The Red Cross / Red Crescent Movement, operating at local and national levels across the globe, is on the front line in the response to COVID-19. During these challenging times, the IFRC plays a key role in enabling coherence, alignment and risk management across the network.
This is the story of the role GO has played in the accelerated digital transformation of the IFRC during the COVID-19 pandemic.
John Kennedy famously said that the Chinese word for “crisis” has two characters, one representing danger and the other, opportunity. Simultaneously a mistranslation and a universal truth, this is evident in the pandemic challenging organisational ‘path dependency’. This fertile ground for innovation has enabled the transformations called for in Strategy 2030 to look ever more realistic. This is evidenced by growing demands across the IFRC for expertise to organise and analyse data to provide insights. It is also clear when looking at the scale-up of use of digital tools such as the IFRC GO platform.
In 2016, the IFRC commissioned a study to assess how to modernise its disaster information management, leading to the recommendations to develop new products and services, initiate a dedicated Information Management team, as well as focus on building data literacy in the IFRC network. Among the first services to be launched was the beta GO platform, which pulled together IFRC appeals and operational data to show the value of interactive data visualisations. This prototype, built by members of the Surge Information Management Service (SIMS) network, demonstrated the insights that could be derived from charts, maps and graphics.
Launched in 2018, GO receives and visualises data from Red Cross Red Crescent Societies across the world, building a common understanding of the situation and the risks we face. COVID-19 has led to a behavioural step change in the number of National Societies sharing qualitative and quantitative data.
The GO platform inherited a number of functions from its predecessor, the Disaster Management Information System (DMIS), including the Field Report system which allows RC/RC societies to alert the network to an emerging crisis. This system has been greatly expanded over the past couple of years, with early warning and epidemic versions, a disaster-affected area mapping service, and the recent development of a COVID-19 focussed report form.
GO has tackled the organisation of core datasets needed to make sense of and respond effectively to emergencies across the world. The recent launch of the 3w feature promises to create an overview of Movement-wide project data, providing estimates of people targeted and reached and sub-national capacities. Similarly, GO has surfaced data on National Society Preparedness for Effective Response (PER), surge alerts and deployments and Emergency Response Unit readiness, as well as established a new emergency notification system for the RC/RC movement.
Restless innovation, human-centred design and adaptability are at the core of the GO development approach. From the introduction of the first set of APIs allowing for data interoperability across IFRC systems, GO has demonstrated new ways to solve old problems. The platform is built from scratch using open source software and code, enabling GO to adapt to the range, unpredictability and urgency of needs from its 192 members and secretariat. The modular approach also means that a National Society can embed graphics and dashboards using whatever is their chosen software, e.g. PowerBI to Tableau.
So many dashboards, but who is at the steering wheel? Developers, IT specialists and user experience designers all work on the GO platform, led by the Information Management (IM) team, which defines and suggests features to meet user needs and are responsible for coding, testing, and project management. The IM team is supported by other stakeholders, including the GO advisory group which provides strategic oversight, and the GO working group, comprising National Societies, which inputs ideas, provides feedback, and mobilises resources.
The GO team meets online every couple of days to collectively share progress and find solutions. Over the past few months, the calls have been a consistent thread in a turbulent time. As COVID-19 spread across the world, members of the team shared stories of their new reality during lockdown. One developer went offline to rescue friends stranded on islands off the coast in Goa. Nepalese colleagues reported seeing Mt Everest for the first time in living memory.
We’re proud of the improvements we’ve made to GO during this crisis. Continued iteration around the use of field reports as a means for situation and activity reporting, adding a new resources page with multi-language user videos, enhanced navigational and content organisational features and enhancing search functionality, as well as the launch of the GO 3w have all been prompted directly from the needs of users navigating to GO for information on COVID-19.
The team is working hard on a number of new, exciting features, including:
- Translation of static and dynamic content on GO into the 4 IFRC official languages (English, Spanish, French, Arabic)
- 3w integration with National Society systems via API
- Enhanced geospatial data handling enabling a mapping service for National Societies
- Country page redesign — integrating seasonal and hazard information, historical IFRC operational data and other relevant data to help National Societies plan and prepare for predictable hazards
- Emergency page redesign — improving organisation of different information and surfacing operational data, maps and indicators
- Continued Field Report enhancements — to continue adjusting to the use of Field Reports for COVID-19 situational awareness and activity monitoring
- Enhanced Usability — employing user-centred design to improve elements such as navigation, search, information design and analytics
- Integration with the new IFRC Rapid Response Register system
These enhancements are all designed to make GO fit for purpose as the emergency operational reference point for the IFRC. The direction of travel for GO and the services it provides is moving from the strategic overview to a more nuanced and context-specific operational framework. In this way, we aim to continue transforming GO to serve the needs of Red Cross / Red Crescent societies as they respond domestically to this global pandemic.