Linking Humanitarian Organizations With Mobile Data Collection Tool Providers

・12 min read
Linking Humanitarian Organizations With Mobile Data Collection Tool Providers

Have you ever wondered how mobile solutions can be used by humanitarian and development practitioners or how MDC tools can actually improve the delivery of humanitarian aid? Have you also heard about the most recent applications of mobile devices and software in some of the most remote locations on Earth affected by conflict, hunger or natural disasters?

To find answers to those and similar questions one should have attended the NOMAD Workshop. The event took place on 15th -17th May, at the French Space Agency (CNES) headquarters in Paris. The NOMAD Workshop was hosted by a team of humanitarian practitioners with expertise in GIS mapping and information management from the French humanitarian organizations iMMAPand CartONG. The organizers did their best and managed to link MDC tool providers with the humanitarian and international development community. The providers had an opportunity to showcase their mobile solutions with which to foster decision making, data collection and tracking, as well as project monitoring and evaluation while the aid agencies and organizations present could share some real-life applications of mobile technologies in their operations.

This article attempts to describe the mobile data collection applications which were presented by the solution providers during the NOMAD Workshop. The participants, additionally, got a chance to see hands-on demonstrations, ask questions and test the solution to decide which applications would best suit their needs. We hope the descriptions below may likewise help you gain more insight into the mobile data technologies which can be deployed for more effective and efficient aid provision.

Fusion – presented by David Costello and Kieran O’Toole – is a mobile application platform which combines mobile and cloud technologies with the security and track record of an application that has been well proven in the field. This cloud-based platform, developed by PSI Mobile, consists of several modules dedicated specifically to NGOs which conduct field-based development programmes. As a data gathering application it allows users to conduct surveys, audits and inspection checklists, generate management reports and export the data gathered to statistical analysis applications.  The data captured in remote areas can be made available to office managers within minutes of collection.  The Fusion App has been deployed in several countries worldwide from Haiti to the Philippines. A prime example of a Fusion-based project is a conservation agriculture project conducted by Concern WorldWidewhich allowed the faster and more efficient gathering of data aboleut farmers carrying out conservation farming methods such as land preparation, seeding and harvesting. Another example is the Sierra Leone cholera emergency response where the solution was used to design surveys and capture data about a cholera outbreak to identify precise intervention actions.

OpenXdata – presented by Jørn Klungsøyr – is an open-source, community-based system that can meet a wide-range of data collection needs. It supports common data types like text, dates, lists, numbers, GPS, Barcode and Multimedia. The solution has been designed to support data acquisition in resource-constrained areas and handles form-based data collection both with mobile devices and web forms (online and offline). OpenXdata supports low-cost java-enabled cell phones ($30), mid-range phones or any device with a modern web-browser (offline or online) and has a track record of applications in development work and research that include healthcare, education, agriculture, humanitarian work and more. Among the solutions built on the OpenXdata, one can find Capture or OpenMRS.  Capture is used by NGOs to capture data on community outreach, treatment literacy, HIV counselling and testing, media programmes, training, and other HIV-related activities. Clients with access to such data can monitor and evaluate their programs in real time, manage their co-workers and report to funders with greater efficiency. OpenMRS is an electronic medical record system (EMR), designed for use in the developing world. It is a software platform and a reference application which supports health care delivery and research in an extremely wide variety of contexts globally.

Last Mile Mobile Solutionss (LMMS) – presented by Richard Lankas – is a complex system designed by aid-workers. It combines a hardware kit (a handheld computer equipped with a barcode scanner and a camera) and innovative software which allows an organization to simplify the process of remote data collection, beneficiary management as well as commodity distribution and reporting. The solution enables humanitarian staff to solve operational issues that affect aid delivery. It empowers users to collect and dynamically use data in real time at the last mile, i.e., the final interaction point between crisis-affected people and the aid workers. This solution, developed by World Vision and having been implemented in over 15 countries, aims to provide faster and more effective aid relief while ensuring accountability in humanitarian aid delivery. It helps to reduce the time and costs of process management, and it also increases the transparency of humanitarian activities through better quality and integrity of the data collected (aid recipients receive ID cards to foster the calculation and distribution of supplies). To examine some exemplary uses of LMMS read the Haiti Earthquake Response Case Study, where the system was adapted to provide both food and non-food items together with cash-for-work distributions for livelihood programming. Alternatively, watch the video to learn how LMMS brings more effective food aid distribution to African countries.

