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The Innovation Process
Activity 5.1 D

Determine ethics and oversight requirements

This primer will help you to assess your organisational risk management and compliance mechanisms, and decide whether you need to put in place a Technical Advisory Group (TAG).

Responsible and effective management practice in the Pilot stage requires consideration of ethics and oversight. If you do not already have strong risk management and compliance mechanisms, we recommend that you put in place a Technical Advisory Group (TAG).

A TAG can take up a considerable amount of time and energy, so you will likely want to make this process as light as possible. You may already have existing functions in your organisation that play similar roles (eg, ethical review systems or risk management and compliance mechanisms) and if you’re working with a local research institution you may already have an external review mechanism in place. If this is the case, you will need to make a judgement call on whether or not you set up a TAG and precisely what role it will play.

A Technical Advisory Group is intended to help ensure greater accountability in humanitarian innovation by appropriately identifying, assessing and mitigating ethical and security-related risks. A TAG can also give you guidance on best practice and local considerations, and it can inform a decision on whether your research requires Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval.

If the TAG recommends that you seek IRB approval for research, we recommend that a local institution is involved in that process if possible. We also recommend that you discuss your research as early as possible with the TAG so that they can give you early indication of whether your research may require IRB approval. If it does require IRB approval, this could take between one and three months in most cases, and could therefore cause delays if not factored in.

Humanitarian innovation pilots are effectively ‘experiments’ that usually involve crisis-affected communities and vulnerable groups. It is therefore critical that your pilot is as accountable as it can be, and that you are getting expert advice in areas such as community engagement, ethics, security, vulnerability and conflict sensitivity. A TAG will help you design and implement the best possible pilot, while advising you on how to mitigate and reduce the inherent risks of running innovation pilots in humanitarian settings.

The TAG should be responsible for providing advice and support regarding all of your implementation and research activities. They should review and feedback on your Research Design and other relevant aspects of your project, such as partnerships, data management systems, security analysis and interview guides. There are three areas, in particular, that a TAG should consider and advise upon:

  1. Ethics, including concerns such as privacy, informed consent, confidentiality, and respect for persons involved in the pilot.
  2. Responsible data use, including concerns such as appropriate anonymisation of personally-identifiable information (PII), compliance with minimum standards around data storage, backup and retention, and conforming to local and international regulations and laws concerning data transfer and sharing.
  3. Operational and digital security, including challenges such as compliance around relevant software updates, user credential and account management, encrypted data storage and communications channels, anonymity when surfing the web, safety and secure internet access point connections, and proper mobile data device management while travelling.

Given the range of topics that might be examined by the TAG, we recommend bringing together an interdisciplinary group of practitioners, experts and stakeholders to support the process. A diverse TAG will be a valuable resource for solving problems and thinking through potential opportunities from different viewpoints.

You may have to be creative and flexible in the way you identify participants and work with them to account for the voluntary nature of their engagement, but you should always ensure a clearly-defined and transparent process. Candidates should be selected based on their relevant expertise as well as their position within the local and international ecosystem in which you are working. You may want to consider the following criteria:

  1. Familiarity with relevant humanitarian response mechanisms, actors, sectors, and approaches (eg, conflict-sensitive programming).
  2. Representation of the local socio-cultural ecosystem and target groups, including women and children and members of marginalised communities.
  3. Expertise in the research and learning methods and techniques you are using, and in research ethics.
  4. Expertise in the solution area that you are implementing.
  5. Expertise in relevant areas of operational and digital security, and data protection.