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Supporting Value Sensitivity in the Humanitarian Use of Drones through An Ethics Assessment Framework

Ning Wang, Markus Christen, Matthew Hunt, Nikola Biller-Andorno | 01/2022

The current humanitarian use of drones is focused on two applications: disaster mapping and medical supply delivery. In response to the growing interest in drone deployment in the aid sector, we sought to develop a resource to support value sensitivity in humanitarian drone activities. Following a bottom-up approach encompassing a comprehensive literature review, two empirical studies, a review of guidance documents, and consultations with experts, this work illuminates the nature and scope of ethical challenges encountered by humanitarian organizations embarking upon innovation programmes. The Framework for the Ethics Assessment of Humanitarian Drones (FEAHD) identifies five values and five key questions related to ethical considerations along the decision chain of humanitarian drone activities. It fills a gap between high-level, principle-based guidance related to humanitarian innovation, and detailed operation-oriented checklists for projects involving the use of drones. In this way, the FEAHD contributes to support value sensitivity in the humanitarian use of drones.

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Ethical Considerations Associated with “Humanitarian Drones”
A Scoping Literature Review

Ning Wang, Markus Christen, Matthew Hunt | 08/2021

Guided by the methodology introduced by Arksey and O’Malley, this scoping literature review offers an assessment of the ethical considerations discussed in the academic and gray literature based on a screening of 1,188 articles, from which we selected and analyzed 47 articles. In particular, we used a hybrid approach of qualitative content analysis, along with quantitative landscape mapping, to inductively develop a typology of ethical considerations associated with humanitarian drones. The results yielded 11 key areas of concern: (1) minimizing harm, (2) maximizing welfare, (3) substantive justice, (4) procedural justice, (5) respect for individuals, (6) respect for communities, (7) regulatory gaps, (8) regulatory dysfunction, (9) perceptions of humanitarian aid and organizations, (10) relations between humanitarian organizations and industry, and (11) the identity of humanitarian aid providers and organizations. Our findings illuminate topics that have been the focus of extensive attention, traces the evolution of this discussion over time, and points to areas that have received less consideration. The review can thus help to situate and guide further analysis of drone use in humanitarian settings.

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"As It Is Africa, It Is Ok?"

Ethical Consideration of Development Use of Drones for Delivery in Malawi

Ning Wang | 02/2021

Since 2016, drones have been deployed in various development projects in sub-Saharan Africa, where trials, tests, and studies have been rolled out in countries with constrained resources. The use cases of drones vary, ranging from imagery collection to transportation of vaccines, lab samples, blood products, and other medical supplies. Based on a field study conducted in 2019, this paper investigates how drones are used for medical supply delivery in Malawi with the objective to contribute to the evidence regarding the rapid deployment of medical cargo drones across the African continent, and to spark critical reflections over the utility, suitability, and impacts of incorporating drones in the existing health supply chain systems in resource-poor settings. The discussion revolves around two aspects: (1) the emergent “African Drone Rise” – is it ok “as it is Africa”? (2) the normative role of technology in the aid sector – is it “a solution looking for a problem”? In conclusion, a call for more structured guidance for the systematic examination and evaluation of the medical cargo drone case is raised.


"Killing Two Birds with One Stone"?

A Case Study of Development Use of Drones

Ning Wang | 06/2021

With the rise of the “humanitarian drone” in recent years, drones have become one of the most controversial public interest technologies that have gained increasing media attention. It is worth noting that, although there is a perception in the aid sector that drones hold the promise to reinvent the health supply logistics, to date, routine drone delivery is still relatively new and largely unproven. This paper presents a recent field study conducted in 2019, where drones were deployed in Malawi to help address the last mile challenge in medical supply delivery, and where a noticeable mentality of “killing two birds with one stone” around the attempt of using drones in resource-poor settings is observed. The objective of the paper is to shed light, through a real-world case study and from the ethical perspective, on the impacts of implementing such a systemic change in the existing health supply chain systems. As conclusion, a call for more reflexive approaches for the critical examination, as well as more structured guidance for the responsible evaluation, of medical cargo drones is raised.


"We Live on Hope..."

Ethical Consideration of Humanitarian Use of Drones in Post-Disaster Nepal

Ning Wang | 09/2020

The noticeable turn to technology in humanitarian action raises issues related to humanitarianism, sovereignty, as well as equality and access for at-risk populations in disaster zones or remote areas lacking sufficient healthcare services. On a technical level, practical challenges include heightened risks of data safety and security, and the potential malicious use of technology. On a societal level, humanitarian innovation may disrupt relations between different stakeholders, may widen inequality between those with access and those without, and may threaten privacy, disproportionately affecting the vulnerable population. Drawing on the empirical findings of a case study of the 2015 Nepal earthquake, this paper presents an in-depth normative analysis to identify contextualised ethical considerations, and illuminate the wider debate about how technological innovation in the aid sector should be operationalised. In conclusion, on the normative level, a prudent attitude in adopting novel technology in the aid sector is required; while on the operational level, proposals for actionable ethical standards to guide and safeguard sector-wide innovation practices are needed. 


"A Success Story that Can Be Sold"?

A Case Study of Humanitarian Use of Drones

Ning Wang | 12/2019

Increasingly, humanitarian organisations across the globe have been implementing innovative technologies in their practice as they respond to the needs of communities affected by conflicts, disasters, and public health emergencies. However, technological innovation may intersect with moral values, norms and commitments, and may challenge humanitarian imperatives. Through the examination of an empirical case study on drone mapping, this paper aims to explore three questions: (1) What are the dynamics between aid delivery and technological innovation in the humanitarian enterprise? (2) How are structural problems addressed in an environment in which technology is being portrayed as a force for change? (3) What moral responsibility towards vulnerable populations should humanitarian stakeholders bear when introducing innovative technologies in humanitarian action. Discussion revolves around the ideology of “technological utopia”, and the normative role of technology in the aid sector – to make substantive impacts, or to produce “success stories”. In conclusion, a call for rigorous ethical analysis to help foster value sensitive humanitarian innovation is made.

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