Supporting Ethical Data Choices with digitalIMPACT.io

In 2013, I was invited to spend a year as a Visiting Scholar at The David and Lucile Packard Foundation. My goal was to work on a book and think with foundation colleagues about what it meant to be an effective nonprofit organization in the digital age. Well, okay, I’m still working on the book.

But the thinking about being digital part led down a path of inquiry about ethical use of data. I drafted an atlas of opportunities; then come colleagues and I tried to develop a typology of approaches. Together, we conducted digital asset inventories and categorized activities and resources and functional responsibilities. I spent the last few months as a visiting scholar road-testing a suite of learning materials, policy options, and tools.

After my year was up, with the Foundation’s blessing, I took a slide deck, worked with the Technology Affinity Group and the Markets for Good Community, and turned it into digitalIMPACT.io.

The goal of the website is to support individual organizations and learning communities in using digital data safely, ethically and effectively. The digitalIMPACT project, started to help one foundation address the opportunities ahead, is now a flagship project for the Digital Civil Society Lab and Markets For Good.

DigitalIMPACT intends to help nonprofits and foundations co-create and share practices for using digital data that align with their missions. We believe that these practices, policies, and tools need to be invented by the sector, for the sector. The website is a hub of materials to get this capacity-building effort started: the digitalIMPACT project.

The project has two parts: a website and a set of community partnerships. The digitalMPACT.io website offers three types of information:

  • Easy-to-understand explanations of how and why digital data are different from time and money, (the assets that nonprofits are used to managing), and why that matters
  • A guide to the type of governance decisions that organizations need to consider to manage their digital data ethically, safely, and effectively—and policy templates to help inform their choices
  • Tools, such as checklists and guidelines, designed by and for nonprofits to inform their use of digital data

Civil society organizations already collect and use data from individuals toward achievement of their mission. We built this new tool primarily to support civil society in developing and sharing practices for the safe, ethical, and effective use of such digital data.

All of the materials on digitalIMPACT.io are guided by a set of principles derived from the nature of civil society. These are called out on the site as the “Three Principles” of using digital data ethically, safely, and effectively. The Three Principles are informed by a definition of civil society as the place where we voluntarily use our private resources for public purpose.

The Three Principles are:

  • Consent: The data you need that come from your constituents are theirs. Ask for them and treat them with integrity
  • Privacy: Protect those data. They’re valuable. Best approach to protection? Minimum viable data collection
  • Openness: You’re here to serve a public purpose. Design your data practices with openness and sharing in mind from the beginning

The digitalIMPACT.io site was built and is maintained by the Digital Civil Society Lab at Stanford University’s Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society (also home to Markets For Good). Materials on the site have been contributed by an ever-expanding network of nonprofit and foundation partners and are available for free download and use.

The digitalIMPACT.io site is just the first part of the project. Building from the website, we will be conducting workshops and demos, seeking to co-create materials with and for specific functional areas of work, with affinity groups, and for global actors. We are eager to create working groups, task forces, user testing, and alliances with existing networks. Contributions of materials are welcome and can be submitted directly through the site.

You can use the contact form on digitalIMPACT.io to get in touch, to share or request materials, and to inquire about ways we might work together.

Lucy Bernholz
Lucy Bernholz is the Founder and President of Blueprint Research & Design, Inc., a strategy consulting firm specializing in program research and design for philanthropic foundations. She has worked as a program officer and consultant to foundations since 1990. Bernholz founded Blueprint Research & Design, Inc in 1997 as a means of pursuing a lifelong interest in the shifting relationships between society’s definitions of public and private and to help grant makers make better use of applied research. As a community foundation program officer Bernholz was responsible for developing and managing grant programs in the arts and humanities, community development, education, environment, health, historic preservation, and human services. She also supervised the implementation of special initiatives focused on neighborhood development, lesbian and gay community issues, management assistance, citizenship, and early adolescence. As a consultant, Bernholz has developed grant strategies on a wide range of social issues for foundations, individuals, and corporations. Dr. Bernholz is a noted analyst of the philanthropic industry and has published numerous articles in the trade and general press, edited collections, and scholarly journals. Her most recent book, Creating Philanthropic Capital Markets: The Deliberate Evolution, was published by John Wiley & Sons in 2004. She has been a Visiting Scholar at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business. She serves as a Special Fellow to the Synergos Institute and as Member of the International Network on Strategic Philanthropy. Bernholz is on the Advisory Boards of the Philanthropic Initiative for Racial Equality, YouthGive, Social Venture Partners Bay Area, the National Philanthropic Trust, and The Grantmaking School. In addition, she is an Advisory Fellow of the Center on Philanthropy and Public Policy at the University of Southern California, on the Market Steering Committee of Impact Manager, and serves on the Board of Directors of CompuMentor. She earned her B.A. from Yale University where she captained the lacrosse team and played field hockey. She holds a M.A. and Ph.D. from Stanford University. lucy@blueprintrd.com Leslie Andrews Leslie Andrews, Research Associate, supports Blueprint's work through primary and secondary research, data analysis, and writing for client projects. Most recently, she worked at a nonprofit residential facility for emotionally impaired teenagers. She has been involved in a variety of issues including community activism, violence prevention, labor relations and racial/ethnic diversity. Leslie holds a B.A. in sociology and philosophy from the University of Michigan.