Key Issues

Data Protection Considerations for Information Management

Gathering information on individuals is necessary to better target protection and assistance responses. However, irresponsible processing of information about individuals can put them at serious risk as well as invade their privacy. Finding the right balance between collecting and sharing information for the benefit of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) in camps while protecting individuals against misuse of information requires consideration of the following principles:

  • In determining what data needs to be collected, carefully assess why the information is needed. Only information that serves a specific protection purpose, and that neither harms the informant nor others, should be collected.
  • Identify data that can be especially sensitive to make sure the collection and sharing is subject to specific protection measures.
  • The way data is collected may jeopardise the security and privacy of individuals and should be conducted in a manner sensitive to protection concerns.
  • Agree with humanitarian actors how the information is shared and define why it needs to be shared. Only information relevant to a determined protection purpose should be shared.
  • Individual information should, in principle, only be shared with the informed consent of the individual concerned. This should be explained to the person at the time of data collection.
  • Ensure that proper mechanisms are in place to secure the data, including safe and locked rooms, electronic backups, passwords and access restrictions to sensitive data. Confidential documents should be clearly marked. Where necessary, personal information should be removed or replaced with a code to protect anonymity. Clear procedures should be in place for information to be protected or destroyed in the event of evacuation or withdrawal.
  • Undertake a risk analysis: the level of risk associated with different kinds of information will vary and the Camp Management Agency should work with other operational agencies to consider the risk levels and design information management systems accordingly.
  • Agree on procedures: agencies need to agree on protocols for collection, data entry, storage, access, retrieval, and dissemination that will minimise risk. They should also jointly determine what information must remain restricted.


Sharing Information

Information is a sensitive issue in camps and the Camp Management Agency must be aware of how it is shared: what, with whom, for what purpose and when. It is the responsibility of the Camp Management Agency to always put the interest of the displaced populations first and share information only with their consent.


Voice From the Field - Do No Harm and Confidentiality

In a paper outlining their protection monitoring methodology, a Camp Management Agency notes: “Individual interviews and focus group discussions prioritise the most vulnerable, those individuals and groups who are often excluded from consultation and may be at increased risk, such as women, children, poorer families, minority groups and people with disabilities.

Confidentiality of information is ensured at each step as we record information, including identities of survivors and witnesses. The use of coded language and passwords, as well as keeping documents which identify persons in separate records from facts about them, are among measures adopted to ensure the confidentiality of information collected. Paper reports are immediately brought to UNHCR for safe filing. The Camp Management Agency does not keep a record of the files.

The monitoring teams have had two weeks of training, including in interview techniques and the Do No Harm principles. They participate in frequent refresher workshop sessions and prioritise the best interest of the survivors and the safety and dignity of communities. The mandate of the Camp Management Agency and the Camp Coordination Agency are disseminated in periodic sensitisation seminars with local authorities.”


Roles and Responsibilities

Information management is a very important process in any camp. The key tasks of a Camp Management Agency entail:

  • collecting data at the camp level from the camp population, camp leadership and committees, service providers, the host population, on-site authorities and via direct observation and consistent monitoring
  • analysing protection and assistance standards in the camp in relation to the needs and rights of the camp population
  • disseminating information to camp residents, service providers, the host population the Cluster/Sector Lead Agency and national authorities.

A Camp Management Agency should have an information management focal point in its team. It needs to be aware of the principles and procedures involved in best practice in information management and have an understanding of the issues, roles and responsibilities involved at camp level and externally. A Camp Management Agency must make sure adequate systems and capacity are in place to meet the data management needs agreed by a wider range of actors in order to ensure accessibility, compatibility, relevance, timeliness and confidentiality.


Data and Information Collection

Assessment and Data Collection

Data collected through assessments needs to be accurate, well-collated and archived in clear and accessible ways. Everyone should be informed about the reason why the data is collected and what response capacity is in place, so that the expectations of the camp populations can be effectively managed.

Primary data is collected directly from the camp population or from direct observations by the Camp Management Agency and by service providers. Secondary data is gathered by other humanitarian actors and then collated to inform new analysis. For example, the Cluster/Sector Lead Agency often collects data initially gathered by Camp Management Agencies.

What Data and Information Is Needed About the Camp?

Prior to launching new information initiatives, an inventory of existing information and analysis should be conducted. This will help to avoid duplication in assessments and data collection and situations where camp populations are repeatedly asked the same questions. Advocating for and facilitating this kind of coordination among actors in the camp response, is an important role for the Camp Management Agency.