Humanitarian Data Toolkit (HDT) – presented by Anahi Ayala Iacucci  @anahi_ayala – is a self-contained data collection suite of apps that was developed by Internews and the Modi Research Group at Columbia University. It facilitates information needs assessment in emergencies where aid workers are often confronted with a lack of  electricity, Internet or other technical capacity on the ground. HDT supports both mobile and paper-based data collection in real time. Within 24 hours organizations can deploy a ready-to-use kit to gather, digitize and analyze information during emergencies. HDT consists of a laptop running a local instance of the Formhub3 data collection software, a scanner, a WiFi network and phones that fit in a carry-on sized Pelican case and an additional portable solar panel / battery that is able to reliably power the toolkit when electricity is not available. The full cost of the hardware component of the system (excluding phones) amounts to between $2,000-$3,000. The software suite is supported by free solutions based on an open-source license ( Formhuband ODK) and an affordable service – Captricity.

The Humanitarian Data Toolkit, which can be replicated and customized to fit in with specific requirements, becomes a tool which facilitates data collection processes and makes it easier to fill in information gaps that occur during humanitarian crises both at a technical and methodological level.

ViewWorld – presented by Arkadiusz Kwaśny @arkadiuszkwasny and Dariusz Wylon @corporate_coach – is a data collection and management platform consisting of a web service and native mobile apps supporting NGOs in Europe and Africa. The app fosters timely, effective and reliable transfer of information from the field to the decision makers in the organizations. It was developed by the Selleo Web and Mobile Development House for ViewWorld Cph – a Copenhagen-based, privately-held company which collaborates with multiple non-profit organisations around the world. ViewWorld not only generates statistics on the different types of activities over time and space but also improves reporting transparency through easy access to GPS-coordinates and varied data formats (e.g. texts, videos, images, barcodes, etc.). Field officers – equipped with mobile devices – can fill in the forms, create reports and submit such reports from mobile devices even when working in areas with low or no internet connection. The solution is, for instance, widely used by CARE in the Village Savings and Loans Association initiative to improve financial services in rural areas and by the Danish Red Cross for a project in Cambodia.

Imogene – presented by Julien Dupouy and created by Medes –  is an open-source solution which allows building and deploying integrated data collection information systems.  The solution is deployable as both online and offline mode and is particularly fit for surveillance systems, where data very often needs not only to be collected but also regularly updated. It consists of a web application, a desktop application and an Android app for mobile devices. Imogene is specifically designed for data managers who do not have advanced development skills but need to quickly generate modern and efficient information systems. Still, the solution requires IT expertise concerning the installation process on both server and client machines. Imogene enables the collection and processing data in varied contexts ranging from field operations to data analysis centers. You can view a short presentation of the Imogene solution used to support the surveillance of tuberculosis in Georgia.

Global Emergency Overview (GEO)  – presented by Arkadiusz Kwaśny @arkadiuszkwasny and Dariusz Wylon @corporate_coach – is a cloud-based system consisting of a web application and native mobile applications that enable NGOs to easily access up-to-date content generated in the Global Overview, country analyses and the Disaster Needs Analysis documents. The app suite, developed by Selleo (a software development house which creates custom web and mobile solutions for NGOs and companies), emerged from the collaboration between Internews’ Humanitarian Information Projects and the Assessment Capacities Project (ACAPS). The system supports humanitarian aid operations and addresses the needs of disaster-affected people and institutions. It provides an overview of natural disasters and complex crisis situations and also engages the system users as report co-creators. GEO facilitates the decision making processes in the organizations which attempt to alleviate the impact of natural disasters and complex emergencies. Emergency relief workers can gain access to information about the types of humanitarian crises, specific conditions in affected countries, highlights of the last seven days and the prioritization of the affected countries in accordance with the severity of the crisis situation and the humanitarian response required. The system is available for free and can be downloaded to Android and iOS based phones.

