Field Information Support Section
The Field Information Support (FIS) Section helps sustain the delivery and coordination of humanitarian assistance through the development and implementation of information management tools in the field. FIS is responsible for supporting OCHA’s field information management systems and providing technical and other back-stopping support to field offices. FIS is also responsible for the global oversight and management of HICs, one of the United Nations Humanitarian Common Services.
FIS aims to increase information management capacity in field offices and improve the geographic distribution of information management staff through its partnerships with UN Volunteers and academic institutions.
- Improve deployments of HICs through refinement of implementation methodologies and operations, and expand the cadre of staff trained and experienced for an HIC and/or to provide IM support to OCHA field offices
- Enhance OCHA’s capacity to provide data and technical support to HICs and OCHA field offices
- Develop new partnerships with humanitarian partners, such as NGOs and donors, and improve relations with existing partners through the Geographic Information Support Team (GIST), the IASC and stand-by-partners
- Continue to enhance the diversity of IM professionals involved in HICs and working within OCHA field offices, building on partnerships with UNV among others
In 2005, FIS worked towards strengthening the use of information and data in humanitarian operations. This was achieved through the continued development of HICs and their introduction into natural disaster response environments; implementation of a Field Information Management Strategy for OCHA; and the deepening of partnerships, including through the GIST.
Four HICs were deployed in 2005 (in Sumatra, Sri Lanka, Niger and Pakistan), compared with one in Darfur in 2004 and two, in Iraq and Liberia, in 2003. FIS continued to support the HICs in Liberia and Darfur throughout 2005.
OCHA identified and maintained a roster of trained personnel prepared for deployment, which was used for successive HIC deployments in 2005. Forty four humanitarian and/or technical professionals trained as managers, liaison or GIS officers, and data coordinators for HICs. Standardised information management tools and ICT equipment were made available for immediate deployment, and used in both HIC Niger and HIC Pakistan.
After technical feedback from internal GIS experts on data preparedness systems highlighted a need to develop capacity to meet the functional demands of GIS users, FIS initiated collaboration with Hunter’s College in New York and an academic consultant to develop OCHA’s Field Information Geospatialdatabase System (FIGS).
The section maintained its support role to the GIST, which includes UN Agency, university, NGO and donor members. In 2005 the GIST began developing by-laws and formed two working groups, focusing on disaster data preparedness and emergency mobilisation procedures.
FIS, together with key partners, engaged in data preparedness activities to improve its capacity to provide timely and relevant data and information management products to the humanitarian community.
Access to available information was facilitated through HIC websites, maintained on a daily basis.Where connectivity was poor, other means of distribution (hard copies, CD-ROM, document binder sets and memory sticks) were used. For example, HIC Sumatra established an “information kiosk” for hundreds of walk-in clients in Banda Aceh, where maps, documents and forms were distributed.
In partnership with UNV, FIS successfully fielded six volunteers to support implementation of OCHA’s information management strategy in Burundi, Senegal, Niger, Sudan, the occupied Palestinian territory and DRC. This initiative contributed to improved geographic distribution of information management staff through the deployment of UN Volunteers from developing countries.
These professionals, ranging in expertise from database experts to information management generalists, were mentored by senior information management officers in the field offices to which they were posted. They were provided with the opportunity to attend training programmes at the country level and Global Field Information Management (FIM) training, enhancing their knowledge of current information management practices and tools used in humanitarian relief operations.
All four HICs deployed in 2005 were established within seven days of a request being received, and provided core products and services soon after.
Considerable management challenges were experienced in managing six HICs concurrently, when there are usually no more than two. Defining the duration that an HIC should be operational and ensuring that transition strategies are in place remain key priorities, and discussions with UNDP to this effect are high on the agenda for 2006.
Stakeholders in all countries made use of HIC products for programme support and fed into HICgenerated information materials, such as the contacts directory and WWW database. Map products, which have come to be expected by all stakeholders, were produced by all HICs. The timeliness of information products and services, identified as problematic in joint review missions, remains reliant on the capacity and willingness of stakeholders to provide data to the HIC in a timely and standardised manner.
A heightened awareness of HICs and their utility has resulted in a number of new partnerships within the humanitarian community (MapAction, UN Volunteers, SIDA’s standby force and academic institutions) as well as increased deployment requests. As a result, FIS is starting to formalize partnership procedures and is developing scaleable information management response tools, so that each emergency can be addressed more appropriately.
In partnership with UNV, six information management professionals were placed in OCHA field offices in 2005. Four were from Africa, one from South Asia and one from Eastern Europe. The fielding of UN Volunteers in six countries supported implementation of OCHA’s field information management strategy while, at the same time, enabling volunteers from developing countries to be exposed to the United Nations.
Client perceptions of the HICs, gleaned through user surveys, demonstrated that the key function of the HIC in providing information that informs strategic and operational decision-making is still not fully realised. A monitoring mission by OCHA and ECHO to the HICs in Sri Lanka and Sumatra, and a joint ECHO, DFID, OFDA, OCHA review of HIC Pakistan, confirmed that, although HICs were having a positive impact on humanitarian response, the concept required further clarification in the context of humanitarian reform, and especially in terms of their relationship with HCs, OCHA offices and cluster lead agencies.