The Future of Humanitarian Data in Focus at World Humanitarian Summit

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The first ever World Humanitarian Summit (WHS), will take place next week, on 23 – 24 May, in Istanbul, Turkey. More than 5,000 people, including political and business leaders, aid organisations and civil society groups, are expected to attend the event in a bid to “re-inspire and reinvigorate a commitment to humanity and to the universality of humanitarian principles.”

The Summit will centre around four core themes to guide and coordinate discussions: 1) humanitarian effectiveness, 2) reducing vulnerability and managing risk, 3) transformation through innovation, and 4) serving the needs of people in conflict.

Seeing data and decision-making as a cross cutting issue across all four of these areas, Global Pulse is pleased to join the Government of the Netherlands and the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) to co-host a side event on "The Future of Humanitarian Data – Opportunities and Challenges" [PDF] on the first day of the summit, Monday 23 May.

The effective use of data can improve the impact and reach of the humanitarian system. Data can be used to understand needs, target the right kind of support, monitor how a crisis is changing and understand impact. But, at present, data is not being used optimally to inform humanitarian policy and operational response.

At the same time, there are numerous opportunities to accelerate progress, including the rising use of new big data sources (i.e., social media, sensors, mobile phone data) which are being used to gain a better understanding of humanitarian crises.

With this backdrop, the panel discussion will focus on various aspects of the humanitarian data ecosystem including the role of donors, data policy, collection and use, open data platforms, and new sources data.

This relates to a previous high-level event organized by Global Pulse, the Government of the Netherlands and the Government of the Philippines in September 2015. Entitled "A Big Data Revolution For Humanitarian Response,” the discussion emphasized the opportunities of big data for humanitarian action and pinpointed the challenges that hinder scaling up the use of new sources of digital data in this context.

Highlights from “A Big Data Revolution For Humanitarian Response” (September 2015):

  • Dutch Minister of Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation Mrs. Lilianne Ploumen urges the humanitarian community to join the data revolution.
  • Humanitarian organizations emphasize the opportunities that Big Data offers in making humanitarian aid more effective and targeted, but also underline the considerable challenges that hinder scaling up the use of new sources of digital Big Data in humanitarian contexts.
  • Effective use of Big Data for humanitarian community requires willingness from 1) businesses to share data, 2) governments to stimulate and regulate responsible data use, and 3) humanitarian organizations to invest in capacity- building and awareness raising of how to use real-time Big Data for decision-making.
  • Discussions on Big Data should not focus solely on privacy concerns, but also on opportunities. “We need to make sure that Big Data is not Big Brother watching you; it can be Big Sister looking after you”, suggests WFP . 

Download the full event report here.

In preparation of the WHS, OCHA also recently published a “Think Brief’ on “Building data responsibility into humanitarian action,” which identifies the critical issues humanitarians face as they strive to responsibly use data in operations, and proposes initial frameworks for data responsibility. The report includes three concrete case studies illustrating how the responsible use of big data can help support humanitarian action.

The responsible use of data in general, and the integration of new sources of big data and real-time information into humanitarian information systems in particular, is a topic of growing importance and concern. As a result, there has been an emergence of networks and research efforts focused on tackling the systemic challenges, and accelerating the development of integrated data tools for more effective and efficient action at global and local level.

Stay tuned and follow the conversation on data and innovation for humanitarian action during the WHS through social media with #sharehumanity and #sharedata

Side Events and Special Sessions at WHS related to data for humanitarian action:

  • Special Session: "Global Alliance for Humanitarian Innovation”
  • Special Session: “Risk and Vulnerability Analysis”
  • Side Event: “Future of Humanitarian Data” hosted by the Government of The Netherlands, OCHA, Global Pulse, Kenya Open Data, Frog, Harvard Humanitarian Initiative
  • Side Event: “How Real-Time Information Systems and New Data Can Improve Decision-making” hosted by UNDP, UNICEF, WFP, Data-Pop Alliance
  • Side Event: “Making Evidence Count: Better Use of Evidence to Increase Humanitarian Impact” hosted by DfID and IRC
  • Side Event: “Leveraging Digital Innovation in Humanitarian Response to Build Resilience” hosted by MasterCard Inc.
  • Side Event: “Copernicus, the EU’s Earth Observation Programme: Geospatial Information Serving Humanitarian and DRR User Needs” hosted by European Commission, DG ECHO
  • Side Event: “Bedrock of Our Action? Improving the Impact of Data in Displacement Situations” hosted by Joint IDP Profiling Service (JIPS), United Nations Foundation and Data2X


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