Voice From the Field - Camp Profiling at the Onset of an Emergency

In June 2011, the humanitarian community in Myanmar’s Kachin State was faced with a challenge. Some 100,000 conflict-impacted IDPs were scattered across hundreds of camps. At the outset of the emergency actors were working independently to collect data and provide assistance. Community leaders were being asked similar questions by different actors who then reported conflicting statistics. Even the definition of camp had not been discussed, resulting in further confusion. The Camp Coordination and Camp Management (CCCM) Cluster responded by arranging meetings to discuss information management. These led to the formation of an information management working group that developed a simple camp profile able to address the needs of each partner while giving a genuine voice to the populations within each camp. Single camp profiles (generated by the CCCM Cluster) and cross-camp profiles (generated by OCHA) provided both the IDP populations and emergency response providers with information on services, needs, population figures and priorities.


The following information needs to be collected at the camp level, and to be available to the Camp Management Agency, the camp population and to other stakeholders in order to inform effective decision-making.

  • Registration data on families and individuals: this should include the total number of camp inhabitants and their status (refugee/IDP/stateless) as well as their age, sex and protection needs. While the Camp Management Agency may not be responsible for registration or profiling exercises in all situations, they will often be tasked with facilitating updates.
  • Information about groups and individuals most at risk: this may includes children, women, older persons, sick persons, persons with disabilities, ex-combatants and persons living with HIV/AIDS.
  • Information about services, standards and activities in the camp: this may include key sectors such as water and sanitation, shelter, food, non-food items (NFIs), health, education, livelihoods and protection, including programmes for women and persons with specific needs, as well as information on distribution and registration procedures.
  • Instances of breaches of camp security and staff safety: this includes breaches of law and order, militarisation of the camp, restrictions on freedom of movement, genderbased violence or changes in security indicators.
  • Information on procedures and systems in camp management: this includes levels of leadership, representation and participation, coordination forums and mechanisms, referral systems and procedures and levels of accountability and environmental concerns. Information should include other cross-cutting issues such as gender and protection of persons with specific needs.
  • The state of camp infrastructure: this may include roads, pathways, communal buildings, health centres, schools, distribution sites, latrines, drains, water supply lines, electricity lines, meeting places and burial sites.
  • Information about coordination mechanisms: Who is doing what, where?
  • Operational actors and how to contact them: Who is on committees and groups and when are their meetings taking place? What social, recreational or sporting events are taking place? To what extent are host communities involved? What training is taking place?

It is important that data collection is planned and coordinated between agencies and that response and referral systems are in place or planned, to avoid either assessment fatigue or unrealistic expectations on the part of the displaced population. They need to know whether individual cases will be referred for follow-up action or if the data will be used for planning or advocacy purposes. The Camp Management Agency needs to be aware of and open about response capacity, and be transparent about what is real, while planning and advocating for what is needed. The reality of available and planned response capacities should be a key factor when deciding what data to collect.


Purpose and Use of Information

By itself data collection is not a humanitarian intervention. Each piece of data you collect should have a humanitarian purpose and an owner. If there is no purpose or use for the data, then it should not be collected.

Some information is collected, but never analysed or used. This happens when anecdotal and qualitative information is gathered and there is lack of clarity about its purpose and desired output.

Also when quantitative data is collected, lack of information management expertise, combined with ad hoc planning, can limit its practical relevance and use.


Voice From the Field - Managing Expectations

“In our camp management project we are not into service provision. To avoid unrealistic expectations we make this very clear to the affected community. We refer cases but we mention that not every referred case will be followed up immediately. This is because our project only refers cases to other agencies. We cannot implement the actual follow up, although we do request feedback from the other agencies. We say to the camp residents that the follow up they get could be good or could be bad. Good in the sense that their particular case will be followed up, bad in the sense that sometimes nothing is done.”


Voice From the Field - Displacement Tracking Matrix (DTM)

The DTM utilises existing information available from previous DTM exercises, IOM registration data and other information available within the CCCM Cluster and other partners. It focuses on collecting a concise set of information regarding individual IDP sites and their populations, including population movement, so as to monitor the changing situation and trends. DTM makes use of a more compact data gathering tool, regularly assessing all existing IDP sites on a bimonthly basis to get the most accurate and updated information on IDP sites´ population trends and to disseminate it.

The DTM was developed by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Haiti in collaboration with the CCCM and other clusters after the 2010 earthquake. It took into account the emergency information needs of several clusters immediately following the earthquake. Information needs were immense and humanitarian actors found themselves presented with a complex context. The DTM was designed to identify and record the huge number of spontaneous IDP sites established after the earthquake, to maintain an updated list of IDP sites and to collect data regarding the situation in over 1,000 sites on a regular basis.

