Identifying opportunities to overcome challenges in developing and implementing digital technologies in the management of humanitarian crises.
A report on the KEI Event on Emerging Technologies in Humanitarian Management by Anulekha Nandi, PhD candidate in Information Systems and Innovation, Department of Management.
An event for collaboration and cooperation
Taking place in November 2022, the event on Emerging technologies in humanitarian management saw a multi stakeholder gathering of technologists, practitioners, and academics working in the humanitarian technologies space. The half day event was held in partnership with the Brunel University’s Migration Modelling and Simulation Group, supported by the LSE Knowledge Exchange and Impact Fund. It provided an opportunity to understand opportunities and challenges within the humanitarian technology ecosystem, particularly as the sector moves towards development and adoption of emerging computational techniques for anticipatory prediction and management of humanitarian crises.
Representatives from a host of key stakeholders were present, including from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), Brunel Migration Modelling and Simulation Group, UNHCR Innovation Service, Danish Refugee Council (DRC), Oxford Leverhulme Centre for Demographic Science, Caribou Digital, LSE Departments of Management and International Development, International Organization for Migration (IOM), Save the Children, Royal College of Surgeons of England (Humanitarian Surgery Initiative), BBC Media Action, ITFLOWS consortium, UN OCHA Centre for Humanitarian Data, Anticipation Hub, Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), UK Humanitarian Innovation Hub (UKHIH), GSMA, and Elrha.
The purpose of the event was to identify pathways for cooperation and collaboration to overcome challenges in design, development, deployment, and implementation of emerging digital technologies in humanitarian management. This becomes particularly important in the context of rapidly intensifying humanitarian crises and the persistent shortfall in humanitarian funding. This is accompanied by competing concerns for such technologies to create operational efficiency without exacerbating existing vulnerabilities due to their capacity for opacity, discrimination, and exclusion. As the development and integration of such technologies for humanitarian management require a diverse range of expertise, this event sought to provide a meeting ground to collectively deliberate and think through some of these intractable challenges.
Following the welcome session, the FCDO presented its perspective on forecasting for humanitarian response which highlighted the rapidly intensifying resources-needs gap and the focus on early warning, anticipatory action, and innovative financing, and the need for increased knowledge sharing and coordination. It also underscored the importance of long term analysis and developing partner capabilities.
Key themes of development, implementation, governance of humanitarian technologies and the role of partnerships and collaboration.
The rest of the event was organised into four sessions focussing on development, implementation, and governance of humanitarian technologies and the role of partnerships and collaborations in supporting and sustaining the same.
The first session on developing humanitarian technologies saw presentations from Brunel Migration Modelling and Simulation Group, UNHCR Innovation Service, DRC, Oxford Leverhulme Centre for Demographic Science, and Caribou Digital. This session focused on the challenges of modelling the complex social reality of humanitarian crises, the limitation of coordinating resources and contextual knowledge, availability of adequate data, skills, and capacities, and the need to be aware of model limitations when used for operational decision-making.
The second session on implementing humanitarian technologies saw presentations from the IOM (Displacement Tracking Matrix), Save the Children, Royal College of Surgeons (Humanitarian Surgery Initiative), LSE (International Development), and BBC Media Action. This session focused on the conditions that shape the effectiveness and efficiency of humanitarian technologies at the point of implementation. This involved discussions around the modes of data collection, gaps in the data, different technologies used, organisational capacity, access to information, interoperability, and sustained funding as the determining conditions for implementation.
The third session on governance considerations and policy priorities saw presentations from the ITFLOWS consortium, UN OCHA Centre for Humanitarian Data, IOM (Global Migration and Data Analysis Centre), and LSE (Information Systems and Innovation). This session focused on the identification and management of competing concerns and the need to balance the use of these technologies for operational efficiency and their potential adverse consequences. The session highlighted the importance of data services, status of humanitarian data, nature of humanitarian data, and role of due diligence, ethics, and risk assessments and the need for staying close to the local context. It also foregrounded the need to adopt a human rights perspective to safeguard against the potential for multifaceted and intersectional discrimination that can result from the use of such technologies.
The fourth session on partnerships and collaboration saw presentations from Anticipation Hub, IDMC, UKHIH, GSMA, and LSE (Syria Conflict Research Centre). The session focused on the importance of partnerships and collaborations in the development, implementation, and governance of humanitarian technologies. This session showcased the knowledge sharing and coordination work done by platforms like Anticipation Hub and the UKHIH and highlighted the need for local partnerships for data collection, knowledge products and resources in the form of datasets, methodologies, and approaches developed by organisations that can provide important data and contextual input for humanitarian technologies.
The event ended with an open discussion that highlighted the importance of balanced data collection that can help organisations be responsive to needs on the ground, utilisation of existing data, the need for more comprehensive, detailed, and diversified datasets. It was proposed that there was a need to move from data use to data impact and understanding the role played by different stakeholders. All participants agreed for the need for more collaboration and partnerships to resolve some of the attendant challenges in this space.