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‘Lives are saved or lost based on the accuracy of data’: the Assessment Data Model IDEA becomes reality

The workshop brought together American Red Cross, Team Rubicon, FEMA, UNDP, NetHope...

March 24, 2021

Written by Cameron Birge, Senior Program Manager Humanitarian Partnerships at Microsoft

Two men standing next to a white board adressing coworkers during a workshop.

Sometimes the journey started leads to the unexpected destination. This has been the case for the Microsoft Humanitarian Partnerships team which organized a consortium of organizations to discuss IoT solutions for drone management which ultimately led to the December 2020 release of the Assessment Data Model as part of the Common Data Model (CDM) for Nonprofits. The published solution now allows for organizations to share their assessment information, no matter its source, in an open-data standard which can enable real-time collaboration before, during and after emergency responses.

This process started back in October 2019 through a NetHope IDEA journey. The Accenture-led workshop brought together representatives from the American Red Cross, Team Rubicon, the US Federal Emergency Management Agency, the United Nations Development Programme, NetHope, Information Technology Disaster Response Center, Mercy Corps, and The facilitators led us through engaging and interactive exercises for two days, where we dived into the problem and desired outcomes. Once the group picked apart the layers, we realized the need for the community was not centered on managing drones and sharing of raw data. Workshop members admitted they did not want the responsibilities of running drone fleets or looking at the hundreds of hours of imagery which required interpretation. Instead, they wanted the actual assessment information, something they could respond to and leverage to design their intervention programs.

This workshop led to the creation of a steering committee which began to meet regularly, and most importantly, contributed to the design of a data model focused on disaster assessments. Our key partner, with CEO Dan Lammot at the lead, worked with the steering team and learned how the various partners conducted their assessment work. He and his team also dove into work published by other organizations such as the World Food Programme, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the United States Agency for International Development, and others. They used this knowledge and their experience with the Common Data Model for Nonprofits to produce the first designs of the data model.

Fittingly, we found ourselves evolving once again. While we started out discussing drones, then moved toward data sharing for damage assessments, Dan’s team realized the work could go further and be a more foundational piece of the overall CDM for Nonprofits where Microsoft plays a stewardship role. The structure and data fields worked to also support other areas of program design and grant reporting, and with the guidance and approval of the CDM for Nonprofits Steering Committee, the decision was made to rename the work and release it as the Assessment Data Model. Now the work can support data capture and sharing for any assessment activity, including those in emergency responses.

This work did not develop in isolation. As Erik Arnold the Tech for Social Impact CTO describes in his December 2020 blog post, the Assessment work has been released alongside the Frontline Humanitarian Logistics data model, work spearheaded by the humanitarian community. By bringing together different components of the published works, organizations can now look to share assessment and critical logistics information. Users can now explore and test the v3.0 release on GitHub, using the data models to map to their existing solutions or create ones with new capabilities.

On the potential, Dan Lammot explains, “During disaster operations, lives are literally saved or lost based on the accuracy and timeliness of data. When combined with the Frontline Humanitarian Logistics and Volunteer Management components of the Common Data Model for Nonprofits, the Assessment model has the potential to dramatically improve decision support during coordinated response operations. I look forward to seeing responders adopt solutions either aligned to or built upon the model. Lives are depending on it.”

This capacity development and data sharing ability is where the Microsoft Humanitarian Partnerships Team looks to make its next investments. We now seek to work with humanitarian organizations to fund real-time data sharing projects and increase data capture capacity based on the CDM for Nonprofits. Humanitarian agencies and governments cannot do it alone. Our chance to meet current and future needs depends on response agencies which can responsibly share data in a low cost, technologically agnostic, interoperable, and predictable manner.

All solutions to global challenges start with a really good idea. If your organization is facing a challenge that would benefit from digital transformation, an IDEA journey could be for you. Find out more today!

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