Guest Blog: frog’s take on creating an open platform for humanitarians

On April 28th, frog kicked off a partnership with the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) to design an open platform for data exchange among UN agencies, NGOs, and governments. Humanitarian work is forever evolving alongside crises; emerging technologies suggest new opportunities for improving collection, communication, and analysis of data collected in crises. Recently, at the Open Knowledge Festival, OCHA launched a beta version of the Humanitarian Data Exchange (HDX), bringing the vision of an open platform for data exchange amongst humanitarians one step closer to reality.

Behind the scenes, the efforts to improve the mid- and long-term vision of the HDX are ongoing. This includes planned improvements to the user experience, intuitive interaction models, insightful analytic features, and an approachable visual aesthetic. To achieve these longer-term objectives, frog began with three weeks of research in New York, Colombia, and Kenya. Speaking with humanitarians working at all levels — from policy advisors at UN headquarters to humanitarian affairs officers in the field — we observed firsthand how significant the challenge of relief coordination is for individuals and organizations.

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UNICEF Information Manager, Minu Limbu, points to one of many information products created by the UNICEF team to communicate evolving situations and reveal insights. Photo credit: Yumi Endo

The frog team found immediate inspiration in the passion and optimism of those working in the humanitarian sector. After engaging interview participants in conversations, product demonstrations, and interactive design activities, the frog team returned from field research with observations that were synthesized into key insights and design principles to build upon in the definition of the HDX experience.

From these conversations we defined seven key insights.

  1.  Emphasize the Ecosystem — From the individual’s perspective, it can be difficult to comprehend the big picture of humanitarian work and the role they (and their data) play within the exchange of information.
  2.  Elevate People and Promote Collaboration — Personal relationships are foundational to humanitarian work and data access is reliant upon the level of trust attributed to an individual or organization.
  3.  Tell the Story of Data — Data quality, availability, and relevance varies across topics (e.g, food security vs health) and over time (e.g., pre or post-crisis). Humanitarians are looking for data context in order to use it appropriately.
  4.  Demonstrate the Value of Raw Data and Collaborative Research — Information is predominately shared in the form of reports. Disaggregated data is needed for comprehensive analysis and effective coordination, yet it is rarely shared in a raw format.
  5.  Accelerate Data Investigations through Analytics — Analytics must be actionable by either driving users toward new insights or creating an information product.
  6.  Focus on Advancing Skills, not Simply Systems — As information and technology grow in sophistication, so do the skills required for coordinating humanitarian work. The importance of data is undeniable but the human resources for managing and acting upon this content are still catching up.
  7.  Promote Data Services, not just Data and Tools — Data needs vary across region and organization. Personalized services drive adoption and growth.

From Research, To Ideation and Implementation

In the immediate future, frog will continue to work closely with OCHA to construct a comprehensive information architecture for the next release of the HDX platform. From this foundational architecture we will create key workflows that demonstrate core features of the visionary experience informed by insights attained through the design research process. The team will be sharing more as the designs progress.

Read the full-length version of this blog in frog’s Design Mind.


Michael DelGaudio is a Creative Director, Jennifer Dunnam is a Senior Interaction Designer, and Yumi Endo is a Senior Visual Designer at frog’s New York studio.