System support for IM in humanitarian operations (manuscrip 18 mars)


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By Glenn F. Eriksson (

Crisis Response Lab, Department of Applied IT, University of Gothenburg & Chalmers

This paper aims to uncover some of the problems of gathering consolidated data in humanitarian aid projects and crises. The focus is on routines and tools used in information management. Based on the insights from four professional information managers, key problems of information management in fieldwork has been identified and analysed. The paper outlines implications for design for future tools striving to better support information management. These implications are based on the need for improved standardisation on information exchange and better interoperability between tools and applications.

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System support for IM in humanitarian operations (manuscrip 18 mars)

  1. 1.  Department  of  Applied  IT  :  University  of  Gothenburg  &  Chalmers   1           System  Support  for  Information  Management   in  Humanitarian  operations     Unpublished  manuscript,  version  -­‐  18  Mars  2011   By  Glenn  F.  Eriksson  (     Crisis  Response  Lab,  Department  of  Applied  IT,  University  of  Gothenburg  &  Chalmers   Abstract   This  paper  aims  to  uncover  some  of  the  problems  of  gathering  consolidated  data  in  humanitarian  aid   projects  and  crises.  The  focus  is  on  routines  and  tools  used  in  information  management.  Based  on   the  insights  from  four  professional  information  managers,  key  problems  of  information  management   in  fieldwork  has  been  identified  and  analysed.  The  paper  outlines  implications  for  design  for  future   tools  striving  to  better  support  information  management.  These  implications  are  based  on  the  need   for  improved  standardisation  on  information  exchange  and  better  interoperability  between  tools  and   applications.   Introduction   Humanitarian  operations  triggered  by  the  immediate  need  of  a  sudden  crisis  pose  significant   operational  and  management  challenges  on  the  involved  aid  organizations  (Muhren,  Eede,  &  Walle,   2008).  During  the  last  few  years,  aid  effectiveness  in  the  perspective  of  fact  based  results  and   accountability  has  emerged  as  an  important  topic.  It  has  been  addressed  by  high  level  forums  like  the   OECD  Paris  declaration  (2005)  and  the  Accra  agenda  for  action  forum  (OECD,  2010).  Media  (The   Sydney  Morning  Herald,  2010)  is  also  reporting  on  how  tax  payer’s  money  is  used  in  aid  programs   and  the  need  for  better  accountability  and  fact  based  results.  The  debate  concerns  also  the  audit   process  and  that  aid  should  be  audited  as  any  other  governmental  spending.  On  top  of  that,  several   major  disasters  have  occurred  in  the  last  years  underlining  the  importance  of  aid  effectiveness.     One  important  key  area  to  come  to  terms  with  measuring  result  and  accountability,  is  the  access  to   reliable  and  accurate  information.  The  process  of  inquiring  qualitative  information  has  never  been  an   easy  task,  since  there  are  many  actors  and  organisations  that  are  loosely  coupled  together  in   humanitarian  operations.  A  good  starting  point  is  to  investigate  how  the  current  information  system1   support  the  process  of  gathering  reliable  information  for  fact  based  results.  It  is  also  important  to   examine  how  well  the  information  system  facilitates  coordination  between  the  different  actors  in  the   humanitarian  community,  in  order  to  avoid  duplication  of  work  and  the  ability  to  more  efficiently   collaborate  and  learn.       A  symposium  on  information  exchange  (UN,  2002),  reported  a  set  of  high  level  problems  and   recommendations  2002,  and  was  revised  2007  (UN,  2007).  Many  of  these  problems  still  persist                                                                                                                         1  In  broad  terms  and  accross  organisational  boundaries     1    
  2. 2.  Department  of  Applied  IT  :  University  of  Gothenburg  &  Chalmers   2           today.  Scientific  articles,  field  reports  and  experience  have  shown  that  the  humanitarian  community   have  not  taken  full  advantage  of  the  information  technology  shift2  and  its  collaborative  capabilities.       The  objective  of  the  study  is  to  examine  how  well  the  current  system  support  is  in  the  field  of   information  management  (IM).  The  study  has  the  perspective  of  professional  information  managers3,   and  what  challenges  they  experience  with  the  current  information  system  and  routines.  The  study   continues  with  a  discussion  on  the  consequences  with  the  current  design  and  concludes  with  a  set  of   implications,  necessary  to  address  when  designing  future  information  system  support  for  IM.     The  overall  research  question  guiding  the  work  for  this  study  is:  How  can  information  systems  better   support  operative  information  management  in  humanitarian  aid  work?   Information  Management  in  an  humanitarian  context   Information  management  is  the  act  of  collecting  and  managing  information  around  a  specific  topic.   This  is  done  in  humanitarian  aid  programs  and  projects,  where  the  collected  information  feeds  the   reporting  process  of  the  organisation.  IM  in  humanitarian  context  is  often  integrated  into  the   reporting  process  to  produce  statistics,  graphs  and  to  present  information  in  tabular  format.   