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Big Data, Communities and Ethical Resilience: A Framework for Action

In August 2013, a multidisciplinary group gathered at The Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Center to address the theme of “Community Resilience Through big data and Technology.” Creative and critical thinkers were selected from the technology sector, academia, the arts, humanitarian and ecological spheres. Over ten days, we explored how data could be used to help build community resilience in the face of a range of stresses—environmental, political, social and economic. Large data collection and analysis may support communities by providing them with timely feedback loops on their immediate environment. However, the collection and use of data can also create new vulnerabilities and risks, by enabling discriminating against individuals, skewing evidence, and creating dependencies on centralized infrastructure that may increase a system’s vulnerability. After analyzing these risks and opportunities, we developed a framework to help guide the effective use of data for building community-driven resilience. In this framework, we propose six domains: ethics, governance, science, technology, place and sociocultural context. We believe that by considering all six domains together, organizations can safeguard against predictable failures by exposing project weaknesses from the outset rather than in hindsight.