Data Literacy activities build a common language and connect data leaders with data curious while co-creating spaces to learn and share skills. The Centre for Humanitarian Data’s Humanitarian Data Exchange (HDX)  team and IFRC co-hosted a two-day Data Skills workshop on March 7 – 8, 2018 in Nairobi, Kenya. We convened 40 diverse humanitarians including information managers, monitoring & evaluation colleagues, disaster/operations managers, health coordinators, journalists, and community engagement delegates from across OCHA, UN agencies, IFRC, National Societies, international and local NGOs. The interactive workshop design included a mix of discussion/knowledge sharing sessions and hands-on technical exercises.

I didn’t know a training could be that much fun. Lotte Ruppert, Delegate, Community Engagement, IFRC Africa

Data Champions in Leadership

Senior leaders from IFRC and OCHA joined the event to provide insights and support for improving data literacy. Humanitarians need management buyin to prioritize and upskill data skills. Gemma Connell, Head of Office, UNOCHA’s Regional Office for East and Southern Africa (Nairobi), reminded participants to “Know your data, Know your manager.” She provided guidance on meeting manager needs by providing timely, accurate, and clear data for advocacy that is informed by the context. She also stated: Data saves lives or could risk lives.”  Robert Kaufman, Deputy Director of IFRC Africa and Data Champion, encouraged participants to meet their users:

Keynote Robert Kaufman, Deputy Director IFRC Africa (March 2018)

Knowledge Sharing Sessions

Data literacy focuses on the critical thinking and knowledge exchange needed to improve data skills. To that end, we held sessions focused on data visualization basics, localization data workflows, storytelling with data, negotiating with decision-makers, and a data protection simulation. Each of the discussions and sessions focused on the skills of participants. Asking a room full of data savvy colleagues to not use their computers is a worthy risk.

How useful are the information products we create? Do we meet managerial and organizational needs? How can data support the decision making process during humanitarian response? We challenged participants to build up talking points in 4 areas then “negotiate” with the guest managers. They needed devise strategies and rebuttals for the following key areas: confusion/knowledge gaps, challenges in systems/new technology/processes, trust/accuracy/bias/quality, and security/legal/privacy. It was an enlightening exercises in assumptions. As Jamie LeSueur, Operations Manager, South Sudan (IFRC) advised: We need data that is actionable, reliable. By sharing data we can better assess scale of need & make better decisions. Go to the community to verify the data, do not use just projection of data.

Localizing Data Workflows

Data Simulation feedback (march 2018)

How might we better incorporate local data as part of information workflows? Isaac Ndoricimpa, Head of Planning, Monitoring, Evaluation and Reporting, Burundi Red Cross Society, provided the groups with a disaster response scenario. They were tasked with creating a checklist to incorporate data into their workflow. One group focused on secondary data plus local data whereas the other group created a ‘role play’ of community informants to help guide the key questions, then devise the checklist.

Technical Sessions

Building on the critical thinking exercises, participants engaged in technology hands-on sessions. One of the core workshop goals was to share more about the Humanitarian Data Exchange (HDX (the platform)), the Center for Humanitarian Data and the HDX Nairobi Data Lab. The Center for Humanitarian Data’s mandate, based in the Hague, Netherlands, focuses on network engagement, data literacy, data services, and data policy. To support this effort globally, there are HDX Labs both in Nairobi and Dakar. (IFRC previously co-hosted a Data Skills workshop with HDX Lab in Dakar). The HDX Labs provide network connectivity for all humanitarians. For IFRC and National Societies in East Africa, the HDX Lab could provide sustainable support and alliances for advancing data skills to support our mission.

HDX tags via Besokenyan (March 2018)

HDX is also a platform to share data among humanitarian actors. Sessions were held to explain the toolsets (e.g. quick charts) and practices to share data in a responsible and useful way. One of the ways to do this is via the HXL (Humanitarian Data Exchange Language). To be clear, it uses hashtags and keywords to help people ‘tag’ and identify types of data. The HXL proxy is a service of HDX, which allows users to easily pull in data (merging different sources, filter data, data cleaning) using the HXL tags. It helps the IFRC to quickly build dashboards on the IFRC GO platform. We also had introductions to Microsoft Power Bi and Tableau.

Most of the sessions during this workshop provided “introductions” to the topics, practices, and tools. With every Data Skills workshop, IFRC designs and tests new curriculum with the goal to share with National Societies and other humanitarian actors. Session designs will be included in the upcoming Data Playbook – a toolkit to support data literacy at IFRC. The HDX Lab will also be a local resource to provide colleagues with more technology training and skillshares. To that end, we captured feedback from participants for future planning both locally and globally for both IFRC and OCHA (Centre for Humanitarian Data).

One of the best parts of hosting a workshop is watching  people connect and learn from each other. We designed various activities to drive future partnerships and alliances for the humanitarian network.  James Magage, IFRC Africa Data Intern, created this fantastic Story Map with highlights from the Nairobi Data Skills Workshop.


Big thank you to all the participants for being inspiring. Thank you to our partners at HDX/Centre for Humanitarian Data, OCHA’s Regional Office for East and Southern Africa, Kenyan Red Cross Society, Burundi Red Cross Society, and IFRC Africa Regional Office. Special thanks to co-facilitators HDX Team: Javier Teran, Lillian Nduati, Godfrey Takavarasha, and Joseph Marindi and IFRC Team: Assanke Koedam, Henk Hoff, Guido Pizzini, and James Magige.

Special guests: Robert Kaufman (Deputy Director, IFRC Africa), Gemma Connell (Head of Office, UNOCHA), Jamie LeSueur (IFRC Operations Manager, South Sudan), Pierre Gelas (Deputy Head of Emergency Preparedness Response Unit at UNOCHA), Isaac Ndoricimpa (Head of PMER, Burundi Red Cross Society) and Catherine Gicheru (Code for Kenya Citizen Lab Lead).

Special thanks to Nailab for the venue and for Benson Mutahi Githaiga, Community Coordinator, I-Hub for all the amazing photos.

Photo credits: Guido on the HDX proxy by Heather Leson  CC-By 4.0. Isaac and Local Data Workflows – by Lillian Nduati/Heather Leson CC-By 4.0. HXL Exercise by Benson Mutahi Githaiga, Community Coordinator, I-Hub.