Humanitarian Networks and Partnerships Week (HNPW)

4 Feb 2019 to 8 Feb 2019
International Conference Centre (CICG) in Geneva, Switzerland
Geneva, Switzerland


Event report/s:
Cedric Amon

The session was organised by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and moderated by Mr Javier Teran (OCHA).

The session was organised by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and moderated by Mr Javier Teran (OCHA). He opened the session by showing a short video about practical applications of the work undertaken by the OCHA Centre for Humanitarian Data. He explained that the mission of the organisation is to increase the use and impact of humanitarian data. The Centre is headquartered in The Hague, Netherlands and opened about a year ago.

The Centre operates in four different areas. It provides data services by relying on the data of and sharing the data with approximately 200 organisations, which include about 50 000 users, 1 100 data sources and 8 300 datasets. Teran explained that the collected data pertained to the context of the areas where help is needed, to the people affected and their needs, as well as to the humanitarian response. Additionally, the Centre focuses on data policy, data literacy and network engagement.

Mr Steward Campbell (OCHA) spoke about HXL, the Centre’s Humanitarian Exchange Language. He explained that HXL is a simple way of making humanitarian data easier to classify and understand by introducing hashtags. Additionally, the team of the OCHA Centre has developed an HXL workflow tool which has a tag assist option, data checks and quick charts in order to improve the usability by the fieldworkers. [link] The data can also be easily visualised with the help of the available tools and combine different datasets which it then automatically updates. This system has already been adopted by certain international organisations such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)

Mr CJ Hendricks (OCHA) spoke about the elaboration of data policy guidelines. Hendricks said that through the elaboration of these guidelines, the organisation is trying to enhance the capacity for responsible data exchange in the humanitarian sector, develop institutional data sharing agreements between OCHA and partners and work with partners to create a trust framework.

He further noted that OCHA was trying to obtain a better understanding of the kind of data they collect and of their sensitive nature. This element is very important in order to know what kind of information can be shared and what type of data must be protected. In light of these considerations, the recently published OCHA Data Responsibility Guidelines offer principles, practices, processes and tools for the safe use of data.

Additionally, Hendricks mentioned the ECHO-supported Data Responsibility Project which aims to enhance capacity for responsible data exchange in the humanitarian sector by developing tech approaches for the safe sharing of sensitive data, produce joint guidance notes on managing sensitive data (8 guides will be published) and convene events and adopt agreements on data responsibility in the sector.

Cedric Amon

The session was organised by some of the members of the iTrack project funded by the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 Programme.

The session was organised by some of the members of the iTrack project funded by the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 Programme. Mr Bartel Van de Walle (TU Delft, Netherlands) moderated the session and introduced the iTrack project, saying that iTrack had been developed for over 2 ½ years by 12 partner organisations from 8 different countries and sectors such as universities, research centres, ICT companies, and humanitarian NGOs. Together they designed an open-source tracking and monitoring system that provides more safety to humanitarian aid workers and improves logistics performances in conflict areas. Van de Walle explained that the consortium worked on technical challenges such as the development of an encrypted communications system, as well as on the elaboration of high ethical standards to be taken into account at every step of the development of the tool.

Mr Militiadis Kritikos (Intrasoft, Greece) elaborated on the technical aspects of iTrack and introduced it as a set of modules that can be operated separately from each other. iTrack addresses mission planning, tracking, threat detection and reporting, re-routing, text and image transmission, security and encryption, offline operability and interoperability with other systems. He explained that the workers are equipped with mobile applications on their smartphones and that the vehicles are equipped with sensors. These systems are both interconnected and connected to the headquarters from which all operations can be monitored and tracked. Not only can the staff and vehicles be tracked but also the cargo, which is scanned and stowed away before being loaded onto the trucks. The system also provides a map in which threats can be flagged and on which distress signals of a convoy can be located. In cases of threats, the program can re-route the aid workers. The communication systems are encrypted. The encryption can, however, be deactivated in order to be compliant with local laws. Kritikos said that the system also works in areas without connectivity or a GPS signal, simply by relying on the sensors on the vehicles that allow threat detection and geolocation by scanning their surroundings and sending that information directly to the smartphones of the convoy staff. The application then links up with the server again when connectivity is restored. Finally, the system can include information obtained from Twitter and Live UA Maps.

Ms Julia Muraszkiewicz (Trilateral Research, UK) said that one of the elements setting iTrack apart from other projects was its privacy-by-design approach, as well as its ethical and sociocultural considerations. She explained the process in which ethics were discussed and how the respect of these considerations was monitored along the development of iTrack. These considerations involved questions whether staff should be filmed, whether relying on certain devices would put staff at risk and whether workers should be equipped with fitbits and smart devices to monitor their health.

Mr Gyöngyi Kovács (Hanken School of Economics, Finland) spoke about possible difficulties with mapping, which may be caused by shelling, roadblocks, and other obstacles. He mentioned that the advantage of the system was its two-way communication with the headquarters, which allows for more informed decision-making on the ground and in the command centre. Additionally, he said that the system was also able to do inventory management, calculate range based on fuel consumption and other basic but very necessary elements for improved aid delivery. Kovács further noted that they had developed a board game allowing logisticians to work as teams in simulated environments in order to get acquainted with the system.