In responding to the crisis in the Philippines caused in 2013 by Typhoon Haiyan (locally designated as Yolanda), the CCCM Cluster DTM Coordinator had to ensure that the Information Management Working Group (IMWG) and relevant clusters were consulted on key indicators and standard definitions to use in assessments. This enabled consistent data collection, analysis and sharing. In the first month, DTM key findings on displacement locations, mobility, trends, needs and gaps were released on a bi-weekly basis and subsequently monthly basis. Raw data was also made available to the clusters for further sectoral analysis. Feedback and adjustment received from the cluster on key indicators were incorporated into subsequent DTM assessments. Regular feedback and release ensured that data collected remained relevant and useful to inform response and planning.


What Is a Camp Profile?

Camp profiles are developed and shared by the Information Management Officer of the Cluster/ Sector Lead Agency. They provide an overview of the main population data broken down by demographic statistical data, geographic data, cross-cutting sectoral analysis and information on activities and gaps identified via Who Does What Where (3W data).

A camp profile document assembles information about camps from multiple data systems in order to give a comprehensive picture and help coordination and planning. It can be in hardcopy and/or electronic format. Camp profiles also aid camp management by detailing the cultural background of camp residents, camp committees and host community administrative structures, thereby helping humanitarian actors' work within local governance structures. The camp profile must be disseminated regularly to ensure that parallel information structures are not created and that emergency actors are aware of where to find information.


Challenges in Data Collection

The following issues are some of those that may need careful consideration when planning data collection at camp level:

  • Standards and indicators must be clear. Quantitative and qualitative indicators, which are in line with international laws and standards and agreed in inter-camp coordination meetings, need to be used consistently to monitor the standard of service provision.
  • Narrative description interpreting numerical data gives a much more inclusive and useful picture of the situation on the ground than numbers alone.
  • Data sources and the methodology of collection should be considered before starting any type of data collection activity because they can significantly impact and/or limit the reliability of data. 
  • Data collection formats must be well-designed and field tested. They should be designed to capture specific, clear and relevant information. Field testing of these formats, be they observation sheets, questionnaires, interviews or key questions for discussion, must be accurate, relevant and measurable. It is essential that a pilot test is run, so they can be adapted or fine-tuned and data collectors can give feedback on how easy or difficult they were to use. Particular attention must be paid to language issues and translation. It is easy for key messages to get lost, or the focus to shift, when information collection formats are translated for use in the camp.
  • Staff need to be trained, as accurate and objective information depends largely on the skill and integrity of the person collecting it. Do staff understand exactly what is needed and why? What do they do when the information they need is not available? What do they do if an informant gives an answer which they suspect may be inaccurate? Are they able to verify and cross-check? Do they record information legibly/clearly and completely? Do they use colleagues to double-check, to recount? Do they ask for advice when they are unsure? Training data collection staff, monitoring their progress and spot-checking their results for consistency and plausibility are essential prerequisites to getting worthwhile and trustworthy data.
  • Ask if too much information is being gathered. While the ideal is that the same information is shared and used by all to inform decision-making, in reality different stakeholders tend to require different and very specific data to inform their own projects. They may opt to collect it themselves.

Documenting and getting clear agreements about who is collecting what information can be a challenge, especially when there is a turnover of agencies and staff. However, it is important for many of the following reasons:

  • protects the camp community from data collection fatigue
  • prevents duplication of similar data and reduces information overload
  • ensures that all important data is captured without gaps
  • reduces the possibility of conflicting or contradictory analysis
  • makes coordination forums more effective and easier to manage and enables projects to be more easily aligned towards the same goals
  • is a more efficient use of everyone’s resources of time, assets and personnel if several agencies do not simultaneously collect data on the same issues.

It can be challenging to collect information in remote areas. Sometimes the Camp Management Agency covers many sites dispersed over large areas and operates through mobile teams. Making daily or even weekly visits to the sites is not always possible. To ensure being updated on recent needs of the camp population, it is therefore important to establish a representative camp leadership or focal points with whom the Camp Management Agency can communicate. When possible, they should be equipped with mobile phones or radios. The Camp Management Agency works in a similar way when managing camps from another country. In IDP situations where there is no appointed Camp Management Agency to a site, it is the responsibility of the CCCM Cluster, as provider of last resort, to ensure data collection and appropriate follow up and responses by the humanitarian community.

Getting stakeholders to agree on well-aligned data collection systems can be a sign of trust, inclusiveness, partnership, mutual support and efficiency.


