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Minimise Harm


Collecting data without thinking about the potential impact of its use may cause harm.


Projects may involve collecting data about potentially sensitive topics. There may be risks involved in collecting or using this data. Data may also cause harm because of biases that arise from its collection.


Ensure you are collecting data legally and ethically. Avoid collecting sensitive data or ensure that it is only shared limitedly so that the potential impact is minimised. Make sure you Know Your Community and use that insight to identify potential harm and take steps to reduce bias.

Ensure your Published Policies clarify what type of data is permitted to be collected in the project.

Like all data infrastructure, a collaborative maintenance project involves several different communities. There is the community of contributors, a community of data users, a community of people impacted by how the data is collected, shared and used and, depending on the dataset, a community that is represented in the data. These communities might overlap with a single individual present in multiple communities. All of these communities might benefit from, or be naegatively impacted by the project or use of the data.

It is important to ensure that data is being ethically and legally collected, shared and used.

Use the data ethics canvas to help you think through the potential impact of collecting and using the data. Ensure you consult with the different communities to help understand potential harm. Repeat the exercise if the scope of the project changes.

Harm might also arise from bias in a dataset. For example, if you are collecting data that might be used to train an algorithm for machine learning system, then ensuring that the data is representative of the communities who may be impacted by use of that algorithm, will improve the quality of the dataset and reduce harms.

It is not just with personal data that harm may occur. For example, some projects collect data about animal sightings, and restricting access to information about sighting of endangered species could help limit poaching.

In addition to the risk of harm arising from the use of data, or bias in the data, contributors might incur risks during data collection, eg if they are carrying out surveys in busy cities or conflict regions. Ensure that you provide guidance to contributors about collecting data when it may impact their personal safety.

Related patterns

Published Policies

Collaboration across distributed groups requires clarity around rules, policies and procedures.

Know Your Community

A lack of understanding of your community limits your ability to support and engage with them.

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