Microdata from forced displacement situations

This project aims to improve the availability, accessibility and dissemination of microdata on forcibly displaced populations by supporting UNHCR to increase the access to its data and to colloborate with a number of partners on responsible data access.

5 Jul, 2023

Overall objectives

The objective of the project is to improve the availability, accessibility and responsible dissemination of microdata on populations affected by forced displacement. The ultimate goal of the project is to better inform policymaking, humanitarian and development operations, and foster coordination between governments and organizations working to improve the lives of people affected by forced displacement. The objective of increasing availability and access to microdata will be pursued with a specific concern to provide tools and methods to identify, assess and minimize risk of potential harm to data subjects. For this purpose, it will leverage knowledge, experience and tools adopted in other sectors where sensitive data are curated and disseminated – such as health, finance and criminology.

Activity description

This activity will be implemented through two sets of actions. The first set of actions will be geared towards UNHCR. These actions will draw from the set of priorities to move towards improved microdata access by the UNHCR, consolidated at a virtual workshop on microdata de-identification and anonymization hosted by JDC and the Estonian Government in May 2020. The actions will include supporting UNHCR to:

  • Stock taking and review of practices and techniques of microdata curation and dissemination;
  • Develop protocols and guidelines for data protection and dissemination;
  • Build consensus within UNHCR around microdata curation, protection and dissemination methods and tools to be institutionalized by this agency;
  • Support sensitization initiatives to increase awareness around the tools, technical notes and protocols that have been developed and are to be applied within the UNHCR;
  • Enhance data literacy of UNHCR data controllers (i.e. Representatives) and Senior Management to promote evidence-based decision-making and policy development based on access and protection protocols;
  • Conduct training and capacity building activities to enhance sharing of knowledge around the tool and protocols developed for microdata protection and dissemination;
  • Expand UNHCR’s data protection capacity.

The second set of actions to be employed will be geared towards enhancing the responsible data access agenda more broadly and these will include, to:

  • Build partnership and coalitions with humanitarian, development, and national statistical offices (NSOs) through bilateral/multilateral discussions and consultations;
  • Take stock of, and review practices and techniques of microdata curation and dissemination;
  • Develop and adopt tools, protocols and guidelines for data protection and dissemination for broader stakeholders (beyond UNHCR);
  • Implement training, sensitization and knowledge sharing activities.

Engagement with partners

Following initial focus on UNHCR as a partner, the second part of this activity will be geared towards enhancing the responsible data access agenda more broadly by engaging with other international organizations, National Statistical Offices (NSOs), and local data holders in host communities. This process is envisaged as a multi-year process supporting responsible microdata dissemination practices among a multitude of stakeholders including UNHCR, WB, ICRC, OCHA, NSOs, and select international NGOs, alongside experts in innovative practices and new technologies.

Background and Context

There is broad consensus that increasing the accessibility of microdata by development practitioners and researchers fosters innovation and inquiry. This contributes to improving policies and their operational outcomes, which ultimately leads towards improving the lives of vulnerable people, including forcibly displaced people (FDP).

But microdata on vulnerable groups carries with them significant risks if they fall into the wrong hands and enable identification of individuals or groups that could subsequently be targeted and harmed. Misuse of microdata may also pose a reputational risk to agencies and institutions that collected and disseminated the data, especially when, as in the case of UNHCR, they have a mandate to protect the population who are the subject of the data. Due to the above concerns, a lot of microdata currently collected (e.g. through surveys, administrative registries) remain under-utilized in the design of policies and programs and research on forced displacement. This tension leads to an important challenge: to pursue enhanced data accessibility without compromising the protection of data subjects.

More and better data use requires that access to microdata be provided to legitimate and qualified users and that responsible protocols defining the access conditions and terms use are followed. In this effort, the Joint Data Center (JDC) aims to develop a practical framework for responsible microdata dissemination that can be used and adopted by UNHCR and other relevant stakeholders. This work is closely associated with other JDC supported activities that focus on microdata curation (e.g. support to UNHCR’s Microdata Library) and research as it aims to establish a more enabling environment for microdata dissemination and subsequent research.


For further details on this activity, please contact:

Patrick Brock – [email protected]

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