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Primero and the challenge/opportunity of information management in emergencies

When you speak to humanitarians about information management, they tend to think about aggregation, reporting to OCHA and HumanitarianResponse, and drilling into the response data to see what's working and where there are gaps. Across sectors and programmes, we handle a lot of data in an emergency. Some of this data is gathered by partners to show where they are working, who they are working with, and the types of services and support they are providing. In Child Protection, we might use this kind of data to rethink our programming priorities, to shift resources to particular area or type of intervention, and hopefully, to save lives, address vulnerabilities, and prevent some of the harm that emergencies bring with them. But in addition to this, we have another important obligation with respect to data: we have to handle the personal, case level data of individual children who are highly vulnerable and need targeted services. We have to do this quickly, making sure data is shared only when necessary to promote the child's best interests, and in a way that ensure the protection and security of this sensitive information. And we have to do this knowing that our interventions are sustainable, meaning that we have to have a plan to hand this work over to national authorities when the emergency subsides. This is a tall order under any circumstances. In a rapid onset emergency or a situation of armed conflict, this is a necessary and complex challenge.

In mid-June the Primero team was asked to support a week-long workshop hosted by the UNICEF WCARO Child Protection team in Dakar. The workshop was broadly focusing on child protection information management in emergencies. They team brought +35 people in from 15 countries, some from the region and others from as far away as Ukraine and Mozambique. They represented more than a dozen different organizations, and they came wearing many hats, from pure data geeks to government policy advocates to country-level programme champions. When offered an opportunity to lock them in a room for a day to talk all things Primero, we jumped on the chance.

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When the concept note was first circulated for this event, it seemed like it would be equal parts training session and planning workshop. It was clear that there were many organizations and programmes that were already using or preparing to use Primero. We have some seasoned "super users" in the region that were going to be in attendance, and it would be a great moment to share experiences and build community. Two things stood out immediately. Firstly, for a "humanitarian" event, there was a heavy emphasis on development programming, and lots of mentions of the "nexus". And secondly, there was a much more pronounced emphasis on the role data has to play in our programming, and the way data strategy and tools should be integrated into programme design (and not haphazardly applied as an afterthought). The notion that a comprehensive data strategy was optional had disappeared from the conversation.

"In fragile and conflict-affected contexts, where both development and humanitarian programming often overlap, building innovative and resilient information systems that support efficient case management can help to scale and accelerate results for children. They can make an essential contribution to achieving the development-humanitarian nexus. During emergencies, investing in these systems can pave the path towards stronger and longer term national data and case management systems... that are more resilient to shocks."

Building Resilient Systems and Contributing to the Humanitarian-Development Nexus (UNICEF WCARO Child Protection)

We spent a very productive day together, and we heard from government partners working with the CPIMS+, humanitarian responders using the GBVIMS+, and some child protection visionaries that were developing multi-faceted systems strengthening programmes to scale nationally in countries like Ghana, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone. We were joined by the global teams providing support for case management, coordination and gender based violence. There was a lot of shared humanitarian experience, a lot of lessons learned. The dialogue on the role of data systems in emergencies is changing.

A few years ago, there would have been much more dialogue about whether or not the investment in data systems - and especially mobile technology - was warranted. Now, there is a much stronger consensus. Emergency responses may create openings to introduce new data systems and practices, but serving the response is only part of our obligation. These systems must be sustainable. The good practices must also be "baked into" our systems strengthening approach. To empower government partners, to give them the tools they need to course correct, invest, and reach their targets. To focus not just on coverage, but on quality of services. To make them aware of changes to they can prepare and be ready for shocks. We can do this, but we need data; not necessarily more, but better quality and more frequent data. We need better data systems that adapt to and build upon what is working in-country. We need to capture data at the point of service provision, while helping that service provider be more efficient. We need better data handling practices, with a stronger emphasis on confidentiality and privacy. This is not something we can do without proper planning, adequate resources, and a long-term view.

Much of the skepticism that generally comes with the discussions we have on introducing technology in support of child protection service provision is beginning to fade. Practitioners are cautious, but it is clear that the cost of inaction is becoming more palpable. Perhaps this is partially the result of technologies demonstrating results and of the sharing of some success stories. Perhaps it is because of the much more robust reporting requirements that come with the SDGs, and the pressures that is putting on organizations and governments. Whatever the reasons, Primero is now increasingly present in the conversation at the design stage of the intervention, as an essential and integrated data management component of a successful programme.

We are committed to seeing Primero deliver this value for programmes.

There was something inspiration about this workshop. So many people, so much talent and energy, all of us acknowledging that if we are going to reach the SDGs and our commitments to millions of children and survivors of violence, we need to get behind a clear data and information management strategy.

Dakar is the regional hub for many of the organizations that were participating in the workshop. It is a vibrant, sprawling and sun-soaked city on the Western-most tip of the continent. With the vast waters of the Atlantic wrapped around it, and the sands of the Sahara at its back, it's a place that feels like opportunity. Change is happening here. It is definitely a place to watch.

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