Data Collection in Conflict or Disaster Situations

Availability and accessibility of data and the type of data needed may vary between a conflict or disaster situation. Politics, religion, ethnicity, nationality and social background may be highly contested and both source of conflict and reasons for flight. These factors can influence to what extent the displaced population will share information without fear of risking their lives.

Information needed by the humanitarian community may also change depending on the context, as protection needs, security and durable solutions may differ.


Data Analysis

To address the needs of the camp population and to ensure accountability of service providers, data should be disaggregated by demographics, by sector and by implementing agency. To ensure this, the Camp Management Agency must coordinate with the Cluster/Sector Lead Agency, the national authorities and other relevant stakeholders.

Data is analysed so that tendencies, developments and patterns can be identified. Data is also analysed to generate statistics, to compare figures across populations and to produce charts, graphs and reports. It is important to include a gap analysis identifying shortcomings in the provision of services or assistance. This information is then shared at camp level and with a wider network of stakeholders to inform programmatic interventions, service provision and/or advocacy.

Analysis can take place at the camp level and be conducted by the Camp Management Agency. During this stage, the data may be entered into a table or a database. The data may also be cross-checked at this stage to ensure that it is valid. The input and analysis of the data may be the responsibility of an information management focal point, or possibly be conducted by a member of staff with particular training or expertise, for example, a data entry and reporting officer/clerk.

Depending on the situation, the Cluster/Sector Lead Agency has a key role in the analysis and dissemination of information. Focus should be on ensuring consistency of agreed standards and provision between camps and ensuring that systems and processes are in place for the effective sharing of information. Where the cluster approach is activated, global clusters can be called upon for information management expertise and to give operational support in information management. In addition, the Cluster/Sector Lead Agency will generate up-to-date information about activities across the cluster/sector. These should include contact lists, meeting minutes, datasets and needs/gap analysis based on information from the camp level.


The Role of OCHA

OCHA plays a central role in coordination and information management, especially in IDP situations. OCHA works to support the inter-operability (easy sharing) of data, and will suggest standards through which datasets and databases can be compatible. They will use data to develop Who, What, Where databases and maps. They may create an inventory of relevant information and documents on the overall humanitarian situation and datasets including population data disaggregated by age and gender. OCHA’s role is to work across clusters/sectors and provide information resources and common datasets to be used by the majority of stakeholders. They aim to provide standardised cross cluster/sector needs/ gap analysis based on information provided by the clusters/sectors, much of which originates from the primary data collected at camp level.


Information Dissemination

During dissemination, statistics and reports generated are distributed to stakeholders in the camp response. The Camp Management Agency may need to disseminate data to the camp population, the host population, service providers, the national authorities and the Cluster/Sector Lead Agency. If data is not shared, it means no action can be taken. Sharing of information is the foundation of ensuring that gaps in services and assistance in the camp are filled. The need for inclusivity however, must be balanced with considerations of confidentiality.

Confidentiality means that sensitive data and information is treated in confidence and not shared in public forums. When such information is shared it should be done selectively and anonymously, ensuring that the identity of any individuals concerned is communicated in ways that will not jeopardise her/his dignity, protection or security. Analysis can be shared in aggregate to prevent identification of individuals.

Access to information is a vital need and knowledge is power. Especially in times of conflict, crisis and chaos, information needs to be handled carefully. The Do No Harm principle must underpin any chosen approach, not least when it comes to sharing of confidential and sensitive information.

Information may be disseminated through coordination forums, meetings and referral mechanisms where individual incidents and cases of concern are referred by the Camp Management Agency to an appropriate organisation responsible for follow-up. In the case of child protection, for example, this could be UNICEF or other relevant specialised agencies.

Reports are disseminated to the Cluster/Sector Lead Agency, giving statistics and a description of activities and standards in specific sectors. Gaps, duplications, concerns and recommendations may be highlighted. These can then be discussed in a Cluster/Sector coordination forum, where action plans can be made, taking the mandates and capacities of different actors into account.


Information Management and the Media

The media plays an important role in bringing attention to crises and ensuring that the humanitarian aspects of displacement are in the minds of the global public. Thus the media and humanitarian actors should be seen as allies with a common goal. However, it is the duty of the Camp Management Agency, in collaboration with other partners in the camp, to ensure that camp residents and staff are interviewed only with their informed consent.