There  is  normally  a  one  to  one  relation  between  the  data  collection  process  and  the  reporting   standard  for  the  specific  organisation.  The  reporting  process  is  the  tool  that  normally  drives  the   project.  So  they  can  report  back  to  the  project  stakeholders.  When  coordination  is  needed  amongst   organisations  working  in  the  same  line  of  work,  they  normally  share  their  existing  reports  (that   follows  a  organisational  format).  If  more  granular  information  needs  to  be  shared,  they  do  so  by   exchanging  spreadsheets  documents  with  data.  Often  the  problem  with  the  spreadsheets,  are  that   they  have  data  organised  in  different  ways  and  are  not  in  the  same  format.  This  results  in  a  tedious   harmonisation  process  when  trying  to  cross-­‐reference  data  between  organisations.   The  IM  routines  consist  of  three  primary  tasks,  forming  a  cycle  that  is  repeated;  collecting,  analysing,   and  disseminating  information.  The  application  normally  used,  are  general  applications  that   everybody  has  access  and  knowledge  about  (office  applications).   During  crisis  there  are  different  coordination’s  cells,  depending  on  size  and  magnitude.  Organisations   (NGOs)  are  normally  grouped  into  different  sectors,  depending  what  the  organisations  are   specialised  in  (health,  food  distribution,  shelter  &  protection,  etc).  These  are  called  clusters  in  the   humanitarian  community,  and  inside  each  cluster  there  is  a  coordinating  body.  A  cluster  coordinator   has  the  responsibility  that  the  cluster  is  operational  and  chairs  the  cluster.  IM  is  part  of  the  cluster   coordinators  responsibilities.  The  cluster  lays  out  the  objectives  and  priorities.  It  is  not  compulsory   for  organisations  to  participate  in  the  cluster  and  its  coordination,  but  it  is  seen  as  a  good  practice.   Related  studies   In  a  study  on  Open  Source  Software  (Currion,  Silva,  &  Walle,  2007),  it  is  suggested  that  the   humanitarian  community  has  not  taken  full  advantage  of  the  potential  in  the  information  revolution,                                                                                                                         2  Cloud  computing,  web  2.0  and  other  technologies  that  forms  a  collaborative  online  experience     3  Personell  working  with  IM     2    
  3. 3.  Department  of  Applied  IT  :  University  of  Gothenburg  &  Chalmers   3           due  to  different  constraint  (human  resources,  financial  resources,  etc).  Further,  the  study  also  points   out  that  the  business  processes  around  information  system  for  the  humanitarian  community  is  not   unique,  but  probably  more  challenging.   A  paper  on  information  frameworks  for  the  humanitarian  community  (Bui,  Cho,  Sankaran,  &   Sovereign,  2000),  articulate  the  need  of  better  information  exchange,  through  standardise   information  to  ensure  interoperability.  It  is  also  suggested  that  new  media  (web-­‐based  application   and  tools)  can  provide  quick  information,  but  falls  short  on  providing  analysis  and  manage  relevant   information  to  execute  decision.     Another  approach  for  gathering  information  and  predicative  analysis,  is  through  data  mining.  Taha   (Taha  &  Kass-­‐Hout,  2008)  presents  a  platform  that  automatically  scans  several  data  sources  and   classifies  the  information  to  predict  diseases.   The  earthquake  in  Haiti  January  2010  resulted  in  a  substantial  need  for  information  products  such  as,   graphs,  information  matrixes  and  maps  covering  the  damages  and  aid  requests.  The  first  couple  of   days  into  the  crisis,  were  characterized  by  limited  access  to  reliable  data  and  lack  of  standards  on   how  information  exchange  should  be  supported  between  the  clusters.  A  draft  was  presented  3-­‐4   week  into  the  crisis  (UN,  2010)  on  how  to  make  a  geographic  comparison  of  locations  (grid  system).   Some  clusters  had  by  that  time  produced  their  own  standard  of  camp-­‐sites  with  geographic  position   and  basic  information  related  to  the  camps.  Because  there  were  no  promoted  standard,  there  were   multiple  names  for  the  same  camp  sites  and  geographical  positions  where  often  referring  to  fatly   positions.  Some  sites  where  already  registered,  with  different  names  and  position.  The  figures   amongst  the  clusters  of  the  number  of  people  living  in  each  camp  site  (changed  constantly,  since   people  moved  around)  varied.  So  a  harmonisation  process  had  to  be  conducted,  to  clean  and  align   the  different  cluster  data.  This  could  have  been  avoided  if  there  was  a  clear  directive  and  standards   on  information  sharing  from  the  beginning.  This  is  also  one  of  the  conclusions  from  the  report  from   the  Humanitarian  Information  Unit  (HIU,  July  2010)  in  Haiti.     The  Disaster  Accountability  Project  (DAP)  issued  a  report  on  organisation  transparency  for  the  aid   response  in  Haiti  (Disaster  Accountability  Project,  2011).  The  report  express  a  concerning  lake  of   transparency  amongst  the  actor  involved.  Only  1  of  196  organisations  solicited  for  Haiti  relief  funds,   provide  acceptable  information  for  public  scrutiny  online,  and  only  20  percent  of  the  196   organisation  in  total  completed  the  transparency  survey  issued  by  DAP,  showing  a  significant  lack  of   transparency.  The  report  also  articulates  the  need  for  improved  daily  information  updates  that  are   made  available  to  the  public  concerning  the  activities  and  programs  in  order  to  achieve  better   transparency.   Method   This  paper  is  based  on  interviews  with  IM-­‐professional  within  the  area  of  humanitarian  response   work.  Structured  interviews  have  been  conducted  via  e-­‐mail  with  four  respondents.  The  collected   data  has  been  analysed  through  a  thematic  study,  to  find  commonality  amongst  the  respondents.   The  participants  in  study  have  a  background  and  education  in  computer  science,  informatics  and   geographic  information  system  (GIS).  Most  of  them  are  working  for  Swedish  organisations  and   companies  (private  and  governmental)  when  not  working  for  Swedish  Contingencies  Agency  Service     3    
