Privacy and Cultural Understanding


There are a few important topics to consider, regardless of the approach taken, when implementing this Needfinding framework. These are the privacy of the participants, establishing a cultural understanding of the community you are working with, and understanding the role and challenges of translation.


First and foremost, it is critical to think through the privacy of the participants in your needfinding work. Participants should always be made aware of your intended outcome for the data and how information about them will be both protected and shared, as well as, how the information they provide will be used in that outcome. This should occur before any data collection or related research activities have begun. Below are three suggested questions to ask all participants before beginning:

  • Are there any security concerns we should be aware of related to this interview and documentation of conversations relating to it?
  • Are you comfortable with us taking notes while we are with you (and/or) recording this discussion (and/or) taking photos or video? Be sure to explain why you are taking notes, where they will be stored, and how they will be protected.
  • What restrictions should we be aware of regarding the publishing and sharing of information learned here?

Asking these questions alone, however, is not enough. It is your responsibility to ensure that they are communicated effectively, which may require modifying or translating them. It is also your responsibility to bring contextual awareness and understand what activities may be risky or damaging, even if the participant is not aware of it.

For example, if a participant tells you it is okay to use their name while taking notes, but you know from your research that it could pose a problem for this person in particular, it is your responsibility to dig deeper into the conversation until you are satisfied that they fully understand and accept any risk. If you cannot establish that, it is your responsibility to refrain from documenting or sharing anything that could potentially bring harm to the participant. You can also solicit the advice of a cultural or subject matter expert for help in preparing to address privacy and security concerns.


The global nature of Internet Freedom means you will likely engage with members of cultures and communities that are quite different from your own. It is your responsibility to ensure you approach your work in a culturally appropriate manner. This is both out of respect for the participants you are working with and for developing a greater understanding of what you learn while working with them.

When developing your research plan, prioritize early work to develop a better understanding of the community or individuals you will be working with. Seek to understand customary interpersonal behavior such as greetings, signs of respect, and communication style. If you will be working with them in person, understand what constitutes appropriate attire and body language. Go further by developing an understanding of social and cultural history of the participants, which can greatly inform what you take away from the time you spend with them.


Like cultural understanding, translation is also an important consideration of globally conscious work. Identifying and working with a translator that you trust and can be consistently engaged is a big benefit. Even when you are speaking with participants who speak English, using a translator to communicate in a native language can provide richer results. Here are a few important guidelines to consider when working with a translator:

  • Needfinding activities generally take twice as long to complete when working with a translator. Plan appropriately.
  • Talk with your translator about the “why” of your work – why are you taking this approach? What are you looking to get out of it? They will be able to better translate and support when aware of this context.
  • Ask your translator to translate your statements directly, without paraphrasing or modifying them. Ask them to inform you immediately about changes made in the moment to facilitate understanding so you can note them for future discussion or correct a miscommunication.
  • Translators with some contextual knowledge on technology and Internet Freedom will be better suited to help you analyze what you learn in addition to simply translating. They can also be helpful in reviewing materials you are developing, such as guides and exercises.

Oftentimes a translator will be performing other roles in the project, perhaps even as a member of the research team. Establish an understanding early on about the role you’d like them to play and check-in regularly throughout your work.