In January 2016, my colleagues and I from an interdisciplinary research group at NYU (#NYUhrviz) asked a group of human rights researchers and advocates about the challenges they face when using data visualization. Mixing formal interviews with informal discussion, we found that responses revealed a few common themes. Drawn from this modest sample, here are ten questions on the minds of the rights professionals we spoke to, challenges that complicate and impede the use of data visualization in human rights work.
What do ethics have to do with data visualization? Over the years, researchers and lawyers have come up with some rules and best practices to guide the proper collection and use of data, with particular attention on human subject research. Questions related to the collection of data go to the heart of what constitutes ethical research methods: did the subjects give informed consent for how their personal data would be used? Does using, collecting, or publishing this data put anyone at risk? Is the data appropriately protected or anonymized? The rules continue to evolve, and are not without gray areas and open questions, and many universities have review processes to provide guidance and make sure the critical ethical questions are raised. In fact, these ethical questions and review processes are required under U.S. law for research institutions receiving federal funding.
In contrast, ethical discussion and guidelines around data visualization, that rambunctious cousin of data, are less established. On January 15, 2016 organizers at the Responsible Data Forum will host a workshop with artists, activists, academics, and practitioners on hand to draw out a set of recommendations on ethics in data visualization and to distill a set of best practices.