“Do no harm” in the era of environmental emergency: revisiting Information Management in the aid sector
Across sectors of activities, we have been hearing for almost two decades now a recurring maxim: “data is the new oil”. How to best manage data has also become a central question in the aid sector, that has followed the trend of becoming data-driven. We, as humanitarian and development practitioners, now massively use technological solutions as part of our programming, be it Mobile Data Collection, cash transfers, online dashboards, satellite imagery analysis and mapping, or cloud-based data storage and services, to name a few.
When used responsibly, it is clear that such technologies are a game-changer for our internal decision-making, and also help save time and increase efficiency by offering, for instance, solutions for reducing non-essential travelling. They also play a role in increased accountability towards partners, donors and affected populations. What’s more, innovative data production methods help us build better, more robust models to decipher the complexity of our world.
It is interesting to note that in recent analyses around the COP26 concerning our sector’s carbon footprint, data as well as the digitalization that often comes with it, is usually only seen as part of the solution. It is true that data and new technologies help better understand and measure our footprint, and guide us towards more resilience. Yet, although long regarded as “immaterial”, Information and Communication technologies recently surpassed the airline industry – of all industries – in terms of carbon footprint.
As the world is struggling with an unprecedented global crisis – with environmental, sanitary, social, political and humanitarian dimensions – it is thus worth asking to what extent the data solutions we develop in the aid sector to help better understand and respond to the various crises we face, are also contributing to these crises? And in particular, when following the “do no harm” principle that is at the heart of our actions, should we not further assess the environmental side effects of what we do, and not just consider our short-term programming results?
This is the conversation we invited you all to have during the 2022 GeOnG forum: looking into, on the one hand, how aid practitioners can play an active role in being part of the solution in revealing and responding to the environmental crisis and its impacts, as well as, on the other hand, how they can embrace technologies and approaches that uphold the “do no environmental harm” motto.
There is, of course, no miracle solution – especially as assessing one’s environmental impact is a complex topic that aid actors cannot tackle on their own – but, during this forum, we explored what the aid sector can actually revisit in its Information Management approaches to adjust to the environmental emergency.
To this end, we identified four main tracks for the event and encouraged all of you to submit ideas for sessions via our Open Call for Suggestions. Suggestions going beyond the scope of these tracks yet addressing the main theme of the event were, of course, also welcome.
Track 1 - Information sobriety, data minimization, low tech and green tech
Imagining how aid actors can limit their environmental impact considering alternative solutions or revisiting their approaches.
Track 2 - Information and localization: autonomization, empowerment, participation
Reflecting on how data can empower the people most at risk of this global crisis, who are the best placed to adapt to and prevent disasters, leveraging technology in support of localization and new approaches of humanitarian action.
Track 3 - Information Management and its role to reveal or better respond to the environmental crisis
Presenting examples of projects and showcasing technologies which outline how Information Management can both help shine a light on and address the environmental crisis and its consequences – such as: increased number of natural disasters, populations forced to migrate, chronic humanitarian crises.
Track 4 - Collaboration and more sustainable and resilient systems
Reflecting on how collaboration can help make Information Management tools and approaches a cornerstone of a more sustainable world. For instance, by considering how aid actors furthering collaboration around IM systems is key to a more open, distributed, trustful and, ultimately, efficient system.