Setting up ICTs in emergencies

Hilman Agung Emergency, ICT4D, Methodology

Hilman Agung, our dedicated ICT Humanitarian Support Personnel (HSP), shares some insights into this new role and his experiences with this new way of working.

One of the biggest challenges to getting started with information communications technology (ICT) is having the capacity and support on the ground, especially in humanitarian settings where time is of the essence and small mistakes can be costly. That’s why we have developed a humanitarian support role for ICTs at Oxfam who can be deployed to help with training and set up.

Deployable, hands-on support is a crucial part of supporting the adoption of ICTs, but understanding the context and programme design can be just as – if not more –  important. Throughout my career, my specialism has always been in water and sanitation (WASH), mostly in emergencies, and I always saw opportunities to use digital technology in our humanitarian work. I noticed that humanitarian responders often get stuck with using conventional approaches such as paper based systems. They don’t have the time to think about ICT or investigate options, leaving them with time consuming processes which are time consuming and hardly accurate in consolidation, not to mention in its analysis.

The best people to implement ICT in emergencies are those who have real field experience

When I considered taking on the role as a deployable ICT support, I thought twice because I don’t have an ICT background. But in discussions with colleagues I came to realise that the best people to implement ICT in emergencies are those who have real field experience, and  a good grasp of what is happening in the field, so the ICT applications can be pragmatic and realistic. While most humanitarians struggle with limited time, this dedicated role allows me to focus solely on understanding processes and introducing ICT where it makes sense and adds value. Taking this time out allows you to quickly see how ICT can play a pivotal role in facilitating the speed of a response which can contribute greatly to the quality of our emergency work.

My first country deployment was Ethiopia where I was initially tasked to support a survey which adopted a gender lens to the impact of drought.  We hit the ground running, with limited time we needed to roll out a digital survey using one of Oxfam’s preferred tools called Mobenzi in 2 regions (Somali and Afar). From an initial 2 week work plan, my deployment was extended to 2 months and by the end of my mission we completed 6 surveys about food security and water, carried out 3 trainings and supported a digital registration process using Last Mile Mobile Solutions. The work was enough to convince the country team to recruit an ICT officer, the first of its kind designed to support all ICT related initiatives for the country programme, including capacity building, harmonising, approach and innovation. The response project manager said it was a benefit that I am “IT-technically knowledgeable but also have a programme background.”

From there I was deployed to Lebanon, where I supported digitalisation of the beneficiary registration using Mobenzi and a mobile protection survey in 2 districts.  I trained the country team in Mobenzi and Excel and supported the water team to develop a database for the facilities in the camp. This helped with buy-in as the Emergency Response Coordinator said, “Even if there are ICT capacities in country (which are often limited), we are still lacking knowledge of new tools. At the same time, it sometimes needs a push from the outside to make teams realise the usefulness of new tools etc, especially if they require some initial investment.”


Clemence Abbes