POIMapper – presented by Mike Santer @mikesanter – enables the collection, updating and sharing of geographically-tagged data in real-time. The solution supports devices ranging from low-cost feature phones for basic questionnaires to smartphones and tablets for complex questionnaires with advanced features. It focuses in particular on data visualization on interactive maps including the layering of maps with relevant area information, real time tracking of personnel movement and providing feedback on the data submitted to field personnel. Optimized for NGOs’ programmes monitoring requirements, Poimapper enables easy monitoring and evaluation of development programmes and accounts for various rough field conditions. The solution is used in different contexts, e.g. oral cancer, HIV, tuberculosis, fire-caused wound screening, anemia monitoring and treatment. Some of the institutions which have chosen to use the solution are Niras, an organization supporting the achievement of Kenya’s development goals, or Global NGO Plan International to monitor the spread of tuberculosis in Thailand.

ArcGIS The ArcGIS – presented by Stanislas Pachulski – is a web mapping platform with intuitive tools to create and publish interactive maps and manage and analyze geospatial data. The software, developed by Esri, is a ready-to-use solution which allows nonprofit organizations to incorporate GIS into their mission-critical workflows. Users can quickly and easily share their maps and data on blogs or web pages and disseminate them through various social media channels. The reach of ArcGIS can be extended to a field workforce with smartphone and tablet applications. The solution not only supports data collection, reporting and GIS analysis but it also provides access to rich ready-to-use content including base maps, demographic, reference and specialty maps. To see the practical application of this technology you may review the USA Online Medical Aid Distribution Map by Direct Relief or the Climate Change and African Political Stability Mapping Tool, whose prototype was built with ArcGIS technology and which is now upgraded by CCAPS and AidData.

WEPI (Web epidemiology) – presented by Curtis Broderick – is a secure, free, web-based survey creation tool and questionnaire manager targeting the needs of health professionals and epidemiologists. This solution was created by EpiConcept as a tool that could respond to the need of non-IT people to design and disseminate their own simple questionnaires. It is based on EpiConcept’s health ministry-certified, secure platform for hosting personal medical information. Wepi is designed to foster collaboration among its users and to encourage the latter to share data entry tasks across the office or across the Internet. Questionnaire creation is purposefully limited to the basic needs, and questionnaires can be completed on devices fitted up with an Internet connection (laptop, Android telephones and tablets). Survey results can be exported to CSV, Stata, and EpiData. Wepi is meant to be simple and user-friendly and to evolve along with the specific needs of epidemiologists and public health professionals.

The Operational Activity Security Information System (OASIS) – presented by Keith Doyle – is a free information sharing and analysis tool integrated with GIS which enables users to create their own data collection systems. The solution was designed by iMMAP for humanitarian actors to combine data collection and sharing along with the mapping of survey results. It is now used in several countries across the globe in such fields as security, shelter, camp coordination, mine action and more. The system helps to capture security and humanitarian incidents, events and operational data and brings them all together to enable on-the-fly reporting and analysis. Developed to fill in the security information gap, OASIS fosters information sharing, which is critical when assessing the risks involved in humanitarian operations. Read this article on information management and mine action programs to find out more about OASIS in action.


The three days at NOMAD in Paris were full of knowledge sharing. There was time and opportunity to explore modern MDC solutions, discover some of the specific challenges faced by NGOs and the pervasive spirit of cooperation will have stimulated engaging discussions and new partnerships. The idea of strengthening collaboration between mobile solution providers and NGO practitioners provides both communities with a chance to create and deploy better mobile applications for the greater effectiveness and efficiency of humanitarian and development operations.

The organizations which consider using mobile data solutions may check the new version of the NOMAD online assistant selection tool. The web service allows NGOs to compare mobile data collection solutions registered in the system and choose the one best suited to meet their specific needs. If, however, your needs are truly unique, and you thus need to build an innovative custom solution, Selleo would be more than willing to assist you with their web and mobile development services.


All the photos from the event were taken by the Nomad Team.

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