How to improve information management and decision making in disasters


Files (Photo: Daniel Y. Go on Flickr)

I have just spent a few days brainstorming on a policy paper about how information collection and analysis can be improved to lead to better decision making in times of crisis. Below are some of our central thoughts. I’d love to hear what you think about them.

  1. The members of the affected population themselves have the biggest impact during emergency response and early recovery. IM systems should have the information needs of the affected population at heart, so that they can make well informed decisions.
  2. The most efficient information systems are those that the affected population is already familiar with and many communities have existing, trusted mechanisms to share information.  Mapping these systems and connecting with them has to be part of disaster preparedness plans.
  3. Similarly, as part of disaster preparedness, relationships with the private sector should be developed where these can assist in communicating with the affected population, for example through mobile phone providers.
  4. IM systems have to adapt to the increased information flow that many-to-many communication brings with it. This can include involving new actors, such as the Volunteer & Tech Community who can assist with filtering and prioritizing information.
  5. IM systems should treat actionable information differently from information for situational awareness. This means that different kinds of information should also be routed to different recipients.
  6. IM systems always have to adapt to the current disaster. However, the software that IM relies on is frequently built according to requirements that have been specified many years ago. Humanitarian response organizations should instead pursue an agile, open source approach where developers add modules to a common, standardized core.

(Please note that I use the term “system” in its broadest sense. I.e. “IM systems” includes the people and structures who are part of it and not just IT systems)

Of course, the sad truth is that we were by far not the first people to sit together and think about how to improve the information -> decision loop (see “Best Practices in Humanitarian Information Management and Exchange”). However, I like to believe that maybe organizations weren’t ready to tackle these challenges in 2002 when data still mainly flowed from organizations outwards. I sincerely hope that the increase in multi-directional communication means that this time the recommendations will be acted on and not just be yet another document that people look at in 2022 when writing the next paper.

What are your thoughts? What central thoughts should be part of this policy paper?


  1. Fraser June 22, 2012
    • Timoluege June 25, 2012
  2. Andrej Verity July 2, 2012
    • Timoluege July 3, 2012
      • Andrej Verity July 3, 2012