Laura Guzman

29 May, 2018

As inboxes full of updated privacy notice emails can attest, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is here. The GDPR is the EU’s regulation on data protection, which came into force on May 25th and grants individuals greater knowledge of and control over their personal data. As a regulation, it is a binding legislative act, not just a directive, and will be directly binding and applicable in EU member states.

Civil society organisations face unique, sometimes daunting challenges to implementing the GDPR. Some of these challenges are specific to the GDPR, but most relate more broadly to how we interact with technology and data as a sector. Facing each challenge thoughtfully will help us think more clearly about what we’re doing and how we can do things better in future, not just for the GDPR but for our constituents, too.  

At its core, the GDPR means we can no longer gather personal data “just in case”, and that we must clearly articulate why we need to collect and store it. The Engine Room’s work focuses on supporting civil society to increase their impact through strategic, responsible use of data and technology. The attention on the GDPR has given us a lot of opportunities to continue developing and sharing these intentional approaches.

Think about the long-term strategy

Treating GDPR compliance as a one-off endeavour is a potential pitfall facing NGOs tackling implementation. As it stands, NGOs may already be pursuing technology and data projects in one-off bursts, without considering ongoing tool maintenance or how technology integrates into existing work. We’ve long advocated for taking a more critical and strategic approach to implementing technology and data projects, and think that there is a lot to be gained from doing the same when it comes to the GDPR.

By taking the time now to build strong processes, we can support our organisations’ data governance processes well into the future. Creating processes – like guidance documents on regularly deleting data you don’t need (after considering its value carefully!) or steps for responding to a data breach – can be much more valuable than any one-off checklist. Thinking about compliance as an attitudinal shift, not a single-day project, is key.

Strong operations create strong programmes

Some organisations may see GDPR as an ‘operational’ issue that is peripheral to their overall mission and de-prioritise it as a result. There is a long history of operational issues receiving less attention and fewer resources within the sector. This happens both because organisations lack operations-focused staff with the necessary skills, and because funders are not always willing to provide core funding for organisational development.

When implementing the GDPR, it can be helpful to dedicate an internal point-person (or team) to managing the process of compliance. It might be useful to establish an explicit internal prioritisation of operational tasks, and have a conversation with funders about the necessity of this prioritisation. In our case, it meant creating internal educational documents and templates that would help the entire organisation understand the importance of the GDPR and how it will enhance our work going forward. No matter what, it means realising that strong operations, policies and practices are fundamental to building strong programmes and achieving our mission(s).

Advantages to being an NGO

One of the great (but tricky) things about the GDPR is that it’s cross-organisational. It affects all data held – whether for finance purposes, communications or programmatic work – and it affects the activities of technology teams. That’s to say, it’s complex.

But so are the challenges that civil society organisations tackle. We’re already mapping information flows, connecting disparate ideas and trying to increase collaboration, sometimes on a daily basis. These same tools are critical in continued adherence with the GDPR. At The Engine Room, we managed this kind of GDPR-specific collaboration by creating things like an audit document that outlines everywhere we hold personal data, how we collect it and who is involved. This required input from every corner of our organisation, and sparked conversations that are continuing today.

The GDPR also provides an opportunity to look outside of our organisations to find new ideas and collaborators. There are many existing networks that bridge NGOs and technology, and the GDPR offers an opportunity to both grow these and create new ones. As one example close to us, the GDPR has popped up on the responsible data mailing list, a space where people share challenges and develop best practices to prioritise the rights of those reflected in the data we hold. It also was the topic of a community call, which highlighted both shared concerns and resources. The eCampaigning Forum (ECF), a network of practitioners using digital media for advocacy, also has a very active mailing list where the GDPR has been under detailed discussion.  

What’s next?

Thinking about the GDPR is a valuable opportunity for many NGOs to consider our data in a more holistic way. By placing the GDPR within a larger context of building responsible data practices, we can increase the effectiveness of our projects and better serve our partners and the communities we work with and for. After all, it isn’t just about the GDPR itself, but about the ethical management of the data we hold.

To take this broader approach, it’s important to find communities that perhaps work in a similar area as yours and who also want to make their responsible data practices an ongoing project. For specifics, see a little bit of what we’re doing about implementation. Remember to document, document, document, as demonstrating an intent to prioritise the data rights of individuals will always be a good thing to have in your favour. Use the GDPR as an excuse to do a ‘spring clean’, and take stock of your work, but also make sure to think about how it interacts with your long-term processes.

The GDPR presents a challenge for many resource-strapped organisations, but it is one that we can all face together. With collaboration and coordination, we hope that its implementation will be a positive step for the sector’s long-term tech and data projects.

Ilina Nesik

16 January, 2018

In recent years, governments around the world have responded to increased activism, protests and political engagement of citizens and various civil society actors with cracking down on civic space. Unfortunately, these trends have not passed the Western Balkans and Turkey by either.

As restrictions on foreign funding (in Kosovo, Turkey), barriers to registration (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Turkey), intervention in CSOs’ internal affairs (Macedonia and Turkey), negative narratives (Serbia and Macedonia), and declining public trust in civil society in almost all of the countries become the new normal in this region, civil society and donors are going to have to adapt to this context: MORE

Ezgi Akarsu

9 January, 2018

It can be difficult to explain just what it is that Accountable Now does. Most of my friends and family still don’t understand it. Indeed, save for those who are directly working on accountability issues in relation to civil society organisations (CSOs), most people still equate accountability with simply getting an organisation’s accounts in order.

