Iraq + 1 more

Data use capacity in protracted humanitarian crises - Humanitarian Data Transparency Series: Brief 4 of 4

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Henry Lewis, Humanitarian Project Assistant, Publish What You Fund
Gary Forster, CEO, Publish What You Fund

Report purpose and scope

The purpose of this brief is to explore the issues and challenges that humanitarian actors on the ground in protracted crises face and the impact these have on data publishing, collection, analysis and use. In particular, it considers issues with data use capacity, i.e. having the resources and staff with the skills and knowledge to access, manipulate and analyse data, and how this impacts the quantity and quality of data and subsequent information products being used to inform response activities.

The brief is based on data collected via both the online survey and key informant interviews (KIIs) undertaken during field trips to Iraq (Kurdistan Region) and Bangladesh (Cox’s Bazar and Dhaka). The brief will help inform the next steps for the Grand Bargain Transparency Workstream signatories, particularly around commitment 1.4: Support the capacity of all partners to access and publish data. For this research, the team has expanded its interpretation of the commitment to include capacity to use data. It outlines what key stakeholders on the ground highlighted as their key capacity challenges, and how these can negatively influence their ability to access and use data to design and implement interventions. As such, it focuses on issues of funding for needs assessments and data use expertise, training and systems, visibility around methodologies used for data collection, but touches on other issues including localisation, and how these are all impacting the quality of data being produced and shared within each of the case study country responses.

Data underpins the humanitarian system and is a tool on which decision-making for an effective response is based. All stakeholders involved in a response need the support to invest in and develop organisational and staff capacity to help collect, analyse, publish and use data to their, and their organisations’, best ability. The quicker data can be collected and analysed in a response, the more effective that response is likely to be and, if properly collected during the initial stages of a crisis, can benefit early recovery activities later on. Data collected in the field helps inform the development of the humanitarian response plan (HRP) in each country, and helps individual humanitarian organisations, as well as host country governments, make decisions about where to focus resources (e.g. on a health project in camp X or an education project in camp Y). For this reason, it is essential to have comprehensive, timely, relevant, reliable and comparable data in order to make sure that each intervention is designed based on the most accurate information in order to improve the likelihood that resources will be allocated efficiently and to where the demand is most pressing.

Just like shelter materials, non-food items or the salaries of community health workers, data has a value, and a cost, so it also needs to be given thoughtful consideration. Often in humanitarian response, there is a trade-off between having data quickly and its quality and consistency. Poor quality data can hinder the response, delay action, undermine trust and ultimately can have a real and negative impact upon beneficiaries. Collecting the wrong information, duplicating information, using weak methodologies, etc – are a waste of time (for both collectors and providers of data) and money, and can often put affected people at risk as they are the ones providing the same information multiple times, as well as putting staff at unnecessary risk as they are often collecting data in insecure environments. It is also important to recognise the inherent and less tangible value of data, insofar, as it can serve to build trust between response actors and their counterparts in-country, including government, civil society and affected populations themselves. If organisations involved in a response do not have sufficient data-use capacity – such as clear data processes, systems and standards – they risk making decisions based on flawed or inaccurate information. Therefore, humanitarian organisations should be supported to make sense of often ill-structured humanitarian response situations, while addressing and mitigating potential biases early on.

At the field level, as outlined in the other three reports, the research showed that those closer to the front lines of humanitarian assistance (e.g. “implementers”) are in need of more management type information, while those with oversight and coordination responsibility (e.g. “coordinators”) need more information products. To understand the impact of capacity challenges which these stakeholders face, it is important to first understand their specific data use and subsequent data needs.

Other types of data that respondents said they needed more of included security (45%) and financial (30%) data in Iraq (see Research Brief 1 for more on financial data), and natural hazard (58%), and health (45%) data in Bangladesh.

In order to collect, process, analyse, share and use data in a protracted humanitarian response, there needs to be sufficient capacity within both the response and organisationally in terms of resources. This could come in a number of forms, such as sufficient funding, the number of staff allocated to information management (IM) roles, the skills they possess to collect, analyse and use data, training open to staff members who use data regularly to improve their understanding and skills, and orientation on relevant digital platforms. Commitment 1.4 of the Grand Bargain Transparency Workstream commitments involves supporting partners to access and publish their data to the IATI Standard. However, the findings in this briefing are drawn from a broader investigation into data use across multiple platforms, standards and sources.

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