Co-Designing Data Solutions to Strengthen Humanitarian Response in Indonesia

Originally published by UN Global Pulse Asia-Pacific hub

Illustration: Shanice da Costa (UN Global Pulse)

As our technological capacity evolves and more aspects of society become digitalised, how might we make use of the abundance of data that is generated and how can we ensure the data is used responsibly? These questions formed the backbone of the discussions at the co-design workshop with humanitarian actors from across Indonesia for the Data Insights for Social and Humanitarian Action (DISHA) initiative. The insights from this workshop will feed into the further development of a mapping tool that supports the effectiveness of humanitarian organizations on the ground.

With a slew of natural disasters such as typhoons, floods, earthquakes and tsunamis affecting many Asia Pacific countries, the region remains one of the most disaster prone in the world. As such, there is a great need for robust information management systems to be in place to enable an effective and efficient response when a disaster occurs. To support humanitarian organizations’ need for real-time insights during emergencies, UN Global Pulse and a coalition of public-private partners under the DISHA initiative developed a mapping tool to “speed up and refine the humanitarian response by analysing how populations move after a natural disaster” by accessing insights derived from mobile network data.

Having launched the pilot of the Socio-Economic Mapping (SEM) tool in the Philippines, the DISHA team is in the process of scaling it to Indonesia and is supported by the UN Global Pulse Asia Pacific hub to understand how the tool should be adapted for the local context. Equipped with insights from user research activities, this co-design workshop served as an opportunity for our team to validate insights with the local humanitarian actors; identify DISHA’s relevance in supporting humanitarian organisations on the ground; and discuss the risks and mitigation measures that come with utilising insights derived from mobile data in the humanitarian context. Participants at the workshop represented various humanitarian organizations, UN agencies, private companies, and a coalition partners, including Catholic Relief Services (CRS), Muhammadiyah Disaster Management Center (MDMC), Indonesian Red Cross Society (PMI), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA), Telkomsel and McKinsey & Company.

Validating insights about the humanitarian needs in Indonesia

As part of the user research activities to prepare the scaling of DISHA’s tools to Indonesia, our team spoke to 31 people from seven humanitarian organizations operating in the country. Specifically, we wanted to learn about their organizational roles, data needs, and any existing data analysis tools they already use in their daily work. For the workshop’s first session, participants contributed to the validation process by reviewing the insights about the humanitarian needs in Indonesia..

The user research insights showed that cluster and joint assessments are pivotal to the humanitarian ecosystem in the country but coordination issues persist. Furthermore, organizational challenges on data use for program development relate to the trustworthiness and validity of data, practical difficulties in access, analysis and verification of data, and translation of data insights into effective action during a disaster.

This is where DISHA’s SEM tool can be used to fill in the gaps of the disaster management cycle, particularly between data, decision-making and action.

Caption: Participants sharing their expectations for the co-design workshop.
Photo Credit: UN Global Pulse

Added value in the humanitarian context

In the following session, the team shared the potential uses and limitations of the SEM tool for the humanitarian context in Indonesia, building on the learnings from the Philippines. The DISHA tool can be used for multiple purposes, including understanding post-disaster population displacement and estimating poverty levels using telecommunications and government data. 

To demonstrate how this can be replicated locally, our team presented the possibility of leveraging mobile network data to identify population displacement patterns based on cell tower location. We also shared how this data can be used to understand current poverty levels in an area (poverty nowcasting) by looking at the frequency of calls, messages, and mobile top-ups and using machine learning and statistical models to analyse the data. However, as beneficial as these applications can be, there are limitations that were further explored by participants, with several sharing additional local factors that can impact the quality of the insights, such as increased use of voice-over-IP technologies in Indonesia.

Understanding risks & preparing mitigation measures

The DISHA initiative is cognizant of the risks associated with using high-frequency data and statistical models in the humanitarian context, and is committed to conducting comprehensive risk assessments and putting in place effective mitigation strategies together with humanitarian users. Three categories of risks that served as guiding points for discussion amongst the workshop participants include risks related to the development and operation of the product, risks related to the use or mis-use of the product, and risks from inherent limitations in using mobile data. The results of the discussions helped to sharpen the team’s understanding of the risks in the local context which is crucial for ensuring the comprehensiveness of risk mitigation strategies.

Caption: Group photo of participants at the end of the workshop.
Photo Credit: UN Global Pulse

So, what’s next?

Co-creation is integral to how DISHA develops its solutions and this co-design workshop was a crucial step in the process of expanding the initiative to Indonesia. The discussion sessions produced many valuable suggestions for consideration as the team continues to develop a solution that best fits the needs of the local humanitarian ecosystem. We are highly appreciative of the response and support from the organisations who attended this workshop and moving forward, we are keen to continue building, testing and validating the tool together with other stakeholders. Through sustainable cooperation and strong collaboration, we hope that DISHA can become an effective instrument in preparing for and responding to future disasters.

If you are interested in learning more about the uses of mobile network data to support humanitarian response, get in touch via or you can visit our website to learn more:

Author: Andini Kamayana (Communication Manager) with editorial support from Ekaterina Klinova (Head of Data Insights for Social and Humanitarian Action)

User Research Team: Aaron Situmorang (UN Global Pulse), Rizqi Ashfina (UN Global Pulse), Faizal Thamrin (UN Global Pulse), Dmitry Denisenko (McKinsey & Company), Verena Riyaningsih (UN Global Pulse).

DISHA Team: Ekaterina Klinova (UN Global Pulse), Faizal Thamrin (UN Global Pulse), Rajius Idzalika (UN Global Pulse), Muhammad Rheza (UN Global Pulse), Caroline Alewaerts (UN Global Pulse), Aliisa Laiti (UN Global Pulse), Paul Beaumont (McKinsey & Company), Krittika D’Silva (McKinsey & Company), Mahika Sethi (McKinsey & Company).