About us

Students walking in front of UNSW building

The Data Science in Humanitarianism project explores the significance for global legal relations of growing reliance on digital data, data analytics, and related technologies. We have been studying especially how agencies such as the UN make use of data science to support decision-making and resource allocation in humanitarian and development work.

Across the world, international institutions, national agencies, and civil society organisations are embracing “digital humanitarianism”. They are assembling and analysing vast digital data streams and mobilising online communities to use “real time” data to try to predict and respond to humanitarian crises, address unmet socio-economic needs, and allocate development assistance for maximum effectiveness.

This project addresses the problem of how - or if it is possible - to distribute humanitarian aid and target development assistance using data science without undermining the integrity or equity of those distributive decisions. It addresses, too, the problem of how to reconcile this use of data science with longstanding legal and policy principles and practices or adapt law and policy work to this changing practice, to minimise adverse effects. For example, concepts like "participation" and "the public" take on potentially radically different meanings to those traditionally embraced by policy makers and actors in the development and humanitarian spheres. Tackling these problems is important because of the growing prevalence of data science in humanitarian and development work, significant donor investment in such data science initiatives, and the lack of law and policy research surrounding the changing decision-making practices emergent in this context.


The project is delighted to be working with 

Prof Fleur Johns presenting International Law and the Provocation of the Digital

Based in Montevideo, and most recently valued at US$5 billion, the payments platform DLocal enables companies such as Booking.com, Amazon and Uber to transact in local currencies in 29 countries.

Prof Fleur Johns, presenting From Planning to Prototypes: new ways of seeing like a state

Recorded on 8 February 2017 at the London School of Economics and Political Science.