Non-technical overview

Data standards matter: they allow information to flow to different destinations (e.g. reports, databases, web sites) with less time wasted on manual retyping or copy/pasting; they make it easier to form a timely and accurate big picture of what’s happening during a crisis, with fewer cases of omission or double counting; and they allow the humanitarian community to share processes and software tools.

Thanks to support from the Humanitarian Innovation Fund, we will spend 2014 working to build standards for sharing data among the groups involved in crisis response. The Humanitarian Exchange Language (HXL) initiative is a year long effort with three major goals:


  • develop an initial set of simple standards for humanitarian data;

  • pilot those standards in three countries (Colombia, Kenya, and Yemen); and

  • set up a means for sustaining that work beyond 2014.




HXL Working Group

A core working group leads the HXL effort, with representation from the ICT4Peace Foundation, the Humanitarian Innovation Fund, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Save the Children, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, UNICEF, USAID, the World Bank, and the World Food Programme.

The working group is focussing on two types of data during 2014: Humanitarian Profile (how many people have been hurt or displaced by a crisis), and 3W (who is doing what where).  Several types of supporting data will also be required, particularly geographical data.

One-year roadmap

The goal is to have the following in place by the end of 2014:


  • HXL Standard: There is an open, usable, broadly-supported v1.0 standard for exchanging a small amount of high-value humanitarian data during a protracted crisis.

  • HXL Participation: At least ten humanitarian organizations have committed to exchanging data in the HXL format (including OCHA), and, ideally, at least five of them have begun work.

  • HXL Pilots: Public results available from field pilots of HXL data exchange, including specific information on successes, failures, and proposed best practices.

  • HXL Infrastructure: There is basic free and open technical infrastructure in place to support producers and consumers of HXL data, such as schemas, validation tools, programming libraries, modules, plug-ins, etc.


Making it sustainable

We will need to consider how to take forward the standards work beyond 2014. Any viable international standard needs reach (wide-ranging familiarity and buy-in from stakeholders) and sustainability (a reasonable guarantee that it will continue to be maintained into the future), both of which require a level of governance that can take years to build.

As a result, we need to decide during 2014 whether we will try to build up HXL as a standards body in its own right, or whether we will attempt to affiliate our work with that of another existing, better-established group.

More-detailed background information about HXL and our approach is available in the document Developing humanitarian data standards: an introduction and plan for 2014 (PDF).

Invitation to participate

We are discussing the standards work on a public mailing list,, and we invite everyone interested to join and participate.  You can subscribe by sending an email message to, or by visiting the group’s main page at!forum/hxlproject (where you can find archives of past discussions).

We will also post updates to our blog over the course of 2014.