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Published on February 4th, 2014 | by EJC


Featured Tool: Humanitarian Data Toolkit


1) In a nutshell

  • Tool: The Humanitarian Data Toolkit (HDT) is a one-stop-shop device developed by Internews, in collaboration with Modi Research Group and Captricity, to facilitate timely information needs assessments during a crisis. To conduct a successful needs assessment responders must partner with locals to understand their unique information needs. The HDT allows local researchers to collect and transmit this information gathered from their constituents through a comprehensive collection of survey and communication tools.
  • Information: By providing local researchers with a simple survey system, the HDT enables them to collect extensive data on their community’s information needs. These needs can range from knowing where to find safe drinking water, to whether it is safe to return home; and will differ depending on the crisis at hand. Successful disaster responses require that information needs are identified and addressed quickly, and the HDT provides a means to achieve this by collecting and communicating local knowledge on a single system.
  • Data: Researchers can record data on Samsung Pocket Android Phones or via paper surveys depending on individual or circumstantial requirements.
  • Technology: The HDT is a compact system centring on a Lenovo Thinkpad X230 computer that connects surveys uploaded via the Samsung phones or paper surveys scanned by the ScanSnap S1300i to aid responders. The system utilises Captricity and FormHub software to digitise the paper surveys and collect data on the phones, respectively. It relies on a Ubiquiti Networks PICO2 to create a Wi-Fi connection and includes two Ethernet cables to maximise the network’s reach. All devices are equipped with long lasting batteries and the computer can be recharged using the Powerenz Lipo 32 solar panels while the phones can be recharged with one of two power strips. A full breakdown of each component can be found here.
  • Accessibility: In order for information to be accessed, all components of the system must be working effectively. Whilst the HDT is equipped with multiple safeguards – long lasting batteries, solar panels, and its own internet router, to name a few- there is always the risk that one part will fail. Furthermore, in a disaster situation resources are already limited and it may be difficult to rectify any technical issues within an appropriate timeframe. Socio-cultural conventions may also make it difficult for researchers to access information from locals, for example, whether or not women are allowed to participate in surveys will alter the integrity of results.

2) Case study


Internews Team Leader, Matt Abud Trains a Group of Local Enumerators for a Media and Information Assessment. Photo: InternewsEurope.

The HDT was piloted by Internews in 2011 at the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya.  The study allowed for the project to be tested in a controlled environment, whilst still simulating how the HDT operated without external internet and electricity reserves. Interviewees were asked to fill in phone or paper based surveys which addressed demographic information, their information needs, which sources they trusted for information and current media habits; so as to determine the best way for information aid to be provided. Overall, the results of the pilot were encouraging.

For the most part, the HDT worked as it was supposed to and efficiently provided a broad array of information. On one day, the final report noted, researchers were even able to finish early. The use of digitising technology and phone surveys significantly reduced the risk of losing information, with only 3 out of 525 surveys rendered unusable. However, some of the software was difficult for researchers without technical skills to set up, although these problems were seen as fixable in the future by calibrating the system before its deployment.

Socio-cultural issues in the information-gathering phase posed a greater challenge for researchers. As interviewees were selected randomly, the choice of a wife or a younger family member was sometimes controversial. Moreover, the use of phones made some participants uncomfortable, as they felt like the phones could be used to reveal their identity. In these situations, paper surveys were used. This, in itself, was somewhat troublesome as the paper surveys could take up to 45minutes to complete, compared to the phone surveys that took half the time.

Yet, as the final report notes, “survey results are always an imperfect reflection of reality, but we do the best we can”; and, in spite of these minor challenges, this pilot showed that the HDT could provide a close-to perfect solution for developing strong information channels in a disaster.

3) Media use

In a disaster situation, the media often act as gatekeepers of information. By identifying the information needs of a certain group, the HDT allows the media to tailor their coverage to address any information black holes. Importantly, as the HDT provides a large sample size of data, it can provide a much more encompassing picture of what information needs to be disseminated and where. In comparison, traditional interviews by the media may not be able to provide such scope.


Moreover, in the wake of some disasters, the media may lack the infrastructure to gather information themselves. For example, the recent Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines destroyed many phone, broadcast and radio towers. In such situations, the use of the HDT could allow the media access to information about people in cut off areas.

4) What’s in it for journalists?

  • Indicates what information the public needs to know and thus allows journalists to report information that is in the public interest
  • The ability to access reliable and specific information about a geographic locality
  • Provides a source of information in the event of failing communications infrastructure

Photo: InternewsEurope

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