  4. 4.  Department  of  Applied  IT  :  University  of  Gothenburg  &  Chalmers   4           (MSB)  internationally.  They  are  recruited  through  a  selection  process,  where  also  the  international   partners  to  Swedish  Civil  Contingencies  Agency  (MSB)  have  approved  their  profiles  (through   interview  and  matching  against  terms  of  references).   The  four  persons  all  have  background  in  working  with  information  management,  and  are  named  as   following  thought  the  study.  The  persons  interviewed  in  the  study,  were  selected  from  the  MSB   international  roster.     Respondent  1   4  long  term  missions  as  Information  manager  officer   Respondent  2   2  long  term  missions  as  Information  manager  officer     Respondent  3   3  long  term  missions  as  Information  manager  officer   Respondent  4   Shorter  missions  during  2009,  working  with  Geographic  Information     System  (GIS)       The  respondents  have  significant  knowledge  and  experience  of  the  IM  routines  and  the  objectives  of   their  specific  roles.  They  are  normally  working  beside  the  cluster  coordinator  to  gather  and  analyse   information  from  the  cluster.  Some  of  the  respondents  work  on  collecting  information  from  multiple   clusters  (depending  on  the  assignment),  to  facilitate  the  coordination  of  several  cluster,  and  to  create   an  overall  picture  of  the  humanitarian  situation.   Analysis  and  results   The  analysis  of  the  interview  data  resulted  in  two  key  areas  of  concern;  Lack  of  IM  routines  and   Fragmented  toolbox.  The  term  “standardised  toolbox”  is  used  in  this  study,  and  is  equivalent  to   information  system.  The  standardised  toolbox  refers  to  a  collection  of  tools  and  applications  where   data  seamlessly  move  between  the  tool  boundaries,  and  resembles  an  information  system.   Lack  of  IM  routines   The  respondents  express  that  the  awareness  of  the  IM  routines  is  not  always  clear  amongst  the   organisations  and  persons  connected  to  the  cluster.  What  requirements  that  are  needed  to  setup   and  maintain  a  reliable  information  system.  This  can  lead  to  that  proper  IM  routines  are  not   prioritised  in  the  onset  of  a  crisis  and  are  established  at  a  later  stage.     The  uncertainty  of  what  the  IM  routines  are,  leads  to  that  people  that  are  not  trained  in  IM,  do  ad-­‐ hoc  solution  in  the  beginning  of  a  crisis,  since  there  are  no  dedicated  or  trained  IM  person  available.   The  first  information  is  often  retrieved  by  e-­‐mails,  posting  note  on  the  walls,  and  word  of  mouth.   Normally  in  this  stage  there  are  no  thoughts  about  the  structure  and  traceable  of  the  information   gathered.  People  share  what  information  they  have  to  create  a  picture  of  the  situation,  and  most  of   that  information  is  unstructured  and  exist  in  peoples  minds.   When  this  solution  is  no  longer  viable  due  to  the  amount  of  information  from  the  increasing  of   people  and  organisations,  another  ad-­‐hoc  solution  is  often  put  in  place.  Where  the  information  is  put   into  a  spreadsheet,  without  thinking  through  how  to  structure  the  data  for  traceability  and  decision   support.     4    
  5. 5.  Department  of  Applied  IT  :  University  of  Gothenburg  &  Chalmers   5           "My  experience  in  Indonesia  was  that  data  that  had  been  collected  before  I  arrived  was   difficult  to  use,  the  excel  document  used  was  not  thought  through  and  there  was  no  tracking   of  the  data  sources."  -­‐  Respondent  2   "As  I  am  often  coming  out  as  3rd  wave  (after  3-­‐6  weeks),  some  tools  have  often  been   introduced  as  emergency  masseurs  with  less  emphasis  on  quality  and  detailed  data  (needed   for  efficient  coordination).  As  introducing  new  tools,  still  in  simple  format  -­‐  often  excel  -­‐  I  am   always  met  with  the  question  -­‐  why  wasnt  this  introduced  earlier?"  -­‐  Respondent  1       In  many  cases  there  is  misconceived  idea  of  what  is  needed  to  establish  proper  IM  routines,  and  to   often  there  seems  to  be  a  synonym  between  IM  and  the  use  of  Excel.  Because  this  is  what  people  has   access  to  on  their  computers  and  are  commonly  known  (explained  more  in  detail  later).   Even  amongst  cluster  coordinators  there  is  sometimes  a  vague  idea  how  to  establish  working  IM   routines.  This  will  lead  to  missed  opportunities  to  set  up  working  IM  routines  early  in  the  crisis.       "...  her  view  on  IM,  was  someone  that  wrote  protocols  and  copied  papers.  To  analyse  data  and  how   we  collected  it,  was  not  of  importance  to  her."  -­‐Respondent  2   The  organisations  (NGOs)  working  in  the  field  (implementing  the  humanitarian  response)  are  asked   by  the  cluster  to  report  their  whereabouts  and  activities.  