How can data knowledge help humanitarians reach more people? In collaboration with UN OCHA’s Humanitarian Data Exchange (HDX) Dakar Data Lab, the IFRC co-hosted a 2-day Data Skills event in Dakar, Senegal. We convened 45 data leaders from diverse humanitarian (including 15 people from the IFRC, ICRC and Senegalese Red Cross), civil society (including 10 people from OpenStreetMap Senegal), and technology organizations (Missing Maps, The peer-to-peer data skills workshop incorporated a mix of theory and practical exercises. By inviting a diverse group, the message is clear – build local data skills with the local data/technology network. This newly formed community has data champions who will now collaborate to make the HDX Dakar Data Lab a success. Each of the facilitation team members delivered sessions ranging from data skills, data viz, R (a tool used for data analysis), OpenStreetMap Basics, introduction to the Humanitarian Data Exchange, how to use the Humanitarian Exchange Language, data sharing, and information sessions about the Centre for Humanitarian Data. This curricula for humanitarian data skills will become a template to keep building with other local communities.

The joint HDX and IFRC team designed a shared agenda to meet both groups needs:

  • Establish a common language for data
  • Understand common practices for data visualization, data preparation and data analysis
  • Share best practices on how to engage with the open data community (we invited the OpenStreetMap Senegal, Missing Maps and to share their expertise working with local communities)
  • Improve knowledge of data sharing and data protection
  • Learn more about HDX, the Centre for Humanitarian Data and how the HDX Dakar Data Lab can help with data needs.

OSM Senegal workshop

Learn by Doing

IFRC led three sessions: Data Curriculum Planning, Data Visualization Skills, and Data Sharing Simulation. The Data Skills workshop provided a forum for us to widen the circle of participants engaging in these session designs. This input will help us continue to refine and deliver these sessions globally. The goal is to have data champions tailor the content and deliver the sessions within their National Society.

The Data Curriculum planning session asked people to provide input into the ‘skills they can share’ and the ‘skills they wish to learn’. The methodology was a remix of the Aspiration Tech’s model of “Agenda Hacking”. The participants provided input designing a course for learning at the event and post-event. In reviewing the ‘skills to share’ and ‘skills to learn’, it was evident that the local community could build a sustainable program with the different levels of expertise. This type of collaborative space was a testament to the potential of the HDX Dakar Data Lab to be a resource for all humanitarians.

Data Viz diagrams Dakar data skills (July 2017)

The “data visualization” session was mixture of theory and practice. We went through the key guiding graphic principles and methodologies to create infographics and data visualization products to support humanitarian decision-making and advocacy efforts. This session did not get into the details of the different tools and technologies that exist. It shared the importance of having high quality products to be more accountable when describing the humanitarian context. The session had two sketching exercises where the participants could integrate the graphic principles that they were exposed to during the theoretical part.

Data visualization plays a central role in how to deliver Information Management products in the humanitarian eco-system and to be able to tell a good story, we need to ensure that we have well collected, standardised and clean data which will always remain central to the whole dataviz process and workflow.

The ‘data sharing simulation’ exercise consisted of a data-driven scenario, many sticky notes, and a wall to provide the interactive canvas. We asked them to be advocates for keeping health data safe while considering data sharing with responders and researchers. Participants defined the tasks, roles, risks/benefits, issues and decisions to be made in a scenario of a data-driven project. The goal was to drive up the questions about data sharing issues and data protection needs. It was a fast-paced hour with many debates about the 3Ws of Data Sharing – who, what and when. One key observation was that the legal advice on the project plan was missed in the first round. With the upcoming General Data Protection Regulations (EU), it will be important for all data champions be well-versed in the legal implications of data use.

Localization of Data Skills

Data Sharing 1 (Dakar workshop)

The Grand Bargain highlights the need for ‘localizing humanitarian response’ and the ‘participatory revolution’. What does implementation look like? We designed this workshop to highlight the talented local information management and data network in Dakar. The HDX Dakar Data Lab led this event and will continue to convene and build with the local community. The content and lessons from the workshop will inform future development of the Data Lab’s work in the region as driven by inputs from the local community. Skillshares and peer-to-peer learning are the best avenues to foster sustainable local data skills. By convening the usual suspects (the data curious) with the data ready we may be on a more productive road to achieving our goals.

Within the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement, the potential to build on each other’s data skills is critical for us to deliver localized and community-engaged humanitarian response. This is how we can incrementally reach more people with the right information at the right time. The participants from IFRC, ICRC and the Senegalese Red Cross originated from across various groups – emergency response, water and sanitation, health, monitoring and evaluation, technology, information management and communications. As Journaliste, Chef du Service Communication et Marketing : M. Nfally Sadio remarked, “Data Sharing is Communication.” The Sahel Regional needs are large and growing. This event demonstrated that with collaborative peer-to-peer learning, we can support our efforts to collectively adapt to the data needs.

About the Centre for Humanitarian Data

The Centre’s mission is to increase the use and impact of data in the humanitarian sector. The vision is to create a future where all people involved in a humanitarian situation have access to the data they need, when, and how they need it, to make responsible and informed decisions. In addition to the main Centre in the Hague, there are two satellite labs (Nairobi and Dakar). The Centre will have four objectives: Increase the interoperability of humanitarian data through shared standards and integrated systems; Increase the trust and cooperation across organizations sharing data in humanitarian response; Increase the capability of people to access and use data in support of humanitarian efforts; and Engage existing and new partners in data problem-solving and awareness-raising.

About the IFRC Data Mandate

IFRC connects 190 National Societies with a mandate to build local capacity with communities to make evidence-based decisions. We are creating tools, programs and partnerships for data skills with the existing network of data curious and data ready across the Movement. The IFRC Data Literacy program includes four streams: connect data leaders, create content, develop learning opportunities, and measure impact. Across the IFRC, there are many people with data skills. We aim to connect these leaders to support the grow of data skills in each IFRC Regional Office and within National Societies. There are many data science and data skills books/resources available. We are creating content to build on these existing resources while providing a mechanism to share internal data skills resources. By connecting leaders and creating content, we are testing peer-to-peer learning opportunities via skillshares, online content, and webinars. Determining the success of a data literacy program and designing frameworks/policies to support organizational data readiness are the final stream of work for the program.


Thank you to the UN OCHA/Centre for Humanitarian Data Team (Sarah Telford, Javier Teran Castro, Becky Band Jain and Jos Berens), the HDX Dakar Data Lab (Ahmadou Dicko, Nafi Pouye, and Amadou Ndong), the participants, and the OSM Senegal Team. Special thanks to Aspiration Tech, Fabriders and School of Data for inspiring some of our methodology. (This blog post written with input from Guido Pizzini and Becky Band Jain.)

Photos Credits:

  1. Nafi Pouye and Amadou Ndong presenting HDX by Heather Leson, CCBY4.0
  2. The OpenStreetMap Senegal team providing training by Heather Leson, CCBY4.0
  3. Data Visualization examples by Guido Pizzini, CCBY4.0
  4. Data Sharing Workshop by Heather Leson, CCBY4.0