At a cash distribution on 31 August 2015 at Bajid Kandala camp in Duhok Governorate in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI), senior representatives from UNICEF, the Duhok Governorate’s Board of Relief and Humanitarian Affairs (BRHA), the Italian Embassy and the national media observed staff from World Vision and Medair using World Vision’s Last Mile Mobile Solutions (LMMS) platform to process beneficiaries as they received assistance. For more information on the distribution see http://www.ncciraq.org/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&id=12876:world-vision-lmms-bringshumanitarian-agencies-in-iraq-together&Itemid=149&lang=en The event was attended by such a high-powered delegation because it was the culmination of months of collaborative effort geared towards setting up the LMMS tool. LMMS is a stand-alone system developed by WVI that digitises beneficiary registration, verification, distribution planning and management, monitoring and reporting. The technology has also been used to enhance remote data collection, and manage and speed up aid distributions. Using LMMS delivers rapid reporting functionality to aid workers. It can be utilised by multiple agencies running multiple humanitarian aid programmes across different sectors, with participating agencies accessing beneficiary data stored on a centralised server.
The BRHA, which oversees all activities related to refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs) in the governorate, tasked World Vision and Medair with registering close to 200,000 IDPs living in 16 camps. The two agencies trained the local BRHA and camp management staff, and each of the 16 camps was provided with the equipment necessary to use the LMMS system for registration. Funding from the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Development (DFATD) enabled World Vision to provide training and equipment to the BRHA and other agencies. Between March and August 2015, 32 staff were trained and 34,637 households with 186,159 family members registered on LMMS. Each registered beneficiary received a barcoded ration card with their photo and unique number. The card had the BRHA logo on the back. Of the 16 IDP camps, World Vision was given responsibility for registering households in six; Medair was responsible for five and the remaining five were under the jurisdiction of the BRHA. Data from each camp was consolidated into a single central database.
The LMMS Working Group
An LMMS Working Group was established in May 2015. Meeting monthly, the Working Group comprised representatives of World Vision (as chair), Medair (co-chair), the BRHA and humanitarian agencies planning to or actually using LMMS, including Tearfund, UNICEF, Caritas and Oxfam. The Working Group was established as a forum where LMMS users could discuss, update and share best practice and challenges in their deployment and implementation of LMMS. One of the key provisions of the terms of reference was that all Working Group members were to ‘protect all the data collected by, or shared with members, to seek consent from and respect the rights of beneficiaries, and to use the data that is entrusted to the members only for humanitarian purposes in the current crisis, and not share the data with any parties outside of the WG’. Additional objectives of the Working Group were to:
- improve the coordination of humanitarian aid to beneficiaries by using a common technology platform, in this instance LMMS;
- implement a standardised approach to the registration of IDPs; and
- draft and set up protocols and guidelines to ensure safe access and data security.
Data ownership and protection
The question of data ownership in a scenario where different agencies are undertaking the beneficiary registration process can be complicated. Agencies are usually reluctant to give up or share data that they have captured and that they perceive to be theirs. Concerns regarding data privacy and protection add to the complexity. Having the BRHA as a key stakeholder in the process overcame this hurdle as members of the Working Group agreed that the BRHA, as the government representative, would be the data owner.
In addition to the data protection provisions in the terms of reference, steps were also taken to physically and logically secure the data. Measures included having the central server in a secure location with very strict access control. Industry best practice, such as firewalls, Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) and Virtual Private Networks (VPN), were all implemented over and above the standard LMMS user authentication in order to ensure the security of the data.
At the conclusion of the registration in all 16 IDP camps, the BRHA asked that all agencies doing distributions in the camps utilise LMMS. For upcoming distributions, the agencies would notify the BRHA of their plans, and BRHA staff would use LMMS to set up a distribution plan on the system. On the designated day, the agency would arrive at the camp with its commodities and do the distribution using LMMS. The actual operation of LMMS would be done by the camp management team. LMMS technical staff would be on hand to provide support as needed. After the first official distribution on 31 August, subsequent distributions were sometimes held concurrently in different locations by different agencies, all accessing the data stored on the central server.
A single platform across agencies
The efficiency and effectiveness of technology tools such as LMMS for single agencies is well documented. Drawing on lessons and learning from earlier deployments, including in the Central African Republic (CAR), See Keith Chibafa, ‘Why Not Digital? Technology as an Interagency Tool in the Central African Republic’, Humanitarian Exchange, no. 62, September 2014. the ‘multi agency, multi sector, centralized data’ model deployed in KRI was the next logical step in the evolution of the LMMS product. There are plans to have an independent evaluation and validation of the model in KRI, but the initial results are very promising. The model provides a platform for collaboration, standardisation and optimisation across different actors, and increases humanitarian agencies’ ability to measure their effectiveness as a sector. All agencies use the same platform to track their assistance to beneficiaries, which in turn allows the government and the aid system to monitor coverage, resulting in increased visibility for agencies’ activities and improved accountability. Sharing hardware, software and human resources is a cost-effective way to undertake registrations and distributions, while at the same time ensuring that access to the data is limited to authorised personnel only. Duplications in the data are minimised, as is double counting and overlapping deliveries. An analysis of the data can lead to greater insights and assist in the decision-making process for future assistance.
Challenges and lessons
A heatwave during the holy month of Ramadan and an outbreak of scabies in some of the camps hampered the registration process. High staff turnover among some partners led to multiple training sessions in order to build the capacity of the Working Group members. Finalising contracts and the terms of reference for the Working Group took longer than anticipated, and one lesson for the future would be to start the process earlier as this helps to establish the roles and responsibilities of the various stakeholders early in the process.
- Continue with the registration of new entrants to camps. New displaced families continue to stream into Duhok Governorate and the escalating conflict in Iraq will see a continued influx of IDPs. Having the system in place will speed up the registration process, even if new camps are opened, as the infrastructure to support the registration process is already in place.
- Have locally trained staff from the BRHA and camp management train and build the capacity of new staff as they come on board.
- Undertake an independent evaluation of the model, and gather and document empirical evidence of its costs, bene-fits, strengths and weaknesses.
- Scale up distributions in the camps. With winter looming, it is anticipated that there will be a substantial increase in distributions within the camps linked to winterisation programmes.
- The BRHA has confirmed that the next phase will see the immediate commencement of registrations of all non-camp IDPs in Duhok. This will include IDPs renting houses in Duhok, as well as households staying with host families. The registration data will again be stored on the central server.
- Replicate the model in other governorates within KRI, including Erbil and Souleymania, applying lessons from the Duhok experience.
- Expand the membership of the Working Group and start discussions on the interoperability of different systems.
In light of increasing calls for shared service infrastructure and centralised beneficiary registration systems, the implementation of LMMS in KRI holds much promise. The model demonstrates that humanitarian actors can use one platform for beneficiary relationship management and tracking inputs across multiple sectors (including cash) and multiple agencies. The data is stewarded by one agency on behalf of the responsible government and implementing agencies. The inaugural distribution on 31 August was the culmination of months of planning and coordination among various stake-holders and players in Duhok Governorate. With the model still in its infancy, further study and analysis will be needed to get qualitative and quantitative evidence as well as recommendations on areas for improvement.
The application of technology as a shared service with centralised beneficiary registration and distribution systems, along with all the associated benefits, is an exciting proposition for humanitarian agencies, donors, governments and other stakeholders, especially in the area of sector-level coordination, transparency and accountability.
Keith Chibafa is Business Development Manager – LMMS at World Vision International.