Real-time data analysis during crises
BY Maximo Halty | June 11, 2015|Comments 1
When crisis strikes, data – normally provided by national counterparts – suddenly can be in short supply, or outright unavailable. Each organization scrambles to find, or produce, the basic data they need to function in the crisis, with little time to consider common data needs, common collection systems or data sharing. The result is often translated into disconnected or overlapping responses, or simply the lack of appropriate responses.
Based on an initial experience in Sudan and South Sudan, and now currently in Lebanon and Jordan, addressing the Syria-related crisis, a new web-based data management and mapping tool has emerged that can help manage and display data on both humanitarian and human development issues in a user-friendly and integrated manner. The Information Management and Analysis Support (IMAS) Toolkit supports information management, joint analysis, integrated programming and effective coordination. It also supports monitoring and evaluation (M&E) and reporting, and it does so, in one integrated, online, user-friendly platform.
The rollout of IMAS in Lebanon is linked to the Lebanon Crisis Response Plan, a joint UN-Government strategic plan and appeal to manage the severe strains that the Syrian conflict has had the country’s economy, state institutions, hosting communities and its complex social fabric. Further, the demographic pressure of 1.2 million refugees now seeking asylum in small Lebanon challenges the coping capacity of the state, which faces a critical risk to its stability. Four years into the crisis, the UN family in Lebanon has now reoriented the humanitarian response within the context of Lebanon’s own stabilization into an integrated approach focused on strengthening the capacity of vulnerable people, systems and institutions to cope with these shocks.
These tools build on the information management capacities established early in the response, but takes them much further, expanding their analytic breadth and capability and embedding them within national institutions. The team that built them started small, drawing expertise through UNDP’s sub-regional facility based in Amman, cost-shared between UNDP regional and country offices and the Resident Coordinator’s Office, and brought in technical experts from the private sector to design the tools according to our needs and reflecting models of best practice elsewhere.
Managing information and enhancing data analysis
The IMAS Toolkit is an online software package with a common mapping system. One of its strongest features is the way data is easily filtered in the database and then dynamically layered on the common mapping tool – allowing users to filter, select and display whichever data they want to compare and analyze. For example, a user could simply look at the status of their activities on the basic map. Or, a user could select the maps showing the density of refugees and pattern of deprivation, and overlay where livelihood projects that address these issues are being carried out by the UN and the government, and can help visualize if the targeting is correct, and where are the critical gaps (or overlaps) in livelihood programming. And the user can check, in the same tool, to see which donor has committed what funding, when and to whom, for Livelihoods programming.
The IMAS Toolkit was developed with the initial support of the UNDP Sub-Regional Facility for the Syria crisis and the United Nations Resident Coordinator’s Office and the UNDP Country Office in Lebanon. It was developed in-house at low cost, using license-free components. The toolkit is a new dimension in UN mapping because it connects humanitarian and development issues, while complementing existing resources. The scope is not only more comprehensive but also sets the stage for the post-crisis reconstruction and recovery efforts.
How does it work?
The IMAS Toolkit includes four components:
- Who, What, Where, When (4Ws)
- Municipal Risk and Problem Mapping
- Lebanon Aid Tracking System
- Country Digital Atlas
COMPONENT 1: The 4Ws (Who, What, Where, When)
This component addresses basic questions about the activities of United Nations agencies and partners taking place during a crisis situation: who, what, where and when? The 4Ws tool is an online project and activity tracking and mapping tool with a dynamically updated dashboard.
The dashboard displays project and activity data in several ways, e.g. by donor, sector, area of intervention, status, implementer, activity Indicators, etc. Each activity can be geo-referenced on a satellite imagery map that zooms in to the selected location, e.g. school, community center, road, water station, etc.
The user can also attach pictures and reports to each activity point, which will then be made available in the ‘map view’. Content can be exported and printed. The 4Ws tool also offers a search and mapping component that shows the work of other partners via ActivityInfo, an online humanitarian reporting tool that helps humanitarian agencies report and track delivery towards crisis response indicators.
COMPONENT 2: Municipal Risk and Problem Mapping
The process of mapping municipal risks and problems is ideally a government-led process, both local and national. It can become a periodic exercise, e.g. annual, that is integrated into the national planning processes (as in practice in South Sudan, at the county level). This tool is part of the UNDP Municipal Risk and Resources Mapping process (MRR) first in Lebanon, and now in Jordan. A multi-actor consultation process at the municipal level identifies, prioritizes, categorizes and geo-references the main risks and their associated problems. Once the data is input into the database management and mapping tool, results can be visualized and searched.
The IMAS Toolkit works, as we said before, on a common map background. This is important because the user can select/filter any particular dataset of problems of the MRR; go to the 4Ws and see, filter and display all related interventions (ongoing or planned); and finally analyze how they relate to each other.
COMPONENT 3: Lebanon Aid Tracking System
In the IMAS Toolkit, this component is referred to as Lebanon Aid. It is designed for reporting of all development funding by donors, and allows for cross-checking with Government and UN agencies and their partners. The tool also provides a direct feed from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Financial Tracking Service (OCHA FTS),which records all reported aid contributions to the Lebanon Crisis Response Plan (LCRP). Dashboards display data in several ways, e.g. by donor, sector, recipient, project, date range, status of funding, etc. The OCHA FTS part of the tool is currently online and publicly accessible, and the full system will be set up by the Government soon.
COMPONENT 4: Country Digital Atlas
The Country Digital Atlas is the common mapping platform for analysis, planning, coordination and M&E. The Atlas is therefore a key starting point for data compilation and sharing. It is ideally a government-led exercise, supported by the UN and partners through the Information Management Working Group (IMWG), where these exist. Essentially, the Atlas is a GIS (geographic information systems) tool for compiling all geo-enabled datasets that are relevant for joint analysis, planning, coordination and M&E. A metadata sheet identifies all available datasets, their producers, their periodicity and the conditions for their sharing (i.e. public or restricted), and is ideally set up as an online map, with a dynamic display. See this example of the Lebanon Digital Atlas.
Using the toolkit in Lebanon today
Together with the Lebanon Digital Atlas, the IMAS Toolkit is being used to support a new platform for joint analysis and programming for the Lebanon Crisis Response Plan. The platform will address aid management, donor coordination, risk/gap analysis and prioritization, among other needs. A complementary tool will be the Lebanon Risk Index and Model recently completed and soon to be published. Its development was launched by the Lebanon Joint Analysis Unit with support from the Index for Risk Management (InfoRM), which identifies countries at high risk of humanitarian crisis. The aim is to replicate national-level risk indexing at the sub-national level, which will improve in-country risk tracking and trend analysis.
Access to the IMAS Toolkit
Now that it is functional in Lebanon, and since it requires no costly licenses and very limited tailoring to use in other countries, the IMAS Toolkit is currently being rolled-out in Jordan, and a number of other country offices in the region have expressed an interest in using it. The Lebanon Resident Coordinator’s Office and the UNDP Country Office are happy to facilitate the transfer of the Toolkit, and discussions are on-going with the Regional Office and the Sub-regional Facility to set up a sustainable support system for a regional roll-out of the Toolkit.
To contact the IMAS development team for further information or to test the tool yourself, please email: Maximo Halty: (maximo.halty (at) undp.org) or Wendy MacClinchy (macclinchy (at) un.org).
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