Digital Civil Society Lab

Ethical Data Review Processes


This workshop emerged out of the Digital Civil Society Lab’s efforts on the ethics of digital data use in civil society. In an age when data and communications infrastructure undergird everything we do, organizations are beginning to take seriously their responsibility to the digital data they collect and use. For many nonprofits and civil society organizations, this goes beyond compliance – they are seeking ways to responsibly govern the data they collect from, by, and of the communities they serve.

In the past few years we have identified several nonprofit organizations developing formal or informal processes for safely and ethically managing the digital data that they collect from their communities and constituents. We are interested in several practical questions about these efforts as well as the longer-term governance implications and opportunities that these approaches might inform. We see an important opportunity to identify and inform these practices as they unfold.

Research Questions

  • What are the motivations, the practices, and the models that are emerging around ethical data review?
  • What methods, strategies, and levers are there for adoption and scaling?
  • What do the challenges presented by digital data, and emerging approaches for addressing the challenges, imply for civil society governance writ large?
  • What are the longer-term governance implications of digital data and organizational models for civil society?


The Lab hosted an invited group of civil society leaders at Stanford on May 23, 2016 to explore various forms of “data review” and consider models that might be broadly applicable and scalable across the social sector.