What is information management (IM)?
The term “information management,” as currently used in the context of humanitarian response,
includes the following activities:
Collection: The quality and rigor associated with the collection of information has a direct effect on its ultimate
utility. In order to be comparable, assessments should apply basic information management standards such as
agreed upon place names.
Processing and Storage: Raw data is of little use to humanitarian decision makers. In order to add value,
information managers must transform both numerical and narrative data into useful products such as Situation
Reports, Thematic Maps, Who’s Doing What Where matrices etc. Information systems must be based on a user-
centred approach in order to made information retrieval efficient and intuitive.
Analysis: Given the wealth of disparate information available in a response operation, analysis is necessary to
ensure that key information is utilized in such a way as to effectively inform and support the decision-making
process. The analytical process may include the disaggregating or combining of data / information (or a
combination of both). This could be done, for example, in order to establish a comprehensive view of the situation,
determination of trends, or to identify gaps.
Dissemination: Effective information management involves the distribution of information through various
channels, such as Email, Web, RSS, Print and Meetings. In order to avoid either an information drought, or an
information overload, information managers must make effective use of appropriate distribution channels.
Innovations in technology and working practices have led to improvements in other aspects of the information
management process, including the quality and quantity of information products available. However, there still
remains a critical need to go a step beyond generating basic products into more sophisticated decision-support
Why is this issue important?
Humanitarian activities, carried out in chaotic and fast-changing environments by multiple actors, often lack even
the most basic shared information systems, leading to possible duplication of effort and non-optimal use of
Information is critical to coordination and decision-making in a humanitarian response but it must be actively and
Who is responsible for IM in emergencies?
The responsibility for ensuring appropriate IM needed for an effective and coordinated intra-cluster response rests
with the Cluster/Sector Lead Agency while OCHA is responsible for the inter-cluster response.
What is expected of you in your role as Cluster/Sector lead in the field?
The “Generic Terms of Reference for Cluster/Sector Leads at the Country Level” articulates the main tasks to be
carried out by Cluster/Sector Leads to ensure coherent and effective humanitarian response in emergencies. The
“Operational Guidance on responsibilities of Cluster/Sector Leads and OCHA in Information Management” will
further clarify the Cluster/Sector responsibilities in this regard.
Implicit in this responsibility is the expectation of engagement in a wide range of IM activities necessary to
successfully carry out these tasks. Although the following guidelines on the role of the Cluster/Sector in IM have
been written primarily to establish working arrangements in new emergencies, or where Cluster/Sector
coordination mechanisms did not previously exist, they can serve as a means to enhance inter-agency IM
mechanisms in ongoing responses.
The responsibility for ensuring adequate IM processes and systems to support effective Cluster/Sector
coordination rests first and foremost with the Cluster/Sector Lead. Where necessary and/or appropriate, the
CSLT 4: 15-19 October 2007 16
Information Management in Clusters
Cluster/Sector Lead may utilize the resources and capacities - the secondment of technical staff for example - of
other Cluster/Sector members to carry out or support IM activities.
Upon establishment of the Cluster, an IM focal point for the Cluster should be identified to facilitate data/IM
issues and activities. The Cluster IM focal points will be expected to work closely with OCHA Information
Management and/or HIC staff on developing information management arrangements to support and monitor
overall humanitarian response.
What are the IM responsibilities of Cluster/Sector leads at the country level?
Cluster/Sector Leads should identify key standards and indicators for monitoring the progress and effectiveness
of humanitarian response. These standards and indicators should be developed in consultation with
Cluster/Sector members to ensure that members’ data collection efforts are aligned with those of the
Cluster/Sector. Cluster/Sector Leads should ensure that standards and indicators take into account existing
globally-agreed standards regimes such as Sphere standards or other sector-specific norms.
Response monitoring indicators should be reviewed by the Humanitarian Coordinator to ensure they can provide
a comprehensive and accurate overview of both the magnitude and impact of the response. Once indicators
have been agreed, mechanisms for data collection and collation at the country level should be established. In
establishing this mechanism the following should be taken into consideration:
Who will collect primary data (i.e. NGOs, local authorities, other actors?)
Where will data be aggregated (i.e. at the field level, at the country level?)
