[Spotlight] CARE Principles

Unpacking Indigenous Data Governance

Open Data Charter
Nov 4, 2019 · 5 min read
Photo by Jeremy Vessey on Unsplash

by Paul Stone and Ania Calderon

There are 370 million Indigenous Peoples worldwide across 70 countries and spreading over 5,000 different cultures. Considering this diversity, an official definition for “Indigenous” has not been recognised by any UN-body. Instead, a modern understanding of the right for self-identification and self-determination as distinctive peoples and communities has been recognised widely.

Therefore, “Indigenous Data Sovereignty” is presented as “the right of Indigenous Peoples and nations to govern the collection, ownership and application of their own data”. Indigenous data include information, knowledge, and data about their peoples, resources and environments, and collective cultural knowledge and belongings.

In our last Implementation Working Group spotlight session, we were privileged to have Stephanie Russo Carroll and Maui Hudson sharing with us the Global Indigenous Data Alliance (GIDA) and their CARE Principles for Indigenous Data Governance, recently launched on their website. The formation of GIDA and the CARE principles is an initiative to both raise awareness of, and assert the rights of Indigenous Peoples and nations to govern themselves and the data about them.

CARE Principles

Collective benefit: Data ecosystems shall be designed and function in ways that enable Indigenous Peoples to derive benefit from the data:

  • For inclusive development and innovation
  • For improved governance and citizen engagement
  • For equitable outcomes

Authority to control: Indigenous Peoples’ rights and interests in Indigenous data must be recognized and their authority to control such data respected.

  • Recognizing rights and interests
  • Data for governance
  • Governance of data

Responsibility: There is the responsibility to be accountable on how data is being used. Accountability requires meaningful and openly available evidence of these efforts and the benefits accruing to Indigenous Peoples.

  • For positive relationships
  • For expanding capability and capacity
  • For Indigenous languages and worldviews

Ethics: Indigenous Peoples’ rights and wellbeing should be the primary concern at all stages of the data life cycle and across the data ecosystem.

  • For minimizing harm and maximizing benefit
  • For justice
  • For future use.

These points largely speak for themselves, but you can read in more depth on their website.


The first CARE principle, “collective benefit”, aligns well with Charter principles 5 and 6 — “for improved governance and citizen engagement”; and “for inclusive development and innovation”.

However, the CARE principles of “authority to control”, “responsibility” and “ethics” are not covered by the Charter principles, and the Charter principle of “Open by Default” would seem to create a tension with the CARE principles, especially authority, ownership and control.

It would be fair to say that even amongst the global open data community ‘open by default’ creates some tension. During the review of the Charter Principles during 2018, ‘open by default’ was the most hotly debated principle. Some see it as foundational to open data, while others find it difficult to operationalise. The review of the principles highlighted the need to clarify exactly what open by default means. Shedding ‘open by default’ in the light of the CARE principles is an opportunity to hone our understanding.

Open by default does not mean that as data is gathered it should be made “automatically” available to anyone, for any purpose . On the contrary, “by default” requires starting with a mindset that intentionally seeks to build in trustworthy, fair and accountable data practices, both in the governance process, and as a result, the quality of the datasets that are made available.

This means you should set about considering ways to enhance protections where needed, give voice and agency to people that may be affected by its use, and mitigate risks that can cause harm, before releasing the data. Thanks to GIDA, the CARE principles offer ways to consider whether Indigenous Peoples will be impacted by the release of a dataset.

Beyond data release

This is important for government agencies to bear in mind. Not only do they need to be mindful of data (and the potential for open data) when they design new services, but they also need to engage and work with Indigenous Peoples to ensure the service best meets their needs, and the right data is collected along the way to give them knowledge of whether the service is meeting their needs from their perspective.

Health and research environments

A journey


Towards a culture of open and responsible data use by governments and citizens.

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