ADVOCACY AND INFORMATION MANAGEMENT
Advocacy and Information Management Branch
Advocacy and information management are at the heart of OCHA’s work. Humanitarian advocacy is a core mandate of OCHA’s, while accurate and timely information underpins all humanitarian operations and decisions, from advocacy to policy making to coordination of relief operations on the ground.
In OCHA, the Advocacy and Information Management Branch (AIMB) is responsible for managing these two key functions through a number of projects and activities run by its three component sections: the Advocacy and Public Information Section in New York and its counterpart in Geneva, the Advocacy and External Relations Section; the Information Analysis Section; and the Information Technology Section.
In 2005, AIMB pursued three broad objectives. First, it reinforced several initiatives begun in previous years to develop and deploy information management tools to strengthen humanitarian coordination in all OCHA field offices; strengthen information analysis and early warning capacity to better support strategic decision-making; and develop surge capacity in its key areas of operation (public information, information management and ICT) to allow it respond swiftly and effectively to sudden onset emergencies. To this end, it worked to enhance collaboration with regional and field offices, and expand advocacy and information sharing networks.
A second priority for the branch was to harness its advocacy and information management resources to advance the humanitarian reform agenda. Advocacy and public information activities helped the ERC convey the reform message through media interviews, public speeches, newspaper articles and opinion pieces. ICT efforts focused on applications to promote transparency and accountability, with due attention paid to using information management to support the cluster approach.
Thirdly, the branch launched a comprehensive initiative to improve organisational effectiveness by using IT tools and expertise to improve internal information flow. In tandem with an OCHA-wide effort to strengthen administration and human resource management at all levels, AIMB started to revamp OCHA’s internal communications. It launched a set of IT-based tools (an OCHA intranet, a new document management system and e-mail solution) designed to minimise redundancy and promote efficiency in internal information sharing.
The scale and geographic spread of humanitarian emergencies in 2005 presented a major challenge for advocacy and information management, stretching the branch’s resources and forcing it to adapt its work processes to address several large scale and concurrent crises. Yet they also provided an opportunity to demonstrate the efficacy of new or enhanced information services and tools in a variety of crisis environments. For instance, the Indian Ocean tsunami response marked the first deployment of HICs in natural disaster situations (in Banda Aceh and Sri Lanka), while the disasters in Guatemala and Pakistan brought the first deployments of public information surge capacity.
While the value-added of these information tools in coordinating response was acknowledged by UN and other humanitarian organisations on the ground, their deployment also exposed gaps. For example, a joint OCHA-donor evaluation of information management response to the Pakistan earthquake disaster called for the role of the HIC to be redefined in the context of the cluster approach, as well as for more effective collaboration system-wide in assessments, standard setting, monitoring and data analysis to support strategic decision-making.
Neither was the deployment of public information officers to some tsunami-affected regions as swift or smooth as desired. This provided the impetus for setting up the public information surge capacity deployed in Guatemala, Pakistan and Niger later in the year.
With regard to promotion of the humanitarian reform, the ERC’s advocacy efforts were enhanced by positive media coverage and strategic message placements by the advocacy sections in New York and Geneva. ICT colleagues also helped to set up the CERF website and developed software and applications to help track donor contributions.
During the response to the Pakistan earthquake, the Field Information Support project joined the rest of the humanitarian community in applying the cluster approach by seeking to adjust the HIC to support the clusters. During the same emergency, OCHA exercised its role as a service owner of the emergency telecommunications cluster, in tandem with WFP and UNICEF, for the first time. Despite initial difficulties, this represented a major step forward in the quest for coherence and standardization of telecommunications operations in emergency situations.
Meanwhile, the internal communications initiative holds great promise for improving information sharing and contributing to organisational efficiency.
The following sections elaborate on the activities and accomplishments of the main units and projects of the branch.