Published on 20 February 2019
The Dahdaleh Institute concluded 2018 with an enormous undertaking: put experts from around the world in the same room to solve humanitarian data challenges.
We started 2019 with an even greater task: follow through on what they designed.
Humanitarian responders working amidst conflict, environmental disasters and other emergencies have access to ever more data, crucial for evidence-based decision-making. In practice, however, use of this data is hampered by resource constraints, security concerns, competing priorities and poor data quality.
The rushed nature of emergency response, as well as the tendency to see technology as a quick solution to complex problems, means that few have taken the long view needed to address these issues.
Motivated by their own experiences from over a decade in the humanitarian field, DIGHR researchers Syed Imran Ali and Tino Kreutzer carved out the time, space and partnerships needed to solve five complex data problems put forward by six leading humanitarian organizations.
They convened Emergency Data Science, co-hosted by the Lassonde School of Engineering, York University and supported by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.
The international workshop tasked participants with designing humanitarian decision-making tools which would address challenges facing the United Nations High Commission on Refugees, Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders, Action Contre La Faim/Action Against Hunger, Catholic Relief Services, REACH Initiative and the International Rescue Committee.
Deep Dive: The Challenges
Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders | Safe Water Optimization Tool
Catholic Relief Services | Cash Delivery Data
Action Contre La Faim/Action Against Hunger | Global Nutrition Dashboard
International Rescue Committee | Natural Language Processing for Humanitarian Survey Work
For two days, 75 practitioners, researchers and practitioner-researchers gathered from as far afield as South Sudan, Australia and Jordan. Participants were humanitarian field & subject matter experts; data & computer science researchers; designers & engineers; humanitarian innovation specialists; and data ethicists & governance specialists.
They learned about the design process they were to undertake and were alerted to the workshop's priorities: ethics, privacy, security, and governance of data in the humanitarian domain. They heard from the humanitarian organizations about the challenges they were addressing and from partner organizations who offered starting points for imagining the solutions.
Then everyone got to work.
Organized into groups, each dedicated to one of the five challenges, participants, presenters and facilitators worked through a design process to identify goals and anti-goals; contextualize these within realities of humanitarian field operations; consider ethical and governance issues; build a model of the end product; and map out a timeline to get there.
Recognizing that the workshop itself was only a first step, Ali and Kreutzer have spent the months since working with the presenting organizations to see these tools become a reality.
More information and updates can be found at
Presenters came from the following organizations: United Nations High Commission on Refugees, Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders, Action Contre La Faim/Action Against Hunger, Catholic Relief Services, REACH Initiative and the International Rescue Committee, American Red Cross, World Food Programme, Dahdaleh Institute for Global Health Research
Participants came from the following organizations: ACAPS, Canadian Red Cross, CartONG, CIHR-IPPH, Convergence, Elrha, Global Strategy Lab, Grand Challenges Canada, Groundswell Projects, Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, ImmerLearn, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, McMaster University, MSF Canada, National Research Council Canada, New York Times, Pivotal, Purple Compass, Queen’s University, Quoin Inc., Rainmaker Enterprise, Seneca College, United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Université de Sherbrooke, University of California Irvine, University of Chicago, University of Toronto, York University
Base Country of Participants: Australia, Canada, France, Italy, Jordan, Morocco, South Sudan, Switzerland, United Kingdom, United States
Areas of expertise: Humanitarian Field & Subject Matter Experts, Humanitarian Innovation Specialists, Data and Computer Science Researchers, Designers & Engineers, Data Ethicists & Governance Specialists.
Co-hosted by the Lassonde School of Engineering, York University and supported by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research - Instituts de recherche en santé du Canada.
Safe Water Optimization Tool | Project, Research
Health Emergency Data Science | Project, Research
Syed Imran Ali, Research Fellow, Global Health and Humanitarianism
James Thuch Madhier, Community Scholar, The Rainmaker Enterprise
Tino Kreutzer, Graduate Student Scholar