However, to us it is much more than that – a dynamic approach encapsulating all aspects of an organisation’s operations, from inclusive and sustainable practices to engaging stakeholders in the design and implementation of policies and programmes.

As we celebrate Accountable Now’s 10th anniversary in 2018, I am excited to see how far we have come in our understanding and practice of accountability.  In the past year alone, Accountable Now has taken a number of steps to advance our approach to accountability. I would like to highlight three of these and shed some light on what exactly we have been working on. MORE

Isabelle Buechner

19 December, 2017

In 2015 the nine Accountability Initiatives from Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, North America, Latin America and the Caribbean, supported by the International Civil Society Centre, began working together to the develop the Global Standard for CSO Accountability. On 6 December 2017 the Global Standard was officially launched during a session at the International Civil Society Week in Suva, Fiji. Participants came from all over the world to learn more about this tool and exchange ideas to promote dynamic CSO accountability. The following are my five main takeaways from the event:

1. A standard at the global level can only be a reference
The Global Standard is a reference standard that different organisations can use in various forms. Each CSO can decide what aspects of the Global Standard are the most useful to itself and to its members, and at which moment in time. Being a reference for reflection, discussion and change, it can be adapted to different cultural, geographical and organisational needs. The participants of our launch widely agreed that is an important quality of the Global Standard that it does not impose a set of guidelines in a top-down manner. MORE

Burkhard Gnärig

4 July, 2017

In the year of the organisation’s 10th anniversary, the International Civil Society Centre will use its Disrupt&Innovate blog to reflect on some of our activities and lessons learned.

Over the past decade, the Centre has been working on many areas such as disruptive change, innovation, and business models. With this focus, we have constantly aimed to implement some of the findings from our work into our organisation’s own development. By sharing some of our experiences we hope to inspire others and show how to engage and work with us.

We kick off this special anniversary blog series with an interview with the Centre’s founder Burkhard Gnärig:

Flora Kwong and Ben Joakim

13 June, 2017

Blockchain—it’s a term we often see in newsfeeds and articles but perhaps don’t really understand. We are however supposed to know that, despite its original incarnation as the cryptocurrency, Bitcoin, it’s now the hottest technological innovation relevant to all industries and sectors—including the civil society sector.

Ben Joakim, CEO and founder of Disberse, explains that Blockchain is “in essence, a database that stores immutable [i.e. unmodifiable] transactions” on a secure and distributed network, “enabling people to exchange value peer to peer securely and transparently.” In other words, it provides us with a more secure way to interact with each other on the Internet. MORE

Megan Campbell

23 May, 2017

What do people want to make their lives better? Are we helping them get it? If not, what should we be doing differently?

These are simple questions. Sometimes, we mistake them as trivial or think that we already know the answers. When I led a water and sanitation programme in Malawi I believed that people in Malawi needed clean water. I believed I could help them get it by helping local governments build their capacity to construct and repair water infrastructure. I saw plenty of evidence that what I was offering matched what was needed and wanted. I knew about confirmation bias, knew that communities and local government officials were likely to praise my programme rather than risk losing free support, but I believed that I had strong enough relationships to be hearing the truth. MORE

Laura Sullivan and Ben Phillips

15 November, 2016

All the world’s eyes remain transfixed on the ongoing fallout following the US elections. Many European commentators have expressed grave concern about what events “over in America” mean in terms of society’s basic humanity. But how are Europeans themselves faring when measured against that old core value? With leaders like Hungary’s Prime Minister Orban keen to seal up borders, the Turkey deal sweeping the ‘problem’ of people escaping war under the proverbial carpet and the European mainstream narrative sounding increasingly similar to what the populist right have been saying for years, you do wonder, are people in Europe responding to their own Trumps?

Photo by Gage Skidmore via CC BY-SA 3.0

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Harsh Jaitli

1 November, 2016

India is known for its vibrant voluntary sector, which has contributed not only in the development and growth of India, but also to global discourse.

The existence of the voluntary sector is as old as the recorded history of the country, where it has shared responsibility with the state to provide decent life with dignity to marginalised people. The more structured form of civil society originations (CSOs) came into existence with the formation of Societies Registration Act of 1860, but the contribution of the sector has reached far beyond it. After independence, India faced the herculean task of providing basic services to the remotest corners of the country that were trying to recover from devastating draught and pains of partition. During this transitional period, Mahatma Gandhi became the inspiration for many grass-roots organisations popularly known as Gandhian Organisations. Mahatma Gandhi established that India had only achieved political freedom, and freedom from hunger and disease, and that overcoming deprivation and marginaliation was still to be achieved. He advised the freedom fighters that those who wanted to achieve this through political means could join the electoral politics, while the others should join the social service sector.

The space in which CSOs in India operate is influenced primarily by three factors: regulatory environment, availability of resources, and internal mechanisms. These elements can be targeted by the government to make the functioning of CSOs difficult. MORE

Sopheap Chak

25 October, 2016

It is within the context of a global shrinking of civil society space that Cambodia has seen its own space for civic participation quickly diminishing. This shrinking of space presents Cambodian civil society organisations (CSOs) with a very real need to adapt in order to face the challenges ahead.

In recent months, CSOs in Cambodia have felt an increased tightening of their fundamental freedoms by the government, particularly following the arbitrary arrest and detention of five human rights defenders – four senior staff members from local CSO the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC), and the deputy secretary-general of the National Election Committee. All five have been detained in pre-trial detention since 28 April on trumped-up charges in relation to their provision of legitimate human rights assistance to a former beneficiary.

 CC-BY-NC-ND-2.0 Walther Tjon Pian Gi via Flickr

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