This  is  information  that  the  organisations   already  have  and  updates  continuously,  for  their  internal  reporting.  But  this  information  is  not  likely   in  the  format  that  the  cluster  is  requiring.  When  share  this  information,  they  have  to  reproduce  this   information  into  a  cluster  specific  format  (probably  one  for  every  cluster  that  the  organisation  is   participating  in).     "One  big  problem  us  getting  the  information.  Agencies  are  very  busy  with  limited  capacity  to  provide   the  information.  Also,  they  may  not  be  used  to  using  structured  formats  and  misunderstand  what  is   needed."  -­‐  Respondent  3   All  this  requests  of  information  from  various  cluster  and  partner  organisations  leads  to  reporting   fatigueness  and  increased  workload,  when  asked  to  repeat  the  same  information  several  times.  Most   of  the  time  information  is  flowing  in  one  direction  (bottom-­‐up),  and  organisations  have  no  easy   access  to  all  the  gathered  information  online.  That  could  facilitate  the  process  for  organisations  to   collaborate  together  and  organise  themselves.   Fragmented  toolbox     There  are  variety  of  system  and  applications  used  to  perform  the  task  related  to  IM.  The  interviewed   persons  have  answered  what  applications  they  use  and  what  they  used  it  for.  The  graph  presented   below,  represent  the  most  used  applications.       5    
  6. 6.  Department  of  Applied  IT  :  University  of  Gothenburg  &  Chalmers   6           8   7   6   5   4   3   2   Disseminaion   1   Analysis   0   Collecion   Excel   ArcGIS   Misc  Websites   E-­‐mail   Handouts   PowerPoint   Word   Google  Groups   Google  Doc   CMS   GPS   Camera   InDesign   Photoshop   Applicaons  and  thier  main  use     Figure:  Use  of  different  application   Data  Collection   All  respondents  use  Microsoft  Excel  for  collecting  data.  They  use  Excel  to  design  a  report  format  with   fixed  fields  and  tables  for  the  organisations  (NGOs)  to  fill.  This  is  done  quickly  by  the  IM-­‐person,   when  he  or  she  knows  what  information  is  need.  The  span  of  information  normally  increases  when   the  crisis  unfolds,  and  when  the  complexity  of  the  situation  is  escalated.  So  the  report  tools  (the   spreadsheet)  that  are  used,  often  undergoes  changes  and  different  versions  are  created  over  a  short   time.  Normally  the  collected  reports  are  also  stored  in  a  spreadsheet  document,  which  rapidly   increases  in  size  (depending  on  the  number  of  organisations  reporting).  This  leads  to  problems   sooner  or  later,  when  using  spreadsheet  applications  for  collecting,  analysing,  storing  and  reporting   information.  Some  of  these  problems  are;   • multiple  version  of  the  spreadsheet  file,  when  the  document  is  shared,  and  more  than  one   person  is  working  on  the  data  at  once   • inconsistency  of  data  units  and  quantity  (no  programmatic  constraints  for  input)   • submission  of  outdated  reporting  formats  (early  version  of  the  reporting  tool  are  submitted)   • data  is  not  normalised  and  persisted  in  a  database4   • copy  and  paste  errors   • faulty  geographic  position  or  format,  numerous  names  for  the  same  place  or  town  (no   automatic  error  checking)   • organisation  send  their  own  spreadsheets  formats,  instead  of  following  the  promoted  format   • data  is  lost  when  computers  break  or  when  the  person  who  collected  all  data  is  not  present   Excel  is  a  powerful  tool  for  analysing  information  where  real-­‐time  or  online  collaboration  is  not   needed.  But  when  more  than  one  organisation  and  one  person  needs  to  access  to  the  data  at  the   same  time,  problem  like  the  above  are  likely  to  happen.  When  trying  to  use  general  office   application,  to  address  the  functionality  of  a  wider  information  system.                                                                                                                           4  Server  base,  with  DBMS     6    
  7. 7.  Department  of  Applied  IT  :  University  of  Gothenburg  &  Chalmers   7           "For  collection  of  data  of  response  activities,  a  standardised  on-­‐line  database  with  distributed   user  rights  would  be  needed  that  is  tracking  cluster-­‐specific  activities  (not  projects  -­‐as  the   OCHAs  3W  standard  product)  ..."  -­‐  Respondent  1     Amongst  the  respondents  there  is  an  expressed  need  for  an  online,  collaborative  information  system   that  can  support  the  business  process  of  the  IM  routines.  One  person  is  referring  to  an  OCHA  3W   (who  is  doing  what,  where)  tool,  but  none  of  the  respondents  are  reported  to  use  it.   When  creating  reporting  formats  for  the  cluster,  the  knowledge  amongst  the  organisations  on  how   to  fill  these  cluster  reports  seems  to  be  problematic.  Since  the  nature  of  office  applications  and   spreadsheets  does  not  restricts  the  users  on  double  reporting  the  same  data  twice  or  mixing  units   and  formats.  This  leads  to  inconsistency  and  tedious  harmonisation  process  of  the  collected  data  for   the  persons  working  with  IM.   "Also  better  training  in  data  collection  routines,  who  a  correct  collection  of  data  should  be   preformed  (standardisations  needed)  to  get  usable  data."  -­‐  Respondent  4     What  is  expressed  by  the  IM  persons  interviewed,  is  there  seems  to  be  a  better  understanding  on   what  kind  of  information  products  the  cluster  coordinator  wants  to  be  produced  (maps,  statistics,   graphs,  etc).  