Risks, Harms and Benefits Assessment 

UN Global Pulse is developing a two phase “Risk, Harms and Benefits Assessment Tool,” a data privacy, ethics and data protection compliance mechanism for understanding and managing risks, harms and benefits associated with big data use in development and humanitarian contexts.  

The assessment is meant to help minimize the risks of harms and maximize the positive impacts of innovation projects. It is designed primarily as a general example for internal self-regulation. As this checklist offers only minimum guidance, users are encouraged to expand the list depending on the project’s needs, risks, or specific context, or in response to the evolving data landscape.

The Risks, Harms and Benefits Assessment can be used at the onset of a data innovation project, or when an existing project needs to undergo changes, taking into account every stage of the data life cycle: data collection, data transmission, data analysis, data storage and publication or communication about the results of the data analytics process. If possible, a diverse team of experts, as well as a representatives of the individuals or groups of individuals who could be potentially affected by the data use, should be engaged in the process of review or completion of the assessment.

Depending on the implementing organization (its legal status/nature) and applicable laws, guiding principles, standards and basis for answering these questions may need to be changed.

The Risks, Harms and Benefits Assessment Tool consists of two steps: 

Step 1: Initial Assessment “Data Innovation Risk Assessment Tool”. This phase is an Initial Assessment that should help identify whether a more comprehensive Risk, Harms and Benefits Assessment should be conducted.

Step 2:  A Comprehensive Risks, Harms and Benefits Assessment. The comprehensive Risks, Harms, Benefits Assessment and the full version of the Step 2 process will be made available at a later stage.

For more information on a complete version or to provide comments on the checklist, please contact The “Risk, Harms and Benefits Assessment Tool” is a living document and will change over time in response to the evolving data landscape.

Step 1 - Data Innovation Risk Assessment Tool 

The Data Innovation Risk Assessment Tool is an initial assessment of potential risks for data use that includes seven guiding checkpoints to understand: the  "Data Type" involved in the data analytics process, the "Risks and Harms" of data use, the mode and legitimacy of "Data Access", the "Data Use", the adequacy of "Data Security", the adequate level of "Communication and Transparency" and the due diligence on engagement of "Third Parties". The Assessment contains guiding comments for each checkpoint and its questions are grounded in the key international data privacy and data protection principles and concepts such as Purpose Specification, Purpose Compatability, Data Minimization, Consent Legitimacy, Lawfullness and Fairness of data access and use. The Assessment Tool stresses the importantce of considering  the likelihood of various risks ( e.g., re-identification, data breach, data misuse) as well as the likelihood, magnitude and severity of potential harms that could result from the identified risks. The Assessment is built on the principles of Proportionate Data Use -  where negative impacts of data use should not outweigh the positive impacts. The tool also calls for considerig impacts of data use as well as data non use, taking into account context of data use.

Global Pulse wishes to thank Richard Cohen for his significant inputs in developing the tool and acknowledges the invaluable contributions of the members of the Global Pulse Privacy Advisory Group and the feedback received through consultations with other private and public stakeholders and UN agencies. In 2017, Global Pulse will release a user-friendly online application of the Risk Assessment Tool.

Download the Risk Assessment Tool here.

How to cite this document: "UN Global Pulse, ‘Data Innovation Risk Assessment Tool,’ 2016."