4.1 Mapping the context in which data processing takes place

Only when considering the context in which the data processing is taking place you will be able to understand which are the right measures to take in your specific situation. Today we start with writing down the internal, external and legal context in which your project is taking place.

Here different aspects might be relevant:

1. Your organizational culture. Why? Because the institutional culture will determine how a project will be developed, implemented and adapted. Some examples:

  • In highly bureaucratic institutions it is likely that a project needs to be planned in a very detailed manner and that it will be difficult to make changes once an idea has been written down.
  • In hierarchical institutions you might need to involve the top level in order to make adjustments you consider relevant to increase data protection.
  • In risk-averse institutions responsible data handling might be considered relevant but you might need to “sell it” in a way that doesn’t risk the shut down of your entire project.
  • In open institutional environments it might be easier to obtain further resources or to involve external experts to improve privacy and security measures of the projects, and so on.

2. The political and social context, for example, what is the overall relationship citizens have with the government, do they trust the government to handle their data? What are current social issues that might be of relevance, i.e. in a city where citizens demand more access to information and transparency because of a recent scandal around corruption one should rather concentrate on opening up these data sets relevant for the citizens’ needs instead of creating another innovative app, or imagine a scenario of a country where a recent scandal on government surveillance took place, here citizens might mistrust a government service that collects their data, even if it is meant to improve citizen services.

3. Lastly there are local and national policies and guidelines that regulate or stimulate how data is used and that need to be taking into account, for example open data policies or data protection regulation.

So, to better contextualize and understand your data processing grab a piece of paper, take max 5 minutes and try to write down as many things as you can for the three aspects mentioned above (1. Organizational culture, 2. Social and Political Context, 3. Regulation and guidelines). The table you can download below might help you to structure your thoughts. The keywords on the right side may help you to think through the context but there might be many more aspects you will find worth writing down.

You can also download the template with the table here and print it out.