Digital identity as a platform for improving refugee management

Jun 16th, 2021 | By | Category: RSS Feed


Digital platforms are restructuring how many companies and industries function, including humanitarian organisations that operate in complex environments and serve vulnerable populations. To date, however, there has been limited study of their use in humanitarian and particularly refugee contexts. This paper seeks to address this gap by drawing on the concept of platformisation to study the opportunities and challenges arising from UNHCR’s transition from a closed transactional system to an open innovation platform focusing on core processes of identification, value creation and platform governance that are relevant for refugee management and protection. Our empirical study captures the perspectives of the UNHCR, organisational stakeholders and refugees in the world’s largest refugee camp in Northern Uganda with regards to UNHCR’s strategy towards platform openness. We find that UNHCR’s data transformation strategy introduces the potential for increasing institutional value in the form of more effective service delivery to refugees. However, these technological opportunities do not necessarily translate to greater value if they do not mesh with current work practices, incentives and activities of service provider organisations and refugees. Our study helps identify opportunities to address these constraints, primarily through improving understanding of the emergent governance-related tensions that exist for digital platforms for development and surfacing existing issues of exclusion and vulnerability. We conclude with insights for the broader theorisation of identification platforms and with recommendations for policies and practices that together might help realise the potential value creation introduced through the platformisation of identification systems.


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