Information Issues in Development: Ethical implications of community profiling by Developmental NGOs.
Naqvi, Munawwar; Papoutsaki, Evangelia
Permanent link to Research Bank record:http://hdl.handle.net/10652/2015
In this paper, the authors critically examine some of the findings from a current research conducted in central India on ‘Developmental NGOs’ communication with their stakeholders’. These findings relate to NGOs’ collecting developmental information on their target communities before, during and after a development initiative and passing this data on to their funding agencies. It brings into focus (a) the information demands from the funding sources, and (b) Developmental NGOs’ communication with their target communities with respect to collecting this information. This raises questions in information ethics like, What are the ethics regarding the use of information on communities and other groups? How aware are the communities of their information being used potentially for purposes unrelated to current developmental projects under which the data was collected in the first place? Findings show that while all of the (NGO) respondents to this research collect very detailed information on communities while acknowledging that it is vital for successful implementation of their development programmes, they have no recognition of the value of their information gathering activity or of the contents’ value to other institutional entities apart from their funding sources. Then there are questions around ownership and control—Who owns this information and who is accountable for its use and proper disposal? It is evidenced that a significant amount of resources go into detailed reporting so what justifies the financial and other resources employed in collecting and processing all that information—a funder imposed activity— which often distracts from pursuing the objectives of the intended social change through a developmental initiative? The paper discusses the implications of this information gathering activity and of the content being passed into other domains for further processing and use. The discussion also models Developmental NGOs’ institutional growth which generally passes as ‘capacities building’ but ties in with the information generation activity; for instance, building better documentation capabilities apparently translating into transparency and credibility of the NGO, yet also leading to funding sources receiving concise workable information for use not limited to developmental initiatives. Among other controversial aspects around information ethics, it brings into question whether development is pursued as an end in itself or a means to achieve some other objective(s) which have their roots in the neo-liberal ideology, and reside elsewhere in the chain of powerful stakeholders in development.