But  less  so  on  what  is  needed  to  obtain  a  reliable  information  systems,  which  can   support  the  making  of  these  products.   "Standardising  will  facilitate  the  process  handover  between  IM  persons,  and  too  explain  for   those  we  collaborate  with,  what  we  do  and  dont  do."  -­‐  Respondent  2       A  standardisation  for  information  exchange  would  not  only  enable  tools  to  be  interoperable,  but  also   facilitate  the  hand-­‐over  process  of  information.  Hand-­‐over  is  an  important  aspect,  since  turnover  and   replacement  of  personal  are  frequent  in  crisis.   There  is  also  an  expressed  need  for  training  and  raising  awareness  around  information  systems  (in   broad  terms)  and  explaining  the  routines  that  is  required  for  qualitative  data  gathering.  Not  only  to   the  people  already  working  with  IM,  but  to  all  personnel  in  the  organisations  that  are  not  specialised   in  IM  and  GIS.  This  is  also  articulated  in  the  report  by  HIU  (HIU,  July  2010).   "Better  trained  staff,  i.e.  that  doesnt  work  with  GIS,  can  get  a  understanding  for  how  the   system  works  and  what  products,  analysis,  etc,  that  can  be  produced.  Even  training  in  how  to   perform  an  accurate  data  gathering  process  (standards  needed)  to  retrieve  usable   information."  -­‐  Respondent  4       Analysis  and  dissemination   The  respondents  in  the  study  all  use  geographic  information  systems  (GIS)  to  analyse  data  and   producing  maps  to  facilitate  the  decision  making  process.  GIS  was  adopted  quickly  by  the   humanitarian  community  for  its  ability  to  visualise  data,  and  graphically  present  a  snapshoot  over  the   situation.   "I  use  Google  groups  to  administrate  contacts  lists  and  to  distribute  documents"  –   Respondent  2     7    
  8. 8.  Department  of  Applied  IT  :  University  of  Gothenburg  &  Chalmers   8             Since  the  data  collection  phase  takes  a  lot  of  time  and  effort  for  the  IM  person.  There  is  less  time   over  for  analysing  and  produce  information  products.  These  information  products  are  distributed   widely  (via  print-­‐outs,  webpages  and  email),  and  often  they  present  a  several  days  old  picture  of  the   situation.  This  can  be  a  problem  if  timely  information  is  needed.  A  collaborative  tool  would  on-­‐ demand  produce  this  maps  for  each  user,  depending  on  what  he  or  she  is  interested  to  look  at.    Building  an  interoperable  toolbox  that  can  support  and  automate  parts  of  the  business  processes  in   IM,  would  be  desirable  amongst  the  respondents.  Together  with  the  need  to  move  away  from  the   significant  use  of  office  applications.  That  does  not  promote  interoperability  and  sound  meta-­‐data   standards.  Below  one  respondent  is  referring  to  the  need  for  a  standardised  toolbox.   "The  lack  of  standardised  tools  that  are  used  in  all  emergencies  and  that  the  humanitarian   actors  will  recognise  and  improve  the  usage  of  them."  -­‐  Respondent  1     Standardisation  and  accessible  information  networks  was  reported  as  important  (UN,  2005),  to   improve  the  effectiveness  in  response  and  planning.  The  respondents  in  this  study  express   unmistakably  that  the  standardisation  of  information,  is  still  the  major  concern  for  the  personnel   working  in  the  field  with  IM.   Implication  for  design   These  implications  are  based  on  the  previous  analysis,  and  server  as  guidance  for  some  of  the   requirements  that  need  to  be  considered.  When  designing  an  information  system  that  supports  the   IM  routines.   First  is  to  define  a  meta-­‐data  standard  that  is  used  by  all  organisations  and  actors.  So  all  data  that  is   collected  or  exchange  in  one  way  or  the  other  contains  meta-­‐data,  and  it  is  important  to  see  the   meta-­‐data  as  an  integrated  part  of  the  information.  The  same  is  required  for  the  information   gathered  in  early  stages  of  the  crisis.  Classify  information  in  the  same  way  all  over  the  humanitarian   community  is  also  important,  i.e.  to  use  the  same  terminology.   "Standardised  tools  for  collecting  data.  Optimal  is  an  online  based  tool,  with  good  possibility   to  capture  forms  that  has  been  filled  online."  -­‐Respondent  2     The  over  represented  tool  used  by  the  interviewed  persons  are  Excel,  as  explained  earlier.  This  is  not   seen  as  an  optimal  solution  amongst  the  interview  person.  But  a  solution  to  the  problem,  that  there   is  no  sufficient  system  support  for  the  IM  processes  (i.e.  a  fragmented  toolbox).  There  are  several   concrete  requirements  in  the  interview  material  for  functions  that  would  be  desired,  of  a   standardised  toolbox  that  can  support  the  IM  routines.     "During  the  emergency  there  is  no  time  to  invent  new  tools,  and  certain  basic  tools  should  be   easily  available  to  the  field  staff  (who  should  receive  training  before  the  mission).  For   example,  there  should  be  an  easily  configurable  online  3W,  assessment  tools,  etc  that  filed   staff  can  use,  rather  than  spending  time  on  excel  sheets,  etc."  -­‐  Respondent  3     "Possibility  to  generate  reports."  -­‐  Respondent  2     8    
