Displaced Children and Emerging Technologies: Save the Children’s opportunities for investment and impact

Stuart Campo and Nathaniel Raymond

Save the Children Report, 2019



This report identifies key opportunities and risks for adopting technological innovations in child displacement programming. Several technological trends are creating opportunities for reaching and assisting vulnerable, hard-to-reach populations, including: increased digital connectivity of displaced populations through mobile devices; the growing reliance on data technologies in aid programming aimed at large, mobility-affected populations; and emerging, potentially disruptive new technologies. Technological innovations also pose new ethical dilemmas, and potential threats to the safety and wellbeing of displaced child.

The report includes the discussion of several case studies, which illustrate Save the Children’s progress in: piloting and scaling new technologies in displacement contexts; successfully adapting existing external technologies to Save the Children’s case-management work-flows; and introducing new data science advancements for improved protracted displacement planning. For example:

  • The Protection-Related Information Management (Primero) case management system is an open source software application that permits frontline protection and social welfare workers securely collect, store, manage, and share data for protection-related incident monitoring, case management, and family tracing and reunification. By making data handling easier for frontline protection and social welfare workers, it frees up their time for service provision and promoting improved quality of care. It also fosters accountability, helping supervisors monitor and report on the work of their teams, while helping to generate evidence for programming and policy at national, regional and global levels.
  • The “Every Child Learning” EdTech initiative has introduced a new app for supporting Syrian refugee and host community child learning opportunities in Jordan. The math learning app, “Space Hero”, integrates learner-centered design approaches, and permits children to accelerate their learning outside of school hours.
  • Save the Children’s Migration and Displacement Initiative (MDI)’s has created a predictive analytics model that forecasts the duration and scale of conflict-induced forced displacement. MDI’s predictive displacement tool has been recently tested in multiple countries where Save the Children is currently supporting children and families affected by mass displacements, including Burundi, Ethiopia, South Sudan, and Mali.

The report outlines five technological domains particularly relevant to child displacement programming innovation. These are:

  1. Registration and case management: including the use of biometrics to manage the identity of displaced individuals and populations, as well as different software platforms for family tracing and reunification;
  2. Digital connectivity: leveraging growing mobile phone and internet usage to improve reach and delivery of services to displaced populations;
  3. Educational technology (EdTech): software and hardware designed for use by children, teachers, parents or facilitators to provide education to hard-to-reach populations, including those that are displaced or on the move;
  4. Predictive analytics: particularly models drawing from big data for early warning and strategic planning around child displacement; and
  5. Remote sensing: the use of geographic information systems (GIS), using data from satellites and aircraft, including drones, to monitor mobile populations.

The report outlines a suggested framework for selecting safe, ethical and appropriate technologies within each domain, reflecting core ethical obligations to: (a) ensure that activities are based on the needs of affected populations; (b) maintain minimum standards of organizational competency, capacity, and capability; (c) ensure and encourage the agency of affected populations; (d) identify and minimize adverse effects; (e) promote and protect the dignity of populations by ensuring free and meaningful consent; (f) ensure data privacy and security; (g) strive to reduce future vulnerability and neither degrade nor disrupt local capacity; (h) coordinate, ensure complementarity, and prevent duplication of efforts in designing and implementing activities; and (i) ensure transparency and accountability.

The study then identifies and analyses opportunities and barriers for improving innovation management capacity in migration-mandated organizations, focusing on Save the Children. In Save the Children, the authors highlight the need to strengthen centralized innovation coordination capacity across the organization’s federated structure, to build capacity in key technological skillsets, and to increase the number of long-term innovation management staff positions.

The report identifies a range of ethical risks posed by digital technologies. These include impediments to the displaced child’s right to: (i) access and communicate relevant information during a crisis; (ii) be protected from potential threats and harm resulting directly or indirectly from the use of data; (iii) expect privacy and security of their personal information; (iv) maintain agency over the collection, use and disclosure of personally identifiable information; (v) receive rectification and redress of inaccurate or incomplete personal data. Within this context, the study found that Save the Children does not yet have safeguarding policies and procedures specific to assessing, preventing, and mitigating the new risks, threats, and harms that may come from digital technology.

The report concludes with specific recommendations to improve Save the Children’s use of technological innovations for impact in child displacement programming. It also recommends that Save the Children ensure that its child safeguarding guidance keeps pace with new technologies it adopts for work in child displacement programming.