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Those with the purse strings must do data better

By Matthew Schulz, journalist, Our Community

Dr Lucy Bernholz, a world-recognised thinker on digital and data trends, says funders must take more responsibility for improving how data is handled and managed for the organisations they're helping, including how much information they're demanding in the first place.

Australians have been among those affected by a global spate of big data and privacy breaches, exposed by new laws or scandals such as the leak of the data of 87 million Facebook users to political consultants Cambridge Analytica.

The Digital Civil Society Lab's director, Bernholz is based at the Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society in California but travels the world examining digital trends, and her latest interest is the shape of the emerging "digital civil society". She says one of the biggest changes she's noticed in Australia in the past three years has been a spike in public concern about personal data and how it is managed.

The well-informed debate about the MyHealth database and the growing opposition to an automatic opt-in for the system is just one example, Dr Bernholz says, of a shift in those attitudes.

Her speciality is helping not-for-profits and those supporting them, to manage digital assets better.

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She believes funders must become part of the solution, by being wary of asking too much of their grant recipients, and by thinking carefully about how well "digital ties" between funders and funding recipients are working.

"At the very least, we think that funders of all sorts, just as they are interested in building the governance and management capacities of the organisations they work with, that managing digital resources safely, ethically, and effectively is a key part of that good operating practice."

"For example, if funders are putting certain kinds of data demands on not-for-profits - data demands about counting people or including identifiable demographic information - but if the not-for-profits and the funders can't protect that information safely, they're actually making vulnerable people more vulnerable."

Her catch-phrase on that issue: "If you can't protect it, don't collect it."

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