Big Data, Human Development and Valuing Voices: Innovation and Ethical Challenges in the work of Africa’s Voices Foundation | University of Oxford

Big Data, Human Development and Valuing Voices: Innovation and Ethical Challenges in the work of Africa’s Voices Foundation

Sharath Srinivasan, Claudia Abreu Lopes
Event date
Event time
16:30 - 18:00
Oxford Internet Institute
1 St Giles
Venue details

Seminar Room, 1 St Giles

Event type
Lectures and seminars
Event cost
Disabled access?
Booking required

About the Event:
Africa’s Voices Foundation, is a non-profit spin-out from research at Cambridge University’s Centre of Governance and Human Rights that provides expertise for citizen engagement and social data analytics to development and governance actors. The highly interdisciplinary research team at Africa’s Voices combine data science, social science and contextual knowledge (including language) to generate and analyse large volumes of unstructured social conversation data. We use our methodological innovations to provide detailed insights into the views and priorities of remote, under-served and bottom-of-the-pyramid social groups, so far mainly in East Africa. We target hard to reach communities through context-relevant channels and approaches such as interactive local language radio shows, but also work with social media platforms. To date, we have worked with organisations such as UNICEF Somalia, Oxfam Kenya, the Well Told Story and BBC Media Action on projects to understand beliefs, opinions and practices of particular social groups on topics such as routine immunization in Somalia, maternal health in Uganda, extractive industries in Kenya and contraception amongst Kenyan youth.

This presentation reflects critically on where Africa’s Voices’ strengths and weaknesses lie in terms of avoiding key pitfalls of power and knowledge hierarchies in Big Data and Human Development. We will explore enticing human development possibilities and ethical challenges of working with citizen-generated data in the African context, with a particular focus on projects involving radio discussions and data gathering using SMS and digital platforms. If tensions between unique citizen voices and Big Data are navigated well, the affordances of digital communications and data analytics can be tailored in context relevant and more inclusive ways. That said, issues around informed consent, data privacy and security threats remain a challenge. The presentation draws on case study examples of Africa’s Voices work, to shed light on the uniqueness of Africa’s Voices ethos, theoretical framework, methods and tools for combining social and data sciences to analyse conversational data, as well as key ethical concerns that arise from how we work.

About the Speakers:
Sharath Srinivasan co-founded and directs Africa’s Voices Foundation, a spin-out from ESRC-DFID funded research he led at the Centre of Governance and Human Rights (CGHR), Cambridge University. He is Director of CGHR and David and Elaine Potter University Lecturer in the Department of Politics and International Studies. He is also a Fellow of King’s College. He has an MPhil and DPhil in International Development from Oxford University.
Claudia Abreu Lopes is Head of Research and Innovation at Africa’s Voices Foundation and a Research Associate at CGHR. She led the Africa’s Voices pilot research project at CGHR, collaborating with research partners and radio stations in Africa. Claudia has a PhD in Social Science research methods from the London School of Economics.

About the Series:
The seminars will focus on the dramatic changes in citizens' ability to coordinate and mobilize for political action, on global migration and its relation to digital media, and on how international and national actors are seeking to shape the applications of technology and communication. The series provides a focus point for academics and non-academics in Oxford who are interested in the challenges and opportunities of employing new communication technologies in development contexts.
The series is organized by the Oxford Internet Institute (OII), the Programme in Comparative Media Law and Policy (PCMLP), the Department of International Development (ODID) and the Technology & Management for Development Centre (TMD) at the University of Oxford, and co-convened by Dr Iginio Gagliardone and Dr Mark Graham.