Paper: Automating accountability? Automating accountability? Extraction and coloniality in digitised feedback mechanisms

Paper details

Paper authors Mirca Madianou
In panel on Ctrl Shift? Exploring the impacts of digital change on power and accountability in humanitarian aid
Paper presenter(s) will be presenting In-Person / Online


‘Accountability to affected people’ has been key in the ongoing efforts of humanitarian reform. Feedback mechanisms, which have become synonymous with accountability to affected people, are increasingly digitised or automated using platforms such as instant messaging apps or chatbots which aggregate comments into large datasets. Synthesising ten years of research, this paper argues that digitised accountability is an extractive practice. Tracing the trails of feedback data reveals that although they appear to address the demands for accountability to affected people, in practice, they serve the logic of audit by streamlining reporting to donors through easily retrievable and reproducible metrics. Affected communities, through their data practices, produce value which is extracted for the benefit of humanitarian agencies and other stakeholders. Additional problems emerge with the automation of feedback channels through chatbots which reproduce the colonial legacies of humanitarianism and technology. Rather than reforming humanitarianism, the current delivery of accountability initiatives maps onto existing geometries of power and entrenches the asymmetries between affected communities and humanitarian agencies.