Snippets of my world of humanitarian data and the people processes, successes and challenges that lie ahead

IMG_0331time rushes by, and rarely stays still

Humanitarian crisis and disasters grow in size and frequency at a pace that is surprisingly dwarfed by the swirling sea of humanitarian data. The expectations that we all have for data and its use in effective decision-making, accountable actions and durable change are daunting but a necessary pressure to change the system we are in.

I rarely finish a blogpost from crisis to crisis or from ER shift to ER shift. I’m currently post overnight from a very very busy shift –  one that reminds me of why I live for and enjoy the uncertainty of high acuity situations. But this is the time for me to finally hit the publish button on the series of blog posts suspended in draft format that I have written over the past couple years.

I hope this will be an opportunity to reflect upon, pull, and share snippets of my streams of thought on humanitarian data, information management, people, politics and progress.

I hope that a slice of my world will spark conversations across communities. For there is much learning we all need to do— to make this world a better place


2015 revisit – thought of the day- those platforms for info-sharing…

(This blog post was initially drafted in 2015 revised September 2016, and shared today June 21st, 2018)

Many of us…

speak about
talk with others
and try to commit… to better information sharing.

But the devils in the details, and good outcomes are not insured just buy the will of good intentions. While there may be a plethora wonderful “platforms” and “technology” –> getting the people around the platform can be a challenge and sometimes when it organically grows, it can be a beautiful moment.

But there is often a frequent imbalance between the time spent on open sharing platforms from the remote world compared to those involved at the locations of direct response. Some people have more time than others. People have varying demands where they are located in relation to the response. And sometimes the language of those who drive these platforms may not be the local language.  In turn, a seemingly agile but often overwhelming information sharing platform is sometimes the crux of the challenge that lies ahead for us.

How we will decide to take the technology forward and provide feedback will be determined by how well we understand people in this expanding landscape; their time, their trusted networks, and their perceived value of these information sharing and communication platforms.

If we can take the time to speak openly about why products such as Google online tools seem to persist over time  and learn more about how other platforms like Skype (and maybe Slack) could translate between different languages in realtime – we might learn what new steps to take. But we might also listen and learn from the fact that there are many key collaborators who do not engage and likely for a very good reason.

Updated June 22, 2018

So much and so little has changed. Some thoughtful contributions since that time.

Humanitarian Futures for Messaging Apps(The Engine Room, Block Party, ICRC)

ICT4EU Migrants Platform Review(NetHope)

2015 World Humanitarian Data Trends(OCHA)

A snapshot: from dawn to dusk- responsible data & privacy

I’ve had some brief and rich conversations since my arrival here around responsible data. It’s an incredibly expansive realm which touches our lives. The lenses and hats that we all wear shape the way we may view the issues and challenges that lie ahead. Below is a snapshot of responsible data during one day earlier this week.

Morning: On my walk to the tram yesterday responsible data conversations resurfaced in my mind  – the role of policies and guidelines;  how much they are needed in the humanitarian data space; how the road to implementation is on the near and far horizons. Face to face conversations mean so much when taking about what policy means in these settings for me, policy is somewhat a realm of abstraction and having these conversations helps me envision the lines to practice.

Mid-day: During a lunch with colleagues we shared questions and learned from one another about some important acronyms (and jargon to be honest) such as DII, PII, and CII. For new learners and even “experienced” folks, these terms are often new, evolving and being revised. The conversations we had were filled with perspectives, opinions and a few examples; all rich discussion that enriched our understanding of personally identifiable information (PII), demographically identifiable information (DII), and community identifiable information (CII).

One example I shared was requests I received when I was in an operational field-based role in Haiti. I was asked to share photographs and other personally identifiable information of unaccompanied minors to a collaborating agency with a mission to support this vulnerable group. I shared privately the challenges I faced, the decisions I had to make, and the actions that were taken (or not taken) to address this difficult moment.  I hoped that this one example was a snippet of the arc of information to decision making through the lens of responsible data. One that would expand their knowledge continuum to recognize that these issues are not only pressing, but can be deeply personal for practitioners, and not new.  (More on this one day in a future blog post). And that these current efforts for policies, implementation guidelines, literacy training  and more –> are essential to our work and progress that lies ahead. We should continually rework this idea — principles/ policy as an integral part of the arc of information to decision making.

Evening: I jumped onto a faculty conference call that evening, placing my emergency medicine physician hat back on as the sun slowly setted that evening in the Hague. I listened in to a hospital administrator say

“this is near and dear to you all, you live it every day”

And she was referencing the act, refection and practice of responsible data and information sharing in the daily work that we do in the emergency department.  She walked our department through the information sharing privacies policies, of health information in the work space. This incorporated face to face communications, computer logins, patient, family requests for information, and even doctors accessing information related to patients who where family and friends. It also included a highlight of specific overarching organizational policies that were being updated which we are held accountable to.

The “live it every day” meant to me that in this role as “ER docs” , family members, and advocates for patients – we live in and act on complex arcs of information sharing. These are often high risk actions, pressing moments, which can be emotional. Nonetheless there are both emotions and tactical requests for information and data sharing. All within a highly pressured, uncertain and highly accountable environment. Not only do the principles of the hippocratic oath apply but the policies of our hospital insitution. How we practice this near and dear art and live it every day is doable and dynamic, It is supported by a set of principles, oaths, policies, and trainings. And that was part of this session, ongoing training on responsible data practices in emergency medicine, where we take multiple arcs of information to decision making in crisis situations but work hard to adhere to them both in policy and practice.

Coffee to go – from Chicago to The Hague

It’s Tuesday morning, with grey skies and a whole new morning in The Hague. Coffee has been a staple in my life for decades (well that sounds dramatic, doesn’t it). But from Chicago to The Hague my journey with morning coffee feels much different.

2233912b-6912-4fcb-9c7a-6b80c70e5bcaA week ago in Chicago often my first contact with a cafe was driving through the Dunkin Donuts coffee thru. Rushing to he hospital, playing Russian roulette with Chicago Lake Shore Drive traffic.

Like rote- its always

turn right

order coffee

“yes, black please”

rush out of the drive thru

gear shift on my manual transmission car

time check

“Oh shoot, I’m late”

Today it’s a world away of an experience. Sitting outside a cafe, blogging, resting (the day has just begun) and sipping coffee.

Time as a dot in the continuum of our lives is constant. How we live within that period, fill that space and create more within it -is the journey.