  9. 9.  Department  of  Applied  IT  :  University  of  Gothenburg  &  Chalmers   9           ”Possibility  to  export-­‐import  from  excel  and  other  formats"  -­‐  Respondent  2     There  are  plenty  of  online  tools  and  applications  that  can  be  used  to  cover  a  number  of  the   requirements  that  are  needed  for  IM  in  humanitarian  context.  The  design  of  a  standardised  toolbox   should  take  benefit  of  the  variety  of  the  mesh-­‐up  services  already  excising  in  the  cloud,  together  with   specific  tools  that  supports  the  core  IM  routines.  The  boundaries  between  the  different  tools  must   be  seamlessly  for  the  user,  although  the  user  is  working  with  several  different  tools  when  performing   tasks  in  the  IM  process  cycle.  This  will  create  a  homogeneous  system  environment  for  the  user.     Today  the  toolbox  is  fragmented  and  the  user  has  to  manually  move  data  between  the  tools,  and  the   user  environment  (interface)  can  be  very  different.  I  am  not  talking  about  an  all-­‐encompassing   information  system  for  whole  humanitarian  community,  but  tools  that  can  support  the  core  IM   routines.  The  meta-­‐data  standard  will  facilitate  that  data  and  information  can  move  more  easily   between  tools  and  systems.  Without  the  need  for  harmonising  data  every  time  the  user  wants  to  use   functionality  in  other  tools.  Tools  that  support  the  standard  should  apply  constraints  and  automatic   error  checking  on  gathered  data.  Even  data  that  are  exchanged  between  tools,  should  apply  error   checking  to  maintain  and  improve  the  data  quality.   The  toolbox  also  needs  to  provide  the  possibility  to  analyse  more  granular  information  (explained  in   the  discussion  section),  together  with  the  meta-­‐data  standards.  So  cross-­‐reference  of  data  can  be   done  between  different  tools  (that  are  part  of  a  standard  toolbox),  without  the  need  for  manual   labour  of  harmonising  data.  It  is  also  necessary  to  define  what  tools  that  are  included  in  the   standardised  toolbox  and  what  tools  that  are  considered  as  optional.  It  is  a  paramount  that  the  tools   that  are  included  in  the  standard  toolbox,  are  interoperable  and  promote  the  meta-­‐data  standard.   System  science  and  informatics  are  academic  disciplines  and  forms  the  theoretic  framework,  from   which  an  information  system  is  designed.  There  seems  to  be  a  need  to  raise  awareness  around  these   theories,  amongst  the  humanitarian  community.  On  how  these  theories  conveys  into  practice,  when   gathering  information  and  what  requirements  they  impose  on  a  sound  information  system.  These   theories  needs  to  be  considered  when  drafting  a  new  toolbox  that  better  support  the  IM  and  a  wider   information  system  for  the  humanitarian  community.  Many  of  the  tools  used  today  are  likely  to  be   part  of  the  next  generation  of  toolbox,  and  other  tools  need  to  be  replaced  by  new  tools  that  better   support  the  business  processes.   In  the  section  analysing  the  IM  routines,  the  respondents  explains  the  need  to  promote  sound  IM   routines  to  the  community.  These  routines  go  hand  in  hand  with  the  system  or  tools  that  support   these  routines.  So  before  training  the  humanitarian  actors  in  these  routines,  there  needs  to  be   standardised  processes  for  IM  related  work,  and  tools  that  support  those  processes.   Discussion   There  are  several  organisation  working  in  one  cluster  (there  were  267  organisations  in  the  health   cluster  in  Haiti  alone,  Dec  2010  (UN,  2010)),  where  most  of  these  organisations  are  reporting   activities  to  the  cluster.  On  top  of  that,  there  could  be  several  clusters  (12  in  Haiti  (UN,  2010))  active   in  the  country  at  the  same  time.  Then  the  functionality  and  the  intended  use  for  an  office   application,  is  probably  exceeded.  To  be  able  to  move  away  from  such  tools  that  does  not  promote     9    
  10. 10.  Department  of  Applied  IT  :  University  of  Gothenburg  &  Chalmers   10           interoperability  and  collaboration.  There  has  to  be  a  framework  in-­‐place  that  describes  the  minimum   of  requirements  for  tools  intended  to  be  included  in  a  future  standardised  toolbox.   Few  people  in  the  humanitarian  community  (expressed  earlier  about  the  awareness  on  IM  routines)   know  what  effort  and  knowledge  it  takes  to  maintain  a  sound  information  system.  Especially  when  all   the  IM  phases  today,  need  to  be  preformed  manually  by  the  IM  person.  On  top  of  the  manual  labour,   there  are  no  promoted  standards  on  information  gathering.  This  makes  the  work  even  more  time   consuming,  when  trying  to  understand  the  ambiguous  collected  data.   "No  sufficient  standards  for  colleting,  storing,  processing,  symbolise,  etc.  exist.  This  convey  to   insufficiency  metadata  when  different  nations/persons  follows  different  standards/rules.  And   lead  to  that  no  reliable  analysis  can  be  made,  and  that  the  interoperability  between  the   system  and  formats  are  insufficient"  -­‐  Respondent  4     This  appears  to  be  symptomatic  in  many  crises  and  is  stressed  by  all  of  the  interviewed  persons.   Currion  (Currion,  Silva,  &  Walle,  2007)  points  out  that  the  humanitarian  community  has  not  taking   full  advantages  of  the  technology  shift  and  what  it  can  provide.  It  is  a  crucial  that  data  within  the   community  follows  a  minimum  of  standards  and  is  gathered  for  mutual  collaboration.  Today  data  is   captured  for  the  purpose  of  making  a  report  by  one  person  or  organisation.  That  gets  communicated   via  email  or  websites.  It  is  important  to  start  capture  data  for  the  whole  community  that  everyone   can  collaborate  on  simultaneously.  