Sanjana Hattotuwa, Special Advisor at the ICT4Peace Foundation, met with Chad Hendrix, Patrick Gordon, members of the UN Information Management Working Group (IMWG), the ICRC’s Tarun Sarwal and Gulheim Ravier and finally with key staff from the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) on issues anchored to crisis information management (CiM), human rights, innovation, governance and technology development in support of, inter alia, humanitarian aid, civilian protection and peacekeeping.
With Chad Hendrix, Sanjana talked about the progress of UN OCHA’s Humanitarian Data Exchange (HDX) project writ large and the further development of the Humanitarian Exchange Language (HXL) in particular. The Foundation has championed the use of HXL and supported its development and adoption for a number of years, including by introducing it to the wider UN at consecutive annual retreats of the UN’s Crisis Information Management Advisory Group (CiMAG) – see here and here. The Foundation is particular pleased to note the advances in the adoption of HXL during and as part of the UNMEER response to combat Ebola. For 2015’s CiMAG retreat, the Foundation hopes to showcase this use case of HXL in UNMEER as an example of how the CiM framework’s data architecture can aid efficient and effective systemic response from the UN family, and beyond.
With Patrick Gordon, Sanjana broached issues related to the up-coming Conference on Humanitarian Data, and in particular, issues related to information security (info-sec) from a field perspective as well as from the Foundation’s global expertise in cyber-security. Sanjana also flagged the Foundation’s involvement in the UAViator’s network, and its keen interest in the development of rights-based frameworks around humanitarian data and the use of public domain information in general in order to strengthen privacy and protect individuals from hate, harm and hurt.
With the UN’s Inter-Agency Information Management Working Group (IMWG) Data Sub-Group members, Sanjana discussed the Foundation’s support towards a humanitarian caseload data initiative that aimed at providing a more effective means of estimating, inter alia, the affected population in order to channel aid and relief in a timely manner. The Foundation will support a renowned consultant to work with OCHA to develop frameworks and guiding principles to more concretely determine numbers of those affected, using knowledge from a range of disciplines and across relevant actors in the UN system.
At the ICRC, Sanjana met with Tarun Sarwal and Gulheim Ravier, who are both part of the institution’s Global Partnership for Humanitarian Impact and Innovation (GPHI2). The conversations ranged from how innovation could be harnessed by the protection and other units within the ICRC to strengthen the institution’s mandate as well as issues like information security, the verification of social media and the use of social media to more effectively communicate the ICRC’s enduring relevance and work to a demographic that isn’t consuming news and information from traditional media sources. Sanjana also discussed how the Foundation could support the development of new IT systems to strengthen data analytics, deep machine learning and data driven visualisations, which could aid the protection unit as well as other arms of the ICRC.
The Foundation’s interactions with the OHCHR go back a number of years. Sanjana met with key staff from the OHCHR’s Peace Mission Support and Rapid Response Section. Several discussions with the PMSRRS have occurred since 2012 on ways to support OHCHR’s mandate with the use of ICTs. Over a two and a half hour meeting, Sanjana discussed on-going work around the UN Secretary General’s Rights Up Front initiative, and how from a ICT systems perspective, the OHCHR could support the SG in developing timely, effective frameworks to embrace more fully the importance of human rights in the UN’s response to crises. The Foundation was also invited to attend a workshop in this regard, planned to be held in late February, around how the OHCHR can develop comprehensive frameworks, leveraging existing investments in ICTs by other arms of the UN family, to more fully mainstream human rights at the country level, and in New York.
In all the discussions, the UN CITO’s report to the 5th Committee and the UN General Assembly (Information and communications technology in the United Nations) was flagged. The CITO’s report, which was approved by the General Assembly, underscores the importance of analytics in support of strengthening the UN’s mandates and flags, in paragraph 37, the work of the UN’s Crisis Information Management Advisory Group (CiMAG).
Analytics could assist in crisis management efforts and the Office would seek to work with the Crisis Information Management Advisory Group to seek to explore this further. Analytics have already made a positive impact on the ability of the Organization to predict or forecast events better.
In the consultations in Geneva, this report was flagged as one that validated the work of the Foundation with the UN system, since 2008, around the development of a system-wide crisis information management strategy.
The consultations in Geneva will fertilise the themes and issues that the CiMAG meeting, later this year, will focus on and, five years after the devastating earthquake in Haiti, remind us of two things – how much progress has been made around all aspects of crisis information management, and how much more remains to be done, in light of a context where it is no longer the technology that is holding back progress.