(The Humanitarian Social Network)
What would you want if you could create your "dream IM system?"
I have just spent a few days brainstorming on a policy paper about how information collection and analysis can be improved to lead to better decision making in times of crisis. This blog post contains some of our central thoughts. I’d love to hear what you think about them.
Assuming that those in this thread have actually clicked the link and read your blog post, and responding to your points in order:
1) I think you're overlapping IM with humanitarian accountability. The information needs of a disaster-affected population are different qualitatively and quantitatively from the information needs of humanitarian providers. In my opinion, the information needs of a disaster affected population can be addressed by simply following good humanitarian accountability practice (easier said than actually done). Therefore no need to develop IM for this (unless I misunderstand your original point).
2) See my comment to #1. Also adding, I get the sense that you should also map your stakeholders. Who's need are supposed to be serviced by an IM system? This will affect the design of the overall system.
3) again, see first two comments. Also, 'private sector' is too broad to be helpful. What industries within the private sector? To what end(s)?
4) Yes - agree. the ability to scale-up or surge rapidly is key. It's a design as well as a technological challenge. In my opinion, the simpler on both counts (design, technology), the more likely to work properly.
5) Totally agree. Sort this one out and you make the world better. In my experience the biggest challenges with this are:
- Establishing and maintaining clarity within your organization about who is to receive which information (actionable, situational awareness), and then keeping those two streams distinct.
- Reaching internal consensus on the quantity, frequency and mode of distribution of situational awareness information. People always think they need more than they actually do, and they tend to want it personalized (direct personal email, personal briefings, etc., rather than taking the initiative to visit a website).
6) Think people management, here, rather than too much system. You want people to adapt their communications behavior during disaster response, rather than trying to design an IM system and/or technology to be adaptive.
Thanks for replying in so much detail.
Regarding point 1 and 2: You are right, I do mix IM with humanitarian accountability to some degree. The idea is to establish systems that do not only address the needs of the international responders but also empower the population to take decisions themselves. In a way, this is advocating for IM systems that focus more on disaster risk reduction (DRR) and disaster preparedness (DP). To me it seems like at the moment most people focus on disaster response. However, if you manage to establish a system that makes sense to the local population pre-disaster than this system should be able to provide the international responders with a better picture of what is happening on the ground in a disaster.
Regarding 6: What I would like to advocate for is an open source IM platform which others can build on and modify. Something similar to Wordpress or Ushahidi but for Information Management. Granted, I don't know what that would look like but I'd love to see a core platform that can then be expanded by a developer community. That way we'd be more flexible to adapt to changes, than with proprietary systems and the exchange of data between the different deployments (for example the UN deployment and the local NGO deployment) would be easier because they are built on the same core architecture. I think that something like the development of a Humanitarian XMLs is a step in that direction but ideally I'd like to take that idea another (very ambitious) step further.
Sorry, I didn't actually answer your core question: how would I improve information management in disasters?
To me, your point #5 is the primary one. It's where I would devote my energy if it ever became my job to develop and information management system or policy. I would try to establish very clear lines around who truly needs to know what. If information is power, then we have to manage who we empower and how, by determining which information to provide to whom, how.
I'd focus on making sure that those with decision-making roles got the information they needed to make decisions, and they intentionally restricting access to that information on a truly need to know basis. Situational awareness information distribution (essentially stakeholder management) would come as a close second priority.
You raise some interesting points, but I agree with John that your post is more about communicating with/between/among beneficiaries rather than within an agency, which is traditionally what (at least) I think Information Management is. My role as a roving Information Manager with a large INGO is not focussed on providing information to beneficiaries - our technical staff do that in their direct contact with people, or through signboards etc. The information I collect/collate/analyse/disseminate etc is mainly for internal communication purposes - to answer all of the who/what/where/when/how/why type questions that come up from all sorts of stakeholders (some of whom are external).
So in my world of Information Management, the first thing I'd want to improve (and am working on) is the understanding of what information management is - I can't count the number of times I've been asked if I'm media/I.T/general communications etc - so that country programmes I work with get more out of the information they have, and learn to collect and analyse the right information.
A big part of my job is calculating beneficiary numbers - a major improvement would be a systematised approach to defining beneficiaries and how to calculate the number of people reached by interventions (e.g. if a well is rehabilitated do you count the whole village? who do you count for cash for work? My agency has answers for these, but it differs in other agencies.) This is something I've been working on in my own confederation for a while, but geez it would be good if it reached across agencies!
Finally, I'd like to see more interaction between Information Managers from different organisations. In one emergency I worked in we had an IM 'cluster', which was really useful for sharing tools. It can be difficult to have these types of working groups, as some IMs are extremely technical and do all sorts of weird and wonderful things (like GIS), and others (like me) are more general and use more words to communicate than numbers or maps...but we can all learn from each other!
The major way I'm tackling improving information management in my organisation is by putting together a toolkit, with some basic tools/formats with (hopefully) simple guidance, so that anyone can pick it up at the onset of an emergency and get the ball rolling.