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Last month, MyData Conference, the leading international conference on human-centric personal data management, was held in Helsinki, bringing together more than 800 people from over 50 countries. These represented a wide variety of stakeholders from business, legal, tech, scientific and social areas fundamental to accelerating human-centric policies and their practical implementation.

The two condensed days of thought-provoking discussions, engaging sessions, and key insights delved into the world of personal data focusing on cutting-edge developments, trends, and main challenges in the field.

In one of the parallel sessions, “Data Justice in participatory projects”, Gülşen Güler, Geffion Thuermer, Julia Palma and Joana Magalhães discussed the role of data justice in innovation and participatory data processes. Even if citizen benefits from data are anticipated, these are very likely the first thing to go once actual projects or initiatives are implemented. The speakers presented their work on this subject from different angles and discussed practical solutions to address this problem.

There is No Justice Without Data Justice”

So, how is data justice related to United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goal #16 “Promote peaceful and inclusive societies”? In her talk, Gülşen Güler, from Mydata Literacy, explored this relationship.

UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) resulted from global efforts to create a better future, serving as an all-encompassing blueprint for “people, planet, and prosperity.” Justice is a thread that runs through all 17 SDGs, and SDG #16 specifically endeavours to “promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels”, as defined by the UN. 

Data is used as a substantial resource in SDG#16 to 1) help experts, practitioners, and decision-makers understand people’s justice needs and the scale of justice issues, 2) evaluate solutions based on their cost efficiency and effectiveness, and 3) measure progress over time. However, it is evident that achieving SDG#16 is contingent upon the establishment of data justice, particularly in an era where the online and offline realms are inherently interconnected.

The way data is collected and used has a profound impact on how we perceive, obstruct or tackle key causes of injustice, such as corruption and discrimination. The absence of critical discourse around motivations, assumptions, and social, economic, historical and political contexts that shape data categories, structures, and decisions perpetuates harm by echoing existing injustices. Data justice as a framework can provide guidance on how to build accountability in data collection, use, and governance, as well as highlight equity by asking about and examining power dynamics in data. As a critical lens, data justice is indispensable to effectively bridge the justice gap to foster a more equitable and just society for all.

As a part of Young Justice Leaders, a cohort of young change-makers from across the globe,  Gülşen specifically focuses on increasing access to justice data and promoting data justice within SGD#16. This presentation, together with several activities, will inform a final report for the UN SDG Summit in September 2023, including findings and recommendations on how to put data justice into action.

“Regaining sight of anticipated social benefits on the go”

Gefion Thuermer, Research Fellow at King’s College London and Technical Coordinator of the IMPETUS project, presented her latest work based on three premises:

  1. Those who contribute data rarely get sufficient recognition or benefit from that contribution;
  2. If we want to change how benefits from data are distributed, we need to change how we work with data;
  3. We need to plan benefits from data alongside the entire data lifecycle early on to help benefits for data contributors materialise.

This was based on research that showed how research and innovation projects lost sight of anticipated citizen benefits during implementation. Two projects – Data Pitch and SCIFI – had attempted to implement air pollution measurements that would benefit citizens. For a variety of reasons, including lack of focus and departures of responsible project owners, these benefits were ultimately not delivered. 

To prevent this loss of focus and resulting lack of data justice, Gefion suggested the use of Data Justice Plans, which complement data management plans and assign clear responsibility for the delivery of benefits for data subjects and providers. This approach is currently being tested in the IMPETUS project, which will enrol 125 citizen science projects in an accelerator program during the next four years.


“Building a service catalogue and tools to enable FAIR data and processes”

Julia Palma, representing CeADAR, the Irish Centre for Applied Artificial Intelligence, provided practical insights on the real-world implementation of data-based technologies. Her presentation centred around the significance of findable, accessible, interoperable and reusable (FAIR) data and data processes evaluation and the role of EUHubs4Data project in developing a pan-European dataset and data-based service catalogue to facilitate equitable access. 


Julia also presented two tools from the UPCAST project; one focused on evaluating data energy efficiency, contributing to environmentally responsible practices and the other emphasising data valuation, ensuring fair and equitable decision-making processes. The ulterior conversation raised relevant questions on the crucial role of data valuation even when no monetisation is considered, with the goal to maximise fairness, protect vulnerable populations from inequalities and abuse, and the practical approaches that enable organisations to align their data projects with the SDGs.

“Citizen science communication and journalism as enablers of social justice”

Can science communication be a vehicle for social justice in participatory projects? This was the focus of the talk from Joana Magalhães, Senior Researcher at Science for Change, one of IMPETUS’s partner organisations.

When it comes to participatory projects, specifically citizen science (CS) ones, participants can have different roles. Contributing to data collection, analysis, and further acting as co-researchers throughout the full cycle of a CS project are some of them. 

Going beyond more scientific-technical tasks, citizens can act as science communicators and influence their closer relatives and social circle with their personal experience in scientific research, as well as become primary sources of information for the media, which can contribute to tackling misinformation. This was one of the premises of the NEWSERA project.

The project further explored the topic of data justice in connection to citizen science journalism, a new concept that combines citizens-generated data with the narrative power of investigative journalism; cooperating in the definition of citizens’ information needs and co-designing open datasets in a transparent way can contribute to the use of citizens-generated data to empower change for the benefit of local communities and advocate for democracy. 

Several examples have been included in the Data4CitSciNews exhibition that includes a digital module adapted from journalistic press articles resulting from a pairing program with science and data journalists and CS projects participating in NEWSERA, focused on the impacts of light, water and odour pollution, as well as other case studies, such as Mapping Makoko, on claiming public services and land ownership, in one of the biggest inner-city slums in Africa.

This article was jointly written by Joana Magalhães, Gefion Thuermer, Gülşen Guler and Julia Palma.

We’ve prepared a file with the four PPTs for you to download here: Data_Justice_PPTs


The EUHUBS4DATA, UPCAST, DataPitch, ACTION and NEWSERA projects have received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme under Grant Agreement numbers 951771, 101093216, 732506, 824603, 873125, respectively. IMPETUS is funded by the European Union’s Horizon Europe Research and Innovation Programme under Grant Agreement number 101058677.