The Ethics of Data Management in Mapping Crisis

A Panel Discussion by Doug Specht, Monika Halkort, Rupert Allan and Miranda Sharp (chair), published by Geovation

Since the rise of Google Earth in 2005, there has been an explosion in the use of mapping tools to quantify and assess the needs of the poor and marginalised, including those affected by climate change, conflict and natural disasters. Yet, while there has been a huge upsurge in the data produced around these issues, the representation of people remains questionable. Some have argued that representation has diminished in humanitarian crises as people are increasingly reduced to data points.

In this discussion the authors of Mapping Crisis discuss the role of ethics in data management when mapping moments of crisis. The talk draws from the panellist’s experiences, including working in Ugandan refugee camps, monitoring migrant crossings in the Mediterranean, and examining humanitarian mapping projects in sub-saharan Africa and Latin America.

Doug Specht is a Chartered Geographer (CGeog. FRGS), a Senior Lecturer (SFHEA) and the Director of Teaching and Learning in the School of Media and Communication at the University of Westminster. His research examines how knowledge is constructed and codified through digital and cartographic artefacts, focusing on development issues in Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa, where he has carried out extensive fieldwork. He speaks and writes on topics of data ethics, development, education and mapping practices at conferences and invited lectures around the world.

Monika Halkort is an Assistant Professor of Digital Media and Social Communication at the Lebanese American University. Her research centres on the intersectional dynamics of digital materiality, race and dehumanisation in contemporary data regimes. Taking irregular migration in the Mediterranean as an example, her most recent work unpacks how conflicting horizons of death are negotiated and modelled in data, opening up new zones of non-being that have been characteristic of modern coloniality.

Rupert Allan has been engaged in interventional design and extreme field operations since 1988. His work is characterised by creative innovation and negotiation in crisis environments across humanitarian disaster and film production. He holds a master’s degree in visual culture and anthropology from the University of Wales and associates his research with the University of Wales, the Royal Geographic Society and Médecins sans frontières, Manson Research Unit, London

Miranda Sharp (chair), Chair of the Commons Stream, National Digital Twin programme.


Doug Specht


Dr Doug Specht is a cultural geographer and educationalist. His research explores themes related to environmental justice, human rights, and access to education, with a focus on the production and codification of knowledge though cartographic artefacts and in educational settings. In recognition of his work, he has been appointed as a Chartered Geographer and Chartered Teacher. In addition, he has been awarded Advanced Teacher Status, alongside being a Senior Fellow of AdvanceHE. Dr. Specht has authored numerous articles and books, including Mapping Crisis, the Routledge Handbook of Geospatial Technology and Society, the Media and Communications Student Study Guide and Imagining Apocalyptic Politics in the Anthropocene. He writes regularly on ethics, environmental and human rights, education, and mapping practices in such publications as WonkHE, The Conversation, Geographical, and for Times Higher Education. Dr Specht is a member of the editorial board of the European Journal of Geography, Westminster papers in Communication and Culture, and Anthropocenes – Human, Inhuman, Posthuman. He is Chair of the Environmental Network for Central America.


2 November 2020
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