Introducing the Humanitarian Service Data Model

This post is from Devin Balkind, of Sarapis, the Sahana Foundation, and NYC:Prepared. See Devin’s previous post in Open Referral here

Immediately after a disaster, information managers collect information about who is doing what, and where, and then turn this information into “3W Reports.”

While some groups have custom software for collecting this information, the most widespread tool for this work is the spreadsheet. (Indeed, the spreadsheet is still the “lingua franca” of the humanitarian aid community, which is why UNOCHA’s Humanitarian Data Exchange project is designed around the exchange of ‘flat’ spreadsheet-based data.)

During the ongoing migrant crisis facing Europe, a number of volunteer technical communities (VTCs)  in the Digital Humanitarian Network have engaged in the work of managing data about these humanitarian services. They quickly realized they needed to come up with a shared template for this information so they could more easily merge data with their peers, and also so that during the next disaster, they didn’t have to reinvent the wheel all over again.

Since spreadsheets are the most popular information management tool, the group has decided to focus on creating a standard set of column headers for spreadsheets with the following criteria:

To create this shared data model, we analyzed a number of existing service data models, including:

The first two data models came from the humanitarian sector and were relatively simple and easy to analyze.

Open Referral, however, did not develop the HSDS under the assumption that spreadsheets might be the primary medium for editing, sharing and even viewing directory data. To effectively incorporate Open Referral into our analysis, we had to convert it into something that could be viewed in a single sheet of a spreadsheet (what we call a “flat model”).Humanitarian_Services_Data_model

Check out the Open Referral HSDS_flat sheet to see this work product.

Once we had a flat version of Open Referral, we could do some basic analysis of the three models to create a shared data model. (You can learn about our process in our post “10 Steps to Create a Shared Data Model with Spreadsheets.”)

During the process we also made this flat version of HSDS compliant with the Humanitarian Exchange Language (HXL).

The results of that work is what we’re calling the Humanitarian Service Data Model (HSDM). The following documents and resources (hopefully) make it useful to you and your organizations.

We hope the HSDM will be used by the various stakeholders who were involved in the process of making it, as well as other groups that routinely manage this type of data, such as:

  • member organizations of the Digital Humanitarian Network
  • grassroots groups that come together to collate information after disasters
  • big institutions like UNOCHA who maintain services datasets
  • software developers who make apps to organize and display service information

We believe this will enable members of the Open Referral network to collaborate more readily with the international humanitarian aid community. We’re also interested in the possibility that the Open Referral Initiative might take this “flat” version under its wing and maintain it going forward.

I also hope that the community that came together to create the HSDM will continue to work together to create a taxonomy for #service+type (what the service does) and #service+eligibility (who the service is for). If and when that work is completed, digital humanitarians will be able to more easily create and share critical information about services available to people in need.


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