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SitRep Project Situation Reports and Information Sharing in the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs ( UN OCHA ) Elisa Oreglia | John Ward Master’s Final Project, UC Berkeley School of Information Advisor, Jenna Burrell BACKGROUND

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SitRep Project

Situation Reports and Information Sharing

in the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA)

Elisa Oreglia | John Ward

Master’s Final Project, UC Berkeley School of Information

Advisor, Jenna Burrell


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BACKGROUND

Origins of our project | What is a Sitrep | What is OCHA

  • Preliminary research among Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) suggested difficulties and inefficiencies in the sitrep process:

    • Lack of standards

    • Little support for information gathering & sharing

    • Unclear picture of emergency response

  • Sitrep exploratory project in Fall 07


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BACKGROUND

Origins of our project | What is a Sitrep | What is OCHA

  • SITuation REPort:

    • Internal or public document used by agencies involved in emergency response

    • About the situation on the ground

    • Response efforts

    • Usually a semi-structured Word document distributed via email


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BACKGROUND

Origins of our project | What is a Sitrep| What is OCHA


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BACKGROUND

Origins of our project | What is a Sitrep| What is OCHA


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BACKGROUND

Origins of our project | What is a Sitrep| What is OCHA

  • United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA):

    • “facilitates, mobilizes and coordinates humanitarian assistance delivered by international and national partners to populations and communities in need.”

    • Issues public sitreps about natural and complex emergencies

    • Currently reviewing some of its core information products, in particular sitreps


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OUR RESEARCH

Goals | Methods

  • Understand sitrep process within OCHA

  • Understand the process in the wider context of information sharing in the field

  • Propose tactical and strategic ways to clarify sitrep confusion


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OUR RESEARCH

Goals | Methods

  • Interviews with OCHA and its sitreps’ users:

    • OCHA:

      • 39 interviewees (8 senior managers, 31 operational staff)

      • 2 roundtables (1 Desk Officers, 1 Info Advisory)

    • External users:

      • NGOs, 12 field officers interviewees

      • Donors (governments), 2 phone roundtables


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OUR RESEARCH

Goals | Methods

  • Document Analysis

    • 101 documents – one month of OCHA sitreps

    • 35 sitreps from different countries to get a broad understanding of field practices

    • 26 sitreps to track an entire emergency sitrep cycle (Pakistan cyclone and flooding, Summer 2007)


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FINDINGS

Sitreps are often a source of significant confusion, written without clear guidelines and clear goals for unspecified audiences whose needs are not fully understood.


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FINDINGS

Confusion | Guidelines | Process | Audience

  • Are sitreps for sudden events or for updates on on-going emergencies?

    • “When I think sitrep, I think urgent…”

      • (OCHA)

  • “We saw that there are often multiple products that overlap, with no clarity about what each product offers. Can you clarify what’s a sitrep?” (Donor)


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    FINDINGS

    Confusion | Guidelines | Process | Audience


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    FINDINGS

    Confusion | Guidelines | Process | Audience


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    FINDINGS

    Confusion | Guidelines | Process | Audience

    • No guidelines about appearance


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    FINDINGS

    Confusion | Guidelines | Process | Audience

    • Unclear goals for writers

    • Unclear purpose for readers

    • “it’s one of the reasons why sitreps are like, ‘F***, I have to do a sitrep!’ Because the amount and the kind of information – it’s like a ravenous beast.” (NGO)


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    FINDINGS

    Confusion | Guidelines | Process | Audience

    • Everybody agrees that sitreps should haveconsolidated # on Needs–Response-Gap


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    FINDINGS

    Confusion | Guidelines | Process | Audience

    • Everybody agrees that sitreps should haveconsolidated # on Needs–Response-Gap


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    FINDINGS

    Confusion | Guidelines | Process | Audience

    • Everybody agrees that sitreps should haveconsolidated # on Needs–Response-Gap


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    FINDINGS

    Confusion | Guidelines | Process | Audience

    - Humanitarian operators- UN agencies- governments- donors (governments and private entities) - the press - internal OCHA audience - the field - headquarters

    “For our draft, we have a clear image of what audience we serve, but we never asked them.” (OCHA)


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    MOVING FORWARD

    Technology | Tactics | Strategy | Limitations

    • Confusion around sitreps is a symptom of a flawed process

    • Technology: from Word docs to database-driven reports?

    “A viable system must embrace not just the technological system, but the social system – the people, organizations, and institutions involved.” (The Social Life of Information)


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    MOVING FORWARD

    Technology | Tactics | Strategy | Limitations

    • Tactical decisions as quick fixes to mitigate the perception of chaos:

      • Document analysis shows similarities in sitrep practices at field level

      • Recognize and codify these shared mental models - audience knows what to expect - burden on field to justify exceptions


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    MOVING FORWARD

    Technology | Tactics | Strategy | Limitations


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    MOVING FORWARD

    Technology | Tactics | Strategy | Limitations


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    MOVING FORWARD

    Technology | Tactics | Strategy | Limitations

    • Style-guide, to give sitreps a clear OCHA brand and to avoid inconsistencies

    • Mailing list

    “There’s all kinds of mailing lists on Lotus Notes maintained by a small group of elves…”(OCHA)


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    MOVING FORWARD

    Technology | Tactics | Strategy | Limitations

    • Strategic decisions that OCHA should take around the sitrep product to clarify its role:

      • Role of politics in sitreps: ‘neutral numbers’ versus ‘humanitarian advocacy’

      • OCHA’s presence in a country depends on its good relations with host governments

    ‘In some sitreps, you are talking about governments, and they can be very soft on human rights, protection issues... Then we get pushbacks from the NGOs – what’s up with OCHA and human rights?’ (OCHA)


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    MOVING FORWARD

    Technology | Tactics | Strategy | Limitations

    • Other strategic decisions:

      • Are sitrep operational documents or do they record the situation for external actors?

      • Who is the audience?

      • ‘What’s in it’ for information providers and sitrep authors?


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    MOVING FORWARD

    Technology | Tactics | Strategy | Limitations

    • Humanitarian sector is changing

    • Our work heavily focused on headquarters

    • Didn’t talk to enough sitrep users

    • Not clear about what happens in the field


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    THANK YOU!

    Our advisor, Jenna Burrell

    Our supporters, moral and financial, Eric Kansa of ISD clinic and Tom Kalill of Big Ideas @ Berkeley

    Noise & BSG mailing lists, for contacts and inspiration

    Bob Glushko for doc analysis evangelizing

    Nancy Van House & Liz Goodman for feedback on proto-sitrep project

    Anonymous sitrep coder & stylist



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