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Humanitarian Transparency: Information-sharing during protracted emergencies

By Véronique Durroux-Malpartida

As an outcome of the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit, the Grand Bargain aims at improving the efficiency of humanitarian action. Among the commitments made were increasing the transparency in financing and support to local responders.

Publish What You Fund, the global campaign for aid and development transparency, was tasked with researching the information needs of humanitarian actors, specifically local and national responders. This work is being conducted in partnership with Ground Truth Solutions and Development Initiatives, and funded by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The topic is certainly of great interest to ReliefWeb, which, 23 years after its launch, is often cited as the “go-to” information platform for the humanitarian community.

After extensive desk-based research and two field visits in Iraq and Bangladesh, the ‘Publish What You Fund’ team is working on the final report, to be published in early 2020. In late October we talked to Gary Forster, CEO, and Henry Lewis, project assistant.

Question: What were the parameters for the research?
Answer: Our task was to better understand the information needs of humanitarian actors on the ground and the challenges they face when trying to access and use that information. We also looked into the existing open data standards, platforms and tools to assess their usefulness and identify possible improvements. These questions directly link to the Grand Bargain transparency commitments which call for signatories to publish timely and high-quality data. ‘Publish What You Fund’ is an independent INGO.

Why did you choose Iraq and Bangladesh for the study?
We developed a comprehensive country selection process based on a number of criteria, including the type of response, accessibility, logistical and security concerns. From the outset it was recognised that a protracted crisis would offer a more suitable learning environment than an early stage response. The stakeholders we consulted at this stage also saw value in us comparing two different types of humanitarian crises to be able to compare and contrast the findings. The refugee response in Bangladesh is characterised by a relatively static population that is frequently affected by natural disasters. Meanwhile, Iraq has experienced an extended period of crisis, in an environment where the population is dynamic, frequently moving within the country and across the border with Syria.

How easy was it to conduct research on the ground?
Our work on the ground was facilitated by our partner organization Ground Truth Solutions, through their extensive network and contacts among local aid providers. After an online survey that reached around 200 respondents, we were able to conduct about 80 interviews with key informants who were eager to talk to us and who provided more contextual insights. Whether from NGOs, local organisations, clusters or UN agencies, the engagement was very good - a clear indicator of the importance of and interest for the topic of information sharing.

We will have to wait for the final report to be published in February 2020, but is there anything that you took away from the field research?
There are both similarities and differences regarding access to information in the two contexts. First, it is important to recognise the sheer quantity of data available within these responses which understandably can become disjointed. And certainly smaller organisations, with, say, less technical capacity, may not have access to the information they need. To a degree, your role in the response dictates the networks you are part of and the information you have access to, so to some extent your visibility of information can largely depend on where you are sitting.

Another interesting aspect is the need, expressed by a number of stakeholders, for more qualitative, analytical information. Quantitative information may be plentiful, but sometimes what you need is contextual data, a socio-political analysis for example, in some cases even an anthropological perspective, or just experienced staff who can help you better frame the situation. We’ll be exploring this more fully in the final report.

Will the report include specific recommendations on information platforms such as ReliefWeb?
The stakeholders did mention several platforms, from ReliefWeb and IOM Data Tracking Matrix to HumanitarianResponse.info. It is actually impressive to see how advanced, and how much field testing some tools have had. However, due to the sheer number of platforms in existence there isn't a lot of feedback about each individual one. But fundamentally a lot of the findings are applicable to all platforms, so hopefully our recommendations on information sharing will help further improve information services to the humanitarian community. We’d be happy to have ReliefWeb help disseminate the research outcomes.

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More about the research plan can be found on the ‘Publish What You Fund’ website.

“Notes from the Field” are available for Bangladesh and Iraq.

Read also: The Grand Bargain: A Shared Commitment to Better Serve People in Need.

Comments? Questions? We welcome your feedback.

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