Using the Digital Principles as North Star to guide the design of responsible digital systems for children
Every child has the right to a life free from violence, exploitation, and abuse. However, conflict and humanitarian emergencies very much exist in our reality, and children are among those particularly vulnerable to violence. For example, Russia’s recent invasion of Ukraine has left 2 million children displaced, whereas war in Afghanistan has resulted in over 10 million children either being displaced or losing caregivers.
To ensure that at-risk children like these have access to strong child protection services, government agencies, implementing partners, donor organizations, and front-line workers require relevant and timely data to be able to understand each child’s unique circumstance and provide the appropriate resources.
Palladium is one such entity that supports governments to build and strengthen their data-use capacities in order to drive, manage, and finance child protection and care systems. Backed by USAID, Palladium tapped into the MEASURE Evaluation (MEval) program in 2017 to understand how digital systems, particularly case management information systems, could be used and standardized to collect better data while mitigating inherent privacy and security risks. By hosting a workshop in December 2018 for child protection experts, Palladium sought to develop a framework that could help caseworkers design case management information systems (CMIS) that protected children’s rights and were able to deliver context-specific solutions.
The need for context-specific adaptability and user-forward design made the Principles for Digital Development a natural North Star for the CMIS framework, with special child protection and care-specific considerations mapped to each principle.
Design with the User: The first accountability is to the child and family: information systems should be designed first with the child’s needs, the family’s needs , and then the needs of the caseworkers.
Understand the Ecosystem: System design should be based on an understanding of the child protection case management process, system, and regulations. This should be done through regular consultations with policymakers, users, civil society and system developers.
Address Privacy and Security: Due to information sensitivity and inherent risks and implications of collecting and managing children’s data, the framework provides general guidelines so that partners include privacy by design and children and guardians have transparency and give consent about how their data is managed and protected.
Be Data Driven: Data use culture needs to be developed among case managers and decision makers throughout the child protection and care system to provide better care to children, manage and track services, and monitor children’s progress over time.
Build for Sustainability: The relevant government body or bodies responsible for child protection should own the system, with the relevant representative governance structures for the system set up in a way that accounts for high staff turnover in the social sector.
Following the workshop, the framework has been consolidated into key lessons and agreed-upon best practices from child protection experts who have developed, implemented, and used such systems. USAID and Palladium have also continued to enhance child protection services and the ways they generate and leverage data through the Data for Implementation project (D4I). Government partners in Moldova, Kenya, and Armenia, in collaboration with the D4I project, have already used the framework to design CMIS that respond to childrens’ specific needs in the country, and that are relevant to the country’s digital ecosystem characteristics.
New approaches to new challenges
As the child protection community continues to implement and strengthen digital capabilities based on the guidelines of the framework, new gaps and areas, such as government ownership, that would benefit from standards or guidance have emerged. As a result of that, tools such as the CMIS Assessment Toolkit and the CMIS Governance Guidelines were created.
This has become more evident and pronounced three years and one global pandemic after the original framework was created; COVID-19 increased the risk of the most vulnerable children by widening the education gap and creating economic stress in families. The pandemic has also accelerated and tightened our relationship with technology, rendering it more globally ubiquitous with greater forces gathering more data of individuals for commercial or control purposes.
That is why both the Digital Principles and the CMIS framework must continue to evolve alongside digital technologies and datasets and be adaptable to remain relevant in our ever-changing technological and political landscape. Palladium has already begun to refresh the CMIS Framework with sights to add new case studies and incorporate new lessons learned over the past three years. At the same time, the Digital Principles Advisory Council are also working to revisit the Digital Principles core tenets, incorporating ideas of responsible data use, security/dignity by design, and agency, so that the Digital Principles can remain a universal and fundamental resource for all digital development and humanitarian practitioners as they design and roll out digital solutions and strategies.