Interoperability of systems can change the way organisations deliver aid, restoring people’s dignity and ensuring safer and faster access to essential services.
When humanitarian actors collect data in silos, we waste time and resources. Worse, we frustrate the very people we aim to support. To tackle this challenge, the Dignified Identities in Cash Assistance (DIGID) consortium kicked off the Interoperability project in 2022, funded by the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations Directorate-General (ECHO). The project is designed to enable the humanitarian sector to securely share data between organizations by developing a technological approach that reduces risks while promoting system interoperability and user control. By safely sharing data, we can deliver aid faster and increase our accountability to affected populations.
What is DIGID?
The DIGID consortium is made up of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), the Norwegian Refugee Council, the Norwegian Red Cross and Save the Children. Together, we aim to explore the technical aspects needed to securely share data between organizations, focusing on cash and voucher assistance. The consortium has been exploring the concept of humanitarian ‘digital identities’ – sharable credentials that establish vulnerable people’s eligibility for assistance and can be securely shared between multiple organizations. This solution would help to optimize operations, reduce spillage and restore people’s dignity through interoperable systems.
Why is interoperability important?
Vulnerable people affected by violent conflicts or disasters often seek humanitarian assistance from multiple organizations with varied mandates and areas of intervention. But at the moment, organizations use disparate systems that can’t talk to one another, meaning people in need of humanitarian assistance have to register multiple times to get it. This can prevent people from accessing critical services when they need them most, and force people to re-experience trauma. Enabling organizations’ systems to work together will improve coordination and referrals between organizations, strengthen data protection, enable people to access assistance with dignity, and stop people from being excluded from accessing assistance.
Let’s take the case of a migrant on the move; we’ll call her Fatima. Fatima goes through several humanitarian service points (HSP) on her migration route before she reaches her destination. She seeks assistance from multiple organizations with different mandates on her journey.
Fatima approaches HSP 1 seeking cash assistance and healthcare.
- She registers with Organisation A which has the mandate for cash assistance only, she receives cash and a referral note for Organisation B for healthcare;
- Fatima goes to Organisation B and registers, providing the same information again.
Fatima reaches HSP 2 in the same country and is in need of cash assistance and continued healthcare.
- She registers again with Organisation A which again has the mandate for cash assistance only but does not operate the same system in this region; she receives cash
- Fatima goes to Organization C for continued healthcare and registers, providing the same information again.
Fatima reaches HSP 3 in another country and is in need of cash assistance. The same organisations as HSP 1 are present but they do not have the same systems and their data is not accessible as they are in a different country. Fatima registers again with Organisation A which has the mandate for cash assistance only.
For affected populations, data sharing among organizations will allow them to access assistance with dignity and to overcome the challenges of not carrying physical documentation. For humanitarian actors, data sharing is needed to ensure good coordination, speed up and scale up the delivery of assistance and reduce duplication. But due to disparate systems, lack of common data models and risks to data protection and security, meaningful and responsible data sharing and systems interoperability are limited and difficult to achieve.