility Journey to meet the needs of data holders and decision-makers working to address COVID-19 in LMICs. This work builds on a Call for Action The GovLab released at the start of the pandemic, which outlines seven steps toward building the data infrastructure necessary to respond to COVID-19 and other emerging threats.

Over the last few months, The GovLab has been conducting due diligence on the data-driven response to COVID-19, including through the ongoing upkeep of the #Data4COVID19 Living Repository, the largest collection of data collaboratives aimed at addressing COVID-19.

We are now updating and refining the Data Responsibility Journey to ensure it provides the most useful guidance possible for those facing the unique data responsibility challenges presented by COVID-19 in LMICs. The interactive, customized tool will be publicly launched in March after an initial user-testing period.

Join our Journey: User Testing Workshops

The GovLab and COVIDaction are organizing a series of user-testing workshops to solicit feedback on the Data Responsibility Journey. We are eager to tap into the wisdom of individuals with experience in using data in a development context across each of our five core user groups: 1) Public Agencies, 2) Humanitarian or Development Organizations, 3) Large Businesses, 4) Small Businesses, and 5) Civil Society Organizations.

If you are interested in joining a user-testing workshop, or in exploring a pilot implementation of the Data Responsibility Journey to support your work, please contact datastewards [at]

Andrew Young is the Knowledge Director at The GovLab and Stefaan G. Verhulst is the Co-Founder of The GovLab and its Chief of Research and Development

Data Stewards Network

Responsible Data Leadership to Address the Challenges of…

Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Learn more

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox. Explore

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic. Write on Medium

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store