Access to the camp can be regulated by requesting that all media representatives report to the Camp Management Agency so that their visit may be facilitated. For interviews, the Camp Management Agency or appropriate agency concerned with protection or addressing gender-based violence (GBV) should act as a gatekeeper, first asking potential interviewees for permission and then introducing him/her to the journalist. Be mindful that people who have had a particularly traumatic experience, including rape, or who speak English, French, Spanish or another global language are often of interest to the media. Care must be taken to ensure that these people are not over-taxed and perhaps retraumatised by submitting to multiple interviews. On the other hand, some people may want to repeat their stories and should not be hampered from doing so.

In general, humanitarian actors and the media have similar goals in assisting displaced populations. However, the Camp Management Agency or other actors in the camp may find themselves being criticised over the humanitarian response or the overall conditions in the camp. In these cases, it will do no good to become defensive about the situation as this may fuel further criticism. Rather, it is important to correct misconceptions, speak about how the various actors are striving to improve conditions in the camp and to use the opportunity to advocate for greater assistance on behalf of the displaced.


When disseminating information to the camp community it is important for the Camp Management Agency to ensure that information filters down through the camp to all concerned and does not stay at the level of camp leadership. Information can be misused by leaders as a tool to retain or regain power or control or for the manipulation or misuse of certain information. Existing forums and mechanisms within the populations should be thoroughly explored, not only to better inform data collection techniques, but also to ensure appropriate forums. Mechanisms can be developed to enhance information flow to the wider community.

A variety of mechanisms should be used to facilitate the effective dissemination of information to the camp population. Choices will depend on the type of message to be communicated, the size and profile of the population it needs to reach, protection considerations and the technology available in the camp. Issues of language and literacy must be addressed. Dissemination mechanisms might include information boards, committee meetings, leaflets, posters, awareness-raising workshops, radio broadcasts, movies, public address systems, house-to-house visits, distribution of meeting minutes and drama events.


Information Management - Where a Camp Management Agency Can Find Support

In recent years, various initiatives and organisations have been established to support the humanitarian community in professional data collection and analysis. These enable humanitarian agencies, including a Camp Management Agency, to access a wide range of experts, tools and techniques. The below list is not exhaustive but highlights some initiatives/organisations that are most relevant to a Camp Management Agency:


The Assessment Capacities Project (ACAPS) is an initiative of a consortium of three NGOs (HelpAge International, Merlin, and the Norwegian Refugee Council). Through development and provision of innovative tools, know-how, training and deployment of assessment specialists, ACAPS supports and strengthens humanitarian capacities to carry out better coordinated assessments before, during and after crises.


The Joint IDP Profiling Service (JIPS) is an inter-agency initiative set up by several UN agencies and international NGOs to promote collaborative responses and solutions for IDPs across the world by equipping governments, humanitarian organisations and development actors with accurate information about IDP situations. JIPS offers field and advocacy support, as well as tools, guidance and training on profiling.


CartONG provides mapping and information management services, including training and capacity building, to humanitarian and development organisations and promotes the use of Geographic Information System (GIS). Apart from providing maps and geographical data, they also offer support in analysing spatial data and in mobile data collection.


REACH is an initiative of the Agence d'aide à la coopération techinque et au développement (ACTED), Impact Initiative and the United Nations Operational Satellite Applications Programme (UNOSAT) to develop information tools that facilitate decision-making of humanitarian actors in emergency, recovery and development contexts.


Digital Humanitarian Network (DHN) is a network of networks offering services to the humanitarian community such as the creation of live crisis maps, media monitoring, data development and cleaning, satellite imagery tagging and tracing.


Different Forms of Aggregation for Different Data Gathering Objectives

Different stakeholders need different information to support their decision-making. Those closest to the population of concern, such as service providers and Camp Management Agencies, will require the most detailed information while those furthest away who are covering large geographic areas will, generally speaking, require aggregated and analysed data.

The table below illustrates how contrasting information may be required by stakeholders in a CCCM Cluster approach.

Example Of Water Data Aggregation
Stakeholders Programming Decisions Data Required
Service Providers, Camp Management Agency Water distribution gap analysis in each zone of the camp, determining the site(s) where new water distribution points are needed. Data on location, status (functional/not functional, performances) and usage of each water facility from water source to water distribution point.
Cluster/Sector Lead Agency Water budget allocation for each camp and up-to-date water distribution gap analysis between camps. Projected water needs and related risks of water supply failure for future case load. Aggregated and prioritised water supply data for each camp.
OCHA, Humanitarian Coordinator, other clusters/sectors Relationship between water availability (quality and quantity) and other sectoral needs and indicators such as protection, health, nutrition and shelter data. Water supply capacity and management practices for all camps in a particular district (for example). Outreach strategies and approaches water supply related.
Note: the above is only an example and water data sharing and decision-making may differ from operation to operation.