Ms Abby Onencan (TU Delft, Netherlands) explained that different policies were developed for the good use of the different modules, and also to prepare workers with potential dilemmas they might face by using the software. For this reason, the team is developing a comprehensive handbook to improve decision-making. Information on how to best handle potentially challenging situations was also collected from the audience through a questionnaire.

Stefania Grottola

The session ‘Doing no digital harm – t

The session ‘Doing no digital harm – towards data responsibility in humanitarian action’ which was part of the Humanitarian Networks and Partnerships Week focused on the enormous amount of data available to humanitarian actors, its opportunities, and risks. It highlighted the importance of data protection and the responsibility that stakeholders have to fulfil while collecting and using the data for humanitarian activities. The panellists addressed the need for awareness raising, minimum standards, and viewing access to information as a form of aid.

The event was moderated by Ms Androulla Kaminara (Director, DG ECHO, European Commission) who briefly introduced the session by addressing the evolution and challenges of data protection. From a European perspective, she stressed the progress made by the adoption of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in 2018. Nonetheless, digitalisation does not have to be considered as an objective in itself, but rather, as a result or response that humanitarian actors have to put in place. With this regard, it is important to explore and address the challenges posed by the creation and use of digital identity in humanitarian settings. In order to address these challenges, she proposed a framework for discussion to achieve more effective collective actions. First, awareness raising needs to be fostered by humanitarian actors. Second, there is a crucial necessity to inform the beneficiaries about what will happen to the data collected, and give them the option of opting out; in other words, a responsibility to inform the beneficiaries about the meaning of biometric data, and the implications of its use. Third, better standards for the collection of data are needed, possibly learning from other sections, such as the private sector and academia.

Prof. Nathaniel Raymond (Lecturer, Jackson Institute of Global Affairs, Yale University) stressed the importance of facing the current challenges posed by data protection as a form of improving humanitarian activities. He stated that if beneficiaries do not trust how data is treated by humanitarian actors, they will trust them in other activities in the future. He then introduced the concept of understanding the right to information as a form of humanitarian aid. Access to aid is indeed more and more linked and dependent to access to information. Arguing that the focus of discussion should not be on the innovation in itself but rather on the protection before innovation, he proposed five suggestions for improving the work of humanitarian actors:

  • Clearly state and explain how access to information is directly linked to the access to aid;

  • Update the current provisions of International Humanitarian Law in its application in the cyber warfare scenario;

  • Create minimal technical standards that humanitarian actors have to respect in using technology in their activities;

  • Create a new cluster, specifically designed for data protection;

  • Create a better understanding of critical incident reporting and management, meant to assess what constitutes a critical incident, as well as the duty of care for humanitarian actors.

Ms Sarah Telford (Head, Centre for Humanitarian Data, OCHA) explained the structure of the centre, which focuses on the following four areas: data service, data policy, data literacy, and network engagement. Moreover, she explained the work of the Humanitarian Data Exchange (HDX) platform, focusing on the sharing of data respecting the principles of sensitivity and confidentiality.

Mr Massimo Marelli (Head of Data Protection, ICRC) addressed data protection in humanitarian action, arguing that the need for data protection reflects the need to respect the rights and dignity of individuals, as well as the necessity to enhance the do not harm principle in the digital environment. In addition to that, the practices should aim to enable the use of technology while keeping a beneficiary centric approach, and foster practices around data management ensuring confidentiality. Finally, he presented the new ‘Handbook on data protection in humanitarian action’, published as part of the Brussels Privacy Hub and ICRC’s Data Protection in Humanitarian Action project.

Ms Christine Knudsen (Executive Director, Sphere) explained the importance of data as a crucial aspect for carrying out humanitarian activities. Data and data protection has gained importance in the course of the last decade. From an ethical perspective, data protection is based on the principles and values of the Humanitarian Charter. In terms of operations, there is an increasing need for guidelines addressing data protection in cash systems and health records collection, to cite a few. Finally, she recalled access to information as a form of respect for individual rights, which however needs a specific proper framing in order to be as effective as possible.

Ms Ursula Muller (Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, OCHA) addressed the concluding remarks arguing that we need to move from data protection to data responsibility. The enormous amount of data currently available implies opportunities, such as allowing a better understanding of humanitarian cruises, and risks that the humanitarian sector needs to explore, especially with regards to the do not harm principle. There is indeed a constant need to balance the risk of exposing data and the missed opportunity of not using critical data.

[Update] The GIP Digital Watch observatory is providing just-in-time reporting from digital policy related sessions.

The fifth edition of the Humanitarian Networks and Partnerships Week (HNPW) will be held at the International Conference Centre (CICG) in Geneva, Switzerland on 4-8 February. 

The event represents a platform for discussions and consultations about humanitarian networks and partnerships. It brings together experts in crisis preparedness and response from a diverse range of organisations and countries to identify solutions to common humanitarian challenges. The conference will also cover digital-related topics creating challenges and opportunities in the humanitarian field.

Registrations are open at the following link.

For more information about the event, visit the dedicated webpage.


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