Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Information Management in Humanitarian Aid – by Louisa Schneider

What influences us every day in life, while making our decisions? What helps to asses, to evaluate, to define? The answer is – as simple as abstract – “information”. Who of us did never regret one decision, because he was wiser afterwards than before? Each person has his/her own wealth of information mixed with experiences, knowledge, prejudices, etc.

Today, the rapid developments in technology and software provide access to information and knowledge in immense abundance, faster than ever before (and mostly for free). In recent years countless information and knowledge databases have developed on the internet, used by millions or even billions of people. We call it the information and knowledge society (cf. Meier, 2006). One known quote from the German journalist and publicist Rudolf Augenstein (*1923, †2002; publ. Der Spiegel) is: “The number of those who are no more informed by too many information increases.” However, can there be an oversupply of information or is it just a question of adequate management?

In large companies and organizations information management was established to deal with this issue. Information is considered to be an important production factor. The one who is informed best can make the most rational decision. The same applies for humanitarian organizations (cf. Meier, 2006).

In the case of emergency and disaster, serious decisions, which have a tremendous reach and effects, have to be made within minutes. Therefore, information must be optimal accessible and communicable. A complete flow of information for all parties involved, especially decision-makers, is probably the most difficult task. Effective information management is the answer to this problem – or rather should be, since exactly at this point many weak points can be found nowadays.

The overwhelming humanitarian impact of the 2010 Earthquake in Haiti, or the Tsunami in the Indian Ocean 2004, generated tremendous coordination challenges, which are just two examples that still a lot needs to be done. Indeed, the challenges are enormous. Hundreds of organizations have to handle same or contradictory information, on this basis coordinate thousands of assistants, specialists and goods – until aid get where it is required. Having learned something from previous mistakes, new approaches are discussed and devised in the scientific discourse recently. Information and communication tools to support the work of humanitarian organizations are to be developed (Van de Walle & Dugdale, 2012). The activity of VGI opens up great potential to get real time information from disaster areas. Nevertheless, good management of the information is indispensable. We will see to what extend mankind will be able to manage and deal with the new invented forms of getting and spreading information.

List of literature

Meier, A. (2006). Informationsmanagement für NPO's, NGO's et al. Fribourg: Springer.

Van de Walle, B., & Dugdale, J. (2012). Information management and humanitarian relief coordination: findings from the Haiti earthquake response. Int. J. Business Continuity and Risk Management, 4, S. 278-305.


  1. Also to be emphazised: In the field of VGI there have already been developed approaches and tools to manage information as well. - Louisa Schneider

  2. Werner Clödy7 May 2013 at 14:30

    In consequence of the developments in technology, information (especially VGI) is available on a big scale. However I think there is no oversupply of information because every kind of information is useful. So in my view the main challenge will be the coordination and management of information by specific actors.

    1. Yes, maybe we should replace the word "oversupply" with the word "overload".
      For example, the number of tweets during Hurricane Sandy in NYC area was about 30.000 tweets per minute(or per second?. This is clearly an information overload and the challenge is how to filter these information for relevant messages for crisis response...


  3. In my opinion there are definitely more and less useful information as well redundant information - also depending on the user of the information. An increasing amount of information makes an efficient management of them more difficult. Smart information management is definitely the key, especially automatic filters.

  4. Agree with the last comments, but even with the new tools and filters, the question remains how to handle incorrect messages or the fake messages ( mentioned on p.298) that are used to bring humanitarian aid teams to a specific area.

    1. That is also matter that came to my mind: How can we filter what is honest information and what is fake.
      And additionnaly I ask myself:
      Loading up an information is very fast and simple. After seconds work is done.
      Will the group of people taking voluntary more time then a few seconds to check the information always be big enough to handle all data?
      I think it necessary to have those people who control and filter, because who has really that much time and motivation to reflect every information he gets!?