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AEA’s Digital Data & Technology Working Group Week: Responsible Data in the Digital Age by Talitha Hlaka

The posts for this week come from the Digital Data & Tech AEA Conference Working Group, and share how digital data and technology are factoring into reshaping evaluation.

Hello there! I’m Talitha Hlaka, and I’m a communications officer at the Center for Learning on Evaluation and Results, in Anglophone Africa (CLEAR-AA). Over the past two years, I’ve been supporting work to improve responsible data management in the Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) sector, in collaboration with MERL Tech. It’s been an amazing ride!

During this period, I’ve realised how important data protection is in our work as M&E professionals. Now more than ever, we are generating and using high volumes of data. New data privacy laws spurred by rapid technological developments are emerging, and ethical questions regarding our data and technology choices abound. For this reason, together with a working group of data law, M&E, and government experts, we embarked on a journey to explore the role of data governance in the M&E field in Africa. We developed a two-part guide (see guide 1 and 2) to help practitioners become more responsible with their data management, as they also maneuver around changes and challenges in the African context.  

Team of superheros that protect data and decolonize evaluation practice, Afrofuturism, concept art, vivid, realisitc, dynamic lighting, artstation.
AI-generated image 1: team of superheroes that protect data and decolonize evaluation practice, Afrofuturism, concept art, vivid, realistic, dynamic lighting, artstation

The responsible data governance guide is our effort towards reshaping evaluation, as we recognise the urgency to be responsible with data in the digital age, and to put in place essential mechanisms towards building a sustainable tomorrow. African countries are undergoing significant innovation and experimentation within multiple data communities and ecosystems. However, these efforts are often small pilots, silos, or ad hoc initiatives. A systematic, large-scale, integrated and sustained effort is needed for the data revolution in Africa to become truly catalytic. For this to happen, it’s essential that M&E professionals do not separate themselves from actors such as data law practitioners and practices, as there is much added value to draw from this collaboration in the evaluation space.

We discussed our work with colleagues at the 2022 European Evaluation Society conference (EES) in June, and they shared their views on what holds back responsible data management and where more attention to this area is needed. We concluded together that awareness of data governance policy and practice and ethical data use are key competencies for evaluators.  

Lessons Learned

While awareness is growing, MERL practitioners lack competencies related to data security and how to comply with national data privacy regulations in the countries where they are working. An even greater challenge, as one person highlighted, is that there is little accountability for misuse of data, despite the fact that legal regulations upholding data privacy have been put in place in an increasing number of countries around the world.

So how do practitioners remain compliant in such an environment? To whom are data practitioners accountable? How do we navigate political and socio-economic barriers such as the digital divide in this aspect? These and more are pertinent questions to be addressed if responsible data practices are to take place.

Our framework for the guide takes practitioners through different stages of the data lifecycle, parallel to the M&E cycle, as a tool to help them better manage their data. Each stage contains practical tip sheets on how to conduct the data process.

Radar chart depicting the monitoring and evaluation cycle on the left and a second radar chart depicting the data life cycle on the right.
Comparison of M&E and data life cycles

CLEAR-AA and MERL Tech plan to carry this work forward, to start with, by (1) developing a module for CLEAR-AA’s Development Evaluation Training in Africa (DETA) flagship programme, and (2) offering responsible data governance workshops in Anglophone Africa, where CLEAR-AA operates.

Get Involved

Until then, catch us at the 8th Biennial South African Monitoring & Evaluation Association (SAMEA) Conference 2022 from the 21st-23rd September, under the Tech-Enabled strand, where we will be going through practical responsible data applications at each stage of the data life cycle.

Digital data butterfly with a blurred city in the background.
AI-generated image 2: lifecycle of digital data butterfly in African city, realistic, dynamic lighting, artstation, 8k, octane render, ar 16:9

Rad Resources

Read the 2-part guidance on Responsible Data Governance for M&E in the African Context:

Check out our tip sheets on responsible data practice on the following topics: tools and software; data subject rights; lawful data collection; informed consent; data breach protocol; analysis methods; data sharing agreements; data visualization; data retention policy.

The American Evaluation Association is hosting Digital Data & Technology Week with our colleagues in AEA’s Digital Data & Technology Working Group. The contributions all this week to AEA365 come from working group members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this AEA365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the AEA365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an AEA365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to AEA365@eval.org. AEA365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators. The views and opinions expressed on the AEA365 blog are solely those of the original authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the American Evaluation Association, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

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