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Building Digital Tools for Modern Humanitarian Action
United Nations Humanitarian ID
Offering: Drupal
Industry: Nonprofit

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) plays a critical role in coordinating humanitarian work in crisis situations. They are responsible for bringing UN agencies, NGOs, and government staff in partnership to provide support for crisis-affected people around the globe. Phase2 has long partnered with OCHA as they work to build the digital tools to orchestrate modern humanitarian action.

Phase2’s work with OCHA is built upon our dedication and commitment to understanding the entire sphere of the intergovernmental and interoperable global humanitarian response. OCHA’s mission to protect people and save lives in humanitarian crises aligns closely with Phase2’s aim to build digital products that serve humanity.

The Humanitarian Programme Cycle (HPC) is OCHA’s response plan framework for addressing crises in a consistent manner. It is a comprehensive set of modules to track planning, funding, project management, and monitoring for OCHA’s humanitarian activities.

Phase2 partnered with OCHA to address several challenges within the HPC toolset:

  • Lack of crisis tracking and data collection
  • Inefficient communication structure that overextended strategic planning phases
  • Aging systems that lacked the functionality required to keep up with humanitarian funding trends
  • Lack of plan tracking and monitoring
  • Non-existent plan evaluation and reporting processes

With efficiency and transparency as a goal, OCHA asked Phase2 to design a system that ties all of its HPC-supporting processes and systems together to help track information through the lifecycle of a crisis. Working as a part of a joint strategic planning team, we collaborated to envision an entire suite of interconnected digital tools that bring modern, data-driven workflows to humanitarian response planning and monitoring.

The system we designed in collaboration with our OCHA stakeholders gives the power to digitally “connect the dots” between HPC phases. It has four applications that share one data source. In addition, it contains a web services layer, which gives a unified view of the information as it progresses through the HPC. The system is complex and contains several components/ technologies. In addition to assisting in the design of the overall system, Phase2 helped OCHA bring both the Financial Tracking Service and ReliefWeb to life.

OCHA handles more than $20B of global humanitarian funds that flow to aid disaster-stricken areas. The FTS (Financial Tracking Service) is a core component of OCHA’s work and contains the canonical record of humanitarian financing across the globe. Governments, NGOs, universities, and anyone tracking global humanitarian work use the FTS app. A crucial part of the HPC toolset, the app had become technologically outdated and was not flexible enough to support new funding models.

Phase2 worked with our OCHA counterparts to move to an open-source software model to improve accessibility and transparency, while at the same time reducing costs. We developed a sophisticated ecosystem of web applications that support the tracking and reporting of donations to areas in crisis.

The work included:

  • A complete restructuring of the data model
  • Legacy data migration (150,000+ contribution records, ~50,000 project records, ~30,000 supporting information records), and external data feed integration
  • Overhauling the Financial Tracking API
  • Adding an administrative layer to manage incoming financial records
  • Rebuilding the frontend experience
  • Creating the FTS public website

The development of the FTS application enables the OCHA to better manage and report on a tremendous amount of data, which facilitates informed and efficient assistance to humanitarian aid, and ultimately shares knowledge of where and how funds are at work.

ReliefWeb is one of the world’s most detailed sources of crisis and disaster information, containing more than 20 years worth of meticulously curated content. It is globally recognized as one of the most complete, well-kept, and dependable sources of humanitarian information available today.

The ReliefWeb API 

Using an API to open up ReliefWeb’s impressive stockpile of information dating back to 1996, ReliefWeb empowers the entire humanitarian service community to establish new ways to coordinate. Phase2 collaborated with the OCHA team to make disaster-related data accessible, streamlining the building blocks for an open data baseline by launching a full-featured content API.

The ReliefWeb API is an application layer built on top of an ElasticSearch datastore. ElasticSearch provides amazing capabilities in complex data mining and exploration. The application layer provides a positive user experience for the developers who will build great new things with the API, like applications that analyze historical humanitarian data or websites that pull ReliefWeb content in real time.

Humanitarian.ID is a groundbreaking system, a one-stop contact management app built to accelerate the process of delivering aid to those in need. It transformed the way humanitarian organizations and volunteers communicate during a crisis, allowing their efforts to be more efficient and save more lives.

Improved Knowledge Management in Crisis

Before the Humanitarian.ID app, a knowledge management gap bogged down relief efforts in many crisis zones. In a process divorced from web technology, OCHA maintained responder contact lists using static spreadsheets, stored on hard drives and shared with thumb drives. With Humanitarian.ID, disaster response teams can now keep up-to-date checkin records, monitor people in dangerous areas using geolocation technology, and know the partner affiliations of the volunteers available to them.

Phase2 developed a full-featured authentication and profile system. The pilot user base served field constituents of global humanitarian responses in the Philippines and Nepal.

High Performance in Remote Locations

The app was designed to be lightweight and maintain high performance in the most remote crisis zones. Its simple user interface and minimal bandwidth requirements, Humanitarian. ID effectively supports hundreds of users in any given location, globally.

Responders are better enabled to provide relevant information with personalized profiles and digital check-in options. For active humanitarian aid workers, an authentication system allows users to check in to different disasters and use various crisis websites (like OCHA’s ReliefWeb) from a single profile. Not only does the app improve coordination, it also enhances volunteer safety and accelerates the process of delivering aid to those in need.

Phase2’s partnership with United Nations OCHA has been forged in a shared spirit galvanized by the desire to use technology to improve lives all over the world. Maintaining a flexible and adaptive approach has yielded incredible success over the course of the relationship, setting OCHA up for continued digital innovation serving humanitarians, everywhere.

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