The Wisdom Of Seeking Crowd Wisdom. Reflections on the ethics of using crowdsourcing and crowdseeding to collect data in conflict zones

This paper reflects on the ethical implications of using crowd-based methods to collect information in situations of violent conflict. These methods involve obtaining information directly from individuals in conflict areas, who can choose when or how frequently to report, via some communication technology. Such methods have become mainstream in the humanitarian sector, and present a microcosm of ethical considerations surfacing when doing academic research in conflict areas. The paper proposes a typology of crowd-based projects, distinguishing them using two axes: selectivity in who makes up the ‘crowd’ and restrictions on access to information gathered. Building on authors’ personal experience with a crowdseeding project, and published accounts of other crowd-based projects, this paper argues that the position of a project on these axes largely determines which ethical concerns are likely to arise. Furthermore, existing literature and processes to obtain ethics board approval for a project using crowd-based methods are strongly focussed on certain principles of procedural ethics, especially informed consent and avoiding harm to participants. Without taking away from the acute necessity to consider these aspects of ethics, this paper argues that researchers using crowd-based methods in conflict should also consider other applications of guiding ethical principles, including maximizing benefits and respect for individual autonomy through co-creation of research, and non-procedural dimensions of ethics, such as micro-ethics and “getting it right”.

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Anouk S. Rigterink and Ghassan Baliki (2019) The Wisdom Of Seeking Crowd Wisdom. Reflections on the ethics of using crowdsourcing and crowdseeding to collect data in conflict zones. Working Paper

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Ghassan Baliki

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