How often will data be updated (i.e. ongoing, once weekly, etc)
Who will collate aggregate data (i.e. RC/HC’s office, OCHA office, HIC,etc)
In order to ensure a comprehensive overview of the Cluster/Sector members’ activities is available to support
planning and gap analysis, Cluster/Sectors should ensure that systems for activity tracking are in place. In the
early stages of an emergency response, information collected may be imprecise but should become more
detailed (i.e. village-level or facility-level tracking, project status tracking, pipeline analysis etc) as the response
Where possible, Cluster/Sector Leads are encouraged to establish Geographic Information (mapping) systems
(GIS) to support a wider range of analytical activities. Where GIS capacity is not available within the cluster,
Cluster/Sector Leads may work with the OCHA Office and/or HIC to obtain necessary mapping support. As in
the case of data collection, GIS activities should be closely coordinated with those of other clusters or OCHA/HIC
to minimize duplication and adhere to agreed data standards.
What are the minimum IM tools and services required by the Cluster/Sector Lead?
Cluster/Sector IM focal points should contribute to inter-cluster IM coordination led by OCHA, and
support efforts to ensure coherence and coordination between intra and inter cluster information
Cluster/Sector IM focal points will work with OCHA to establish the systems and processes needed for
effective information sharing with cluster partners related to humanitarian contact list, meeting
schedules, who does what where information, needs analysis, gap analysis, etc
Cluster/Sector leads are responsible for generating up-to-date cluster specific information and sharing it
with OCHA in order to support inter-cluster data sharing:
policy or technical guidance
CSLT 4: 15-19 October 2007 26
Information Management in Clusters
What IM coordination is required with other clusters and OCHA?
Because the OCHA Office and/or HIC maintains similar mechanisms to support overall (country-level) response,
the Cluster IM focal point should work closely with the OCHA office and/or HIC to avoid duplication of efforts and
to ensure that information can be combined with that of other clusters where necessary. Clear procedures and
processes should be put in place to ensure that information is regularly updated and disseminated.
The HIC is a service for the humanitarian community working in Complex Emergencies. The HIC is managed by
OCHA, and operates in coordination with a number of partners.
Where possible, Cluster/Sector Leads should collect and make available all relevant agency assessments to
further minimize duplication. This should be done in coordination with an OCHA or an HIC, where one has been
established. In addition, Cluster/Sector Leads and IM focal points should coordinate all data identification and
collection efforts at the inter-cluster level to ensure harmonization of data standards and avoid duplication in data
What are the IM responsibilities of OCHA?
Providing information products and services to the humanitarian community is an important part of OCHA’s
coordination role in both new and ongoing emergencies. OCHA will allocate appropriate IM resources, according
to the nature and scope of the emergency.
OCHA will suggest standards that allow for datasets and databases to be compatible (inter-operability).
The minimum set of predictable standardized information products to be produced in collaboration with
clusters/sectors and made available to all are:
Contact directories of humanitarian partners and IM focal points;
Meeting schedules, agendas and minutes of coordination meetings chaired by the
Humanitarian Coordinator or OCHA;
Who does What Where (3W) database and derivative products such as maps;
Inventory of relevant common and Cluster/Sector data sets, including population data;
A country-specific or disaster specific humanitarian web-portal;
The minimum services to be provided or made available to clusters/sectors are:
A space where the humanitarian community can access information resources;
Maintenance of common datasets that are used by the majority of sectors/clusters;
Geospatial data and analysis relevant to inter-cluster/sector decision making;
Management of the collection and dissemination of all inter-cluster information;
Provision of technical IM advice to clusters/sectors on survey design for needs assessments
and/or other significant external data collection exercises; and
OCHA will also aim to provide standardized cross-cluster needs/gap analysis based on information
provided by the clusters.
OCHA is responsible for establishing an Information Management Working Group at the country level in
order to coordinate IM activities and support sectors/clusters in their IM activities, including the
promotion of best practices.
In determining OCHA’s IM response, OCHA will be cognisant of those organizations with in-country IM
operational capacities willing to support inter-cluster humanitarian response throughout the emergency.
CSLT 4: 15-19 October 2007 36
Information Management in Clusters
Tools and Services to Support Information Management
The following tools and services are available to support information management. You can view more
information about each by placing your cursor over the underlined reference, pushing down on your “CTRL”
button and then “click” to follow the link. Please note that several of these tools are constantly being updated.
The “Operational Guidance on responsibilities of Cluster/Sector Leads and OCHA in Information Management”
will be added to this list once approved by the IASC Working Group.
1. GDACS Global Disaster Alert and Coordination System
2. vOSOCC Virtual On-Site Operations Coordination Centre
3. UNDAC United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination
4. HIC Humanitarian Information Centre
5. 3 W Who does What Where?
7. FTS Financial Tracking Service
8. IRIN Integrated Regional Information Networks
10. Information Management Toolkit (a collection of IM best practices, standards, and templates)
CSLT 4: 15-19 October 2007 46