But  for  that  become  a  reality,  there  has  to  be  standards  on   collected  data.   Today,  most  of  the  information  is  distributed  through  a  flora  of  PDF  reports  and  excel  matrices  via   email,  CMS  and  internet  sites.  There  is  a  great  risk  that  all  these  reports  hide  some  important  pieces   of  information  that  could  be  a  conclusive  part  that  could  improve  the  sense  making,  or  have  an   impact  on  decision  making.  It  is  important  to  realise  that  data  and  information  trapped  inside  PDF   reports,  does  not  promote  collaboration  and  a  continual  revaluation  of  a  situation.  There  is  no  time   to  sit  down  and  skim  trough  a  mountain  of  PDF  reports  before  understand  the  current  situation,  it  is   not  part  of  a  sound  sense  making  or  promptly  decision  making  environment.  Instead  it  can  become  a   tsunami  of  information  that  is  more  or  less  impossible  to  navigate  trough.  If  you  Google  “haiti   earthquake  pdf”,  you  will  get  more  that  1  220  000  (23  Jan  2011)  references  to  PDF  documents.  This  is   an  achievement  on  its  own,  but  where  do  you  start  to  read,  if  you  intended  to  start  up  an  aid  mission   in  Haiti  (if  you  add  “water”  to  the  search  string,  you  will  only  get  a  reference  to  596  000  documents)?   The  information  systems5  used  today  is  more  of  one-­‐way  directional,  feeding  information  from  a   bottom-­‐up  perspective.  I.e.  the  current  systems  gathering  information  intended  for  management  and   coordination.  Where  NGOs  send-­‐in  requested  data  in  excel  reports  or  other  reporting  formats,  to   someone  that  aggregate  this  data  on  his  or  her  personal  computer.  From  this  "one  man"  information   system,  they  create  a  standard  set  of  information  products  like  excel  matrices,  maps,  and  textual   documents.  These  information  products  are  often  in  PDF  format  and  summarise  what  has  happen   over  the  last  weeks,  depending  on  the  cluster  reporting  cycle.  These  reports  functioning  more  as   communiqués  or  bulletins  and  describes  the  past  situation  instead  of  the  current.  To  better  support   the  IM  routine  providing  a  information  system6  that  all  concerned  parties  can  collaborate  on                                                                                                                         5  The  fragmented  toolbox  that  is  a  mixture  of  excel,  e-­‐mail,  group  webpages   6  Several  interoperable  systems  and  application,  forming  a  wider  information  system       10    
  11. 11.  Department  of  Applied  IT  :  University  of  Gothenburg  &  Chalmers   11           together,  on-­‐line,  and  from  different  locations.  So  they  can  coordinate  themselves  in  their  local   surroundings,  with  their  local  partners.   Because  the  problem  with  standardisation  and  addressing  the  need  of  a  standardised  toolbox   (explained  earlier).  There  will  probably  be  actors  (private  corporations,  volunteers,  research   institutions,  open-­‐source  community)  outside  the  humanitarian  community  that  will  stepping  in  and   solve  some  of  the  problems  addressed  in  this  study.  Especially  the  open-­‐source  community  that   already  started  to  take-­‐on  this  opportunity  (more  on  this  topic  later).  But  the  technology  itself  will   not  solve  the  problem  of  a  fragmented  toolbox.   There  have  been  several  attempts  to  tackle  the  problems  with  a  standardised  information  system   (like  CRM,  project  management  system,  etc),  or  adopting  general  application  (office  application)  that   you  can  buy  of  the  shelf.  Most  lately  the  open-­‐source  community  (such  as  (Sahana,  2010),  (Ushahidi,   2010),  (SwiftRiver,  2010),  etc),  has  seen  the  opportunity  to  aid  the  humanitarian  community.  They   have  an  outside  perspective,  and  bring  experience  in  the  field  of  computer  science,  system  science   and  informatics.  They  are  not  restricted  to  organisational  structures  and  internal  politics,  and  they   should  continue  to  be  agile  and  not  incorporated  into  the  humanitarian  community.  But  the  open-­‐ source  community  can  only  aid,  if  the  humanitarian  community  engage  in  transparency  and  a   willingness  to  undergo  introspection  (revise  internal  processes  and  organisational  structure,  etc)   themselves.  The  open-­‐source  community  (research  institutes,  private  corporations)  have  the   experience  and  knowledge  to  design  the  next  generation  of  information  system7.  But  they  need  the   in-­‐depth  knowledge  of  routines  and  practise  that  the  humanitarian  community  has.   Recent  studies  has  shown  that  crowdsourcing  is  one  way  to  gather  information  that  can  assist  on   triangulate  (HIU,  July  2010)  the  sense  making  of  the  situation,  but  it  will  not  replace  the  need  for   structured  information,  enquired  by  professionals.  The  interview  material  for  this  study  indicates,   that  structured  data  is  still  the  base  to  make  reliable  predictions,  planning  and  sound  decision   making.   Since  crisis  sometimes  restricts  movement  of  people  and  impose  constraints  to  logistics  capacity,  the   significant  amount  of  time  is  it  take  to  attend  to  different  coordination  meetings  should  be  reduced.   An  important  paradigm  for  aid  effectiveness  would  be  to  provide  these  interoperable  tools,  to  let   organisations  at  different  levels  (filed  offices,  regional  offices,  headquarters)  to  coordinate   themselves.  Since  local  organisations  and  actors  properly  know  and  understand  their  surroundings   better  than  outside  experts.  