Fighting between two factions of the Sudanese military began in mid-April, and quickly triggered a humanitarian crisis affecting nearly 25 million people. As of late June, an estimated 2.5 million people had been displaced, including half a million people who fled to neighboring countries to escape the violence. The conflict has had a devastating impact on the prices of food, fuel, and other basic goods at a time when much of the region was already dealing with drought-triggered food insecurity and supply chain disruptions as a result of the Ukraine conflict.
SIMS Activation Overview
SIMS was activated in early May, with a first round SIMS Remote Coordinator ("SIMS Co") selected shortly thereafter. An IM Coordinator ("IM Co") was selected around the same time, but there was a brief gap between the SIMS Co activation and the IM Co's arrival. In lieu of a deployed IM Co to liaise with the operation in the field, the SIMS Co worked directly with the Operations Manager and other leaders until he could arrive.
The second round SIMS Co was brought on board at the end of May, with a short overlap to allow for handover. There was a gap of a week at the end of June between the second round SIMS Co and the third round SIMS Co, who started in early July. The second round IM Co was selected in mid June and received a short in-person handover from the first round IM Co at the end of June.
Remote Support Overview
As is typical in SIMS activations, geospatial requests were the most common type of task in the early days of the operation. The violence in Sudan complicated planning for getting delegates and supplies into the country, and decision makers needed clear information about transportation networks, border crossings, and security classifications. Remote supporters created a variety of maps to help with this planning process, including logistics-focused basemaps and choropleth maps to show security classifications by country and admin1.
As IFRC products like the Emergency Appeal and Operational Strategy began to come together, there were additional requests for more externally-facing maps like one showing arrivals from Chad and one showing both internally-displaced people and refugees.
An increasingly common request in SIMS activations involves gathering location data on the host national society's branches, warehouses, and other assets in order to visualize them. Though there have been efforts to collect this data on a global scale, many national societies—including the Sudanese Red Crescent Society—did not have this data readily available when this response began. SIMS was able to collect this information through a custom-developed pipeline, and then plotted these points on a map. See Learning section for reflections on this process.
Mobile Data Collection
Federation-Wide Reporting—the mechanism through which larger operations collect data related to key indicators across the operation—has not yet been integrated into the GO Platform, and SIMS was tasked with building a Kobo form to support the data pipeline.
Two Kobo forms that SIMS supported were the Federation-Wide Reporting form to collect key indicators across the operation, and a broader activity reporting form for branch reporting.
Dashboarding requests began coming in that spanned three categories:
- Visualizing operational data about logistics, distributions, etc.
- Visualizing data from other agencies, such as migrant location
- Dashboards to facilitate data cleaning and data management.
Learning and Reflections
The SIMS Portal was still under development when the emergency began, but we used it as an opportunity to test some of the key assumptions that were made around its design and intended workflows. The key change that this even inspired was to eliminate start and end dates from remote supporters' assignment records, and instead simply ask the SIMS Co to estimate hours. More thinking needs to be done around how best to balance the capturing of insights like that with a light touch on the data management process.
Logistics Data Collection Readiness
It’s almost inevitable in larger operations for the initial phase of the response to include a round of data collection about the National Society’s warehouse stock, the branch locations, and more. It feels a bit like we have to reinvent the wheel each time. A single, global round of data collection on branches has proven over the years to not be feasible, as few National Society’s are interested in what they see as a low return on the investment of their time in collecting all of this and keeping it up to date. SIMS should investigate creating prepared forms and data pipelines that can collect this data quickly after being activated.
While it can be difficult to develop IM product templates given the variety of contexts and needs we encounter, this operation underscored the importance of SIMS continuing to refine the visual styling and to enforce consistency on geospatial products.
Referenced Data Locations
Since many products reference the same datasets, SIMS activations divide our shared drive into data folders and product folders, with products like QGIS maps connecting to relevant data folders. While this is useful to ensure consistency across products, it can also lead to unexpected results when someone updates or moves a dataset. It also can lead to challenges when the SIMS Co selectively grants access to subfolders, sometimes forgetting to also grant access to the necessary data folder. The network will need to make a decision about whether to address this challenge in our SOPs by rethinking how we structure and share these folders.
The SIMS model typically involves a member of the operation articulating a request to the IM Co, who works with the SIMS Co to package the request as a discrete task for the network. Once the product is finalized, it is the original requestor who ends up using it. However, we frequently recognize that these products could be of use to others in the operation, and Information Management specialists are likely in the best position to facilitate better dissemination of these products to expand their utility. SIMS will review how we can standardize a better way of sharing our most broadly-useful products beyond the original requestor.
Dashboarding Capacity and Requests
While multiple requests for dashboards were submitted to SIMS, very few volunteers took these tasks on and developed the requested visualizations. Some of the dashboard requests were mirroring dashboards that existed on external platforms, some were requested well in advance of the existence of the data they would be visualizing, and several were requests to visualize changes on GO dashboards or to be able to monitor changes to other dashboards. It was unclear how to do some of this data management from within GO or by using the GO API. The network will need to address dashboarding capacity, as well as decide the scope of requests that SIMS can take on, since there were many more dashboarding requests than available data visualizers.
GO Admin Crash Course
When SIMS is activated, our network is frequently expected to directly support the management of the relevant record in the GO Platform. This operation underscored that more needs to be done to orient our SIMS Remote Coordinators and IM Coordinators to the basics of accessing and using the administrative backend to do things like post products and embed new dashboards. It is recommended that a member of the GO team provide a crash course tailored to our coordinators on these workflows.