Therefore  it  is  important  to  design  the  next  generation  of  information   system  to  empower  the  local  organisations  and  community  to  make  self-­‐governance  possible.   So  to  understand  why  there  is  no  standardisation  on  information  and  tools  yet,  lies  outside  the  scope   of  this  paper.  But  the  interview  material  and  experience  gives  some  clues  about  some  of  the   problems.  Maitland  (Maitland,  Tchouakeu,  &  Tapia,  2009)  debate  how  hierarchical  organisational   structures  can  hamper  coordination.     Other  reasons  for  the  slow  implementation  of  standardisations  could  be  political  dimensions,   unregulated  market,  ownership  of  problem,  no  real  transparency.  The  DAP    (Disaster  Accountability   Project,  2011)  report  on  transparency  amongst  the  organisations  in  the  aftermath  of  the  earthquake   in  Haiti,  shows  significant  deficiency  of  detailed  information  over  field  work  for  public  scrutiny  on-­‐                                                                                                                       7  Standardised  toolbox     11    
  12. 12.  Department  of  Applied  IT  :  University  of  Gothenburg  &  Chalmers   12           line.  The  lack  of  transparency  that  the  DAP  project  reports  together  with  the  findings  in  this  paper,   suggest  that  there  is  problems  on  more  levels  and  not  only  on  the  art  of  capturing  consolidate  data   itself.  The  DAP  report  hints  that  there  seems  to  be  a  discomfort  for  outside  scrutiny  and  insight  to   actual  performance.  This  suggests  that  even  if  the  humanitarian  community  comes  to  terms  with  the   problem  of  a  fragmented  toolbox  and  lack  of  standardisations.  There  are  other  problem  areas  that   need  to  be  aligned  before  an  open  and  mutual  trustful  information  exchange  can  be  established.   Conclusion   The  study  presents  some  suggestions  to  align  a  toolbox  of  systems  and  applications  that  can  support   the  IM  routines.  The  first  suggestion  that  this  study  propose  is  to  implement  a  meta-­‐data  standard   that  is  part  of  every  data-­‐containers  that  is  exchanged.  There  could  be  sub-­‐sets  of  meta-­‐data   standards,  for  more  specific  use,  for  sectors  that  needs  more  granular  and  detailed  data.  Like   analysing  of  spatial  data,  geology  and  other  high  data  intensity  sectors.   The  study  indicates  that  the  need  for  structured  data  to  make  elaborate  analysis  and  decision  making   is  still  important.  The  second  suggestion  is  to  define  a  standard  toolbox  of  application  and  systems   that  support  the  IM  routines,  and  that  these  tools  endorse  the  meta-­‐data  standard.   The  last  suggestion  is  to  promote  good  IM  practise  to  the  whole  humanitarian  community,  not  only   the  professional  information  managers.  The  interview  material  points  out  that  this  could  have  direct   impact  on  data  quality,  but  even  more  so,  when  there  are  standards  and  policies  on  information   exchange.   This  study  is  an  introduction  to  field  related  problems  that  professional  information  managers   encounter.  There  is  a  need  for  further  studies,  to  formalise  more  direct  implications  for  system   design  and  information  standardisation.   References   Bui,  T.,  Cho,  S.,  Sankaran,  S.,  &  Sovereign,  M.  (2000).  A  framework  for  designing  a  global  information   network  for  multinational  disaster  relief.  Kluwer  Academic  Publisher.   Currion,  P.,  Silva,  C.,  &  Walle,  B.  V.  (2007).  Open  Source  Software  for  Disaster  Managment.     Disaster  Accountability  Project.  (2011).  One  year  follow  up  on  the  transparency  of  relief  organizations   responding  to  the  2010  Haiti  earthquake.     HIU.  (July  2010).  Haiti  Earthquake:  Breaking  New  Ground  in  the  Humanitarian  Information   Landscape.  US  Department  of  State,  Humanitarian  Information  Unit.   Maitland,  C.,  Tchouakeu,  L.  N.,  &  Tapia,  A.  H.  (2009).  Information  Management  and  Technology   Issues  Addressed  by  Humanitarian  Relief  Coordination  Bodies.  6th  International  ISCRAM  Conference.     Muhren,  W.,  Eede,  G.  V.,  &  Walle,  B.  V.  (2008).  Sensemaking  and  implications  for  information   systems  design:  Findings  from  the  Democratic  Republic  of  Congos  ongoing  crisis.  Wiley.   OECD.  (2010).  The  Paris  Declaration  and  Accra  Agenda  for  Action.  Retrieved  from,3746,en_2649_3236398_35401554_1_1_1_1,00.html     12    
  13. 13.  Department  of  Applied  IT  :  University  of  Gothenburg  &  Chalmers   13           Sahana.  (2010,  December).  The  Sahana  Free  and  Open  Source  Disaster  Management  System.   Retrieved  from  Sahana:   SwiftRiver.  (2010,  December).  Retrieved  from  SwiftRiver:   Taha,  &  Kass-­‐Hout.  (2008).  International  System  for  Total  Early  Disease  Detection  (InSTEDD)   Platform.   The  Sydney  Morning  Herald.  (2010,  May).  Effectiveness  matters  in  aid  debate.  Retrieved  from­‐bishops-­‐gambit/effectiveness-­‐matters-­‐in-­‐aid-­‐ debate/20100526-­‐wbc4.html   UN.  (2010,  Feb  28).  Retrieved  from  OneResponse:   UN.  (2010).  Retrieved  December  6,  2010,  from  ReliefWeb:   UN.  (2007).  Global  Symposium  +5,  on  Information  for  Humanitarian  Action.  Geneva:  United  Nations.   UN.  (2002).  Symposium  on  best  practice  in  humanitarian  information  exchange.  Geneva.   UN.  (2005).  Workshop  on  Humanitarian  Information  Management  in  Latin  America  and  the   Caribbean.  Panama  City:  United  Nations  Office  for  the  Coordination  of  Humanitarian  Affairs.   Ushahidi.  (2010,  December).  Ushahidi.  Retrieved  from       13