Co-develop data-driven models for humanitarian organizations to pioneer their climate adaptation!


Danish Refugee Council logo

Keywords: climate change // climate adaptation // big data // predictive analytics // data aggregation // humanitarian response // sustainable operations // data-driven assessments // environmental and climate impact assessments.

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This challenge provides a unique opportunity to gain insight into the current practices of Denmark's largest international NGO in their pioneering work within climate adaptation. Get hands-on with data, aggregate, visualize, and think differently about the use of these data to drive impactful climate decisions. Co-develop bold solutions and concepts for tools, products and services with mentors and field experts – bring your skills and passions to the fore and make a difference!

The Danish Refugee Council (DRC) assists refugees and internally displaced persons in 40 countries across the globe. Founded in Denmark in 1956, the DRC has since grown to become a leading international humanitarian organization with 9,000 employees and 7,500 volunteers, working in conflict-affected areas, along displacement routes, and in countries where refugees settle.

Climate change and environmental degradation are driving factors in the increased displacement of people. In 2019, disasters triggered 25 million new internal displacements - three times the number of displacements caused by conflict and violence (IOM).

Globally, DRC implements a project portfolio of 3 Billion DKK annually, including the establishment of camps, shelters and water distribution systems, construction of infrastructure, providing support to farmers, distribution of emergency equipment, and more. These activities’ impact on the environment and climate needs to be reduced. DRC wishes to gain a better understanding of local landscapes through trends in data, and mitigate current, and potential, negative environmental impacts by deploying the optimally greener alternatives to harmful products and processes.

DRC is embarking on a mission to greenify its programmes and practices based on the analysis of good quality data and scientific research. DRC therefore wishes to strengthen its programmes by prioritizing environmental and climate factors.

DRC has already pioneered the use of predictive analytics in the humanitarian sector in collaboration with e.g. IBM to build a system for data-driven predictive scenarios of how displaced move. DRC now wishes to explore how data and analytics can inform and drive its green ambitions.

DRC is currently testing and using multiple assessment tools to minimize any environmental harm of its work. The main barriers to executing an accurate assessment are time constraints, staff capacity, and the lack of access to quality data. DRC sees smart uptake of technology, automation and data-centered approaches as the way to move forward. This is why DRC invites students and collaborators to help us pave this road.

DRC will have staff present during the challenge to guide you, experts with backgrounds within environment/climate and data/analytics who can call in colleagues from humanitarian hotspots.

DRC is committed to continued dialogue on interesting solutions after the challenge.

The challenge
DRC is looking for innovative ways to measure and evaluate the potential environmental and climate impact of our local work. The ambition is to develop automated, data-driven assessments of the potential environmental and climate impact of all planned activities. Undertaking assessments today is a complex, time-consuming and often manual task with substantial potential for process optimization.

We invite and challenge students to tackle one core question that has been puzzling the organization:

How can DRC develop an automated system, based on the latest data and scientific work that is able to measure the potential impact of a planned activity?

To assist the challenge work, the students are provided with data sets (more can be explored during the hack), and concrete examples of DRC’s work and practices.


The current process
Typically, a project manager or field coordinator manually fills-in a predefined assessment form in Word/Excel. The form includes generic questions on the area of operation, and questions specific to the geographical project location and/or type of activity. This process is time-consuming and complex as it involves desk analysis, field visit(s), and report writing and can take weeks (or longer) to finalize, in effect taking away time from live saving activities.

Work pressure and challenges with access to project sites due to weather conditions and/or conflicts further causes delays in the process and is a challenge to assessments meeting the required quality levels. The ongoing Covid-19 situation and associated movement restrictions has further exacerbated this challenge and weaknesses of the current process.

In some geographic areas, there will be enough data available, but 24/7 access can be challenging due to weather or security conditions. In other areas data is quite sparse, requiring other methods for gathering data and stable access to the specific sites to do samples, and engage in Focus Group Discussions with communities and other stakeholders.

Available data and resources
An extensive list of factors must be taken into consideration when evaluating the impact of a humanitarian project. During the hack you will get access to a selection of data sources and documentation, including data sets on e.g. geology, topography, soil, forestation and biodiversity.

The future process - The ambition
DRC wants to be a green leader within the humanitarian sector. One core element of this ambition is for DRC to develop its capacity to perform automated screenings of environmental and climate factors associated with its projects. The 12-hours hack addresses this ambition and we hope to see teams pitching diverse, complementary and competing solutions, making the most out of combining the challenges, inputs and the teams own skills.

DRC envisions that the developed solution, e.g. a user interface embracing multiple data sets and visualizations hereof, will be based on Open Data sources and with data adaptable to urban/rural/camp contexts. DRC hopes to see solutions that include a large variety of data sets and suggestions on ways to aggregate data sources, which DRC is today not able to.

This could involve using various freely available data (satellite, weather stations), crowd-sourced data (e.g. local smartphone sensor and image data), or built-for-purpose systems (e.g. type devices such as from the DTU-originated startup SoilSense), and by combining high-tech approaches with on-the-ground quantitative/qualitative observations.

The solutions should adapted to staff with little academic background or subject-matter expertise, who will typically be part of the inputting of information. Technical experts, who typically validate screening results and likely wish to add further analysis, should also be accommodated.

A screening approach with a solid and credible automation foundation will allow for a significant reorientation of resources, and saving of costs that will be converted into providing more humanitarian assistance to people in need.

For DRC, the value are both in your pitches of new tools and services but also concrete help and ideation within;

  • Enabling us to build up a data platform that gathers relevant and credible data sources required for a full climate assessment
  • Excluding/marking data that is either disputed or seemingly untrustworthy or contradictive
  • Indicating areas with data gaps and, if possible, suggest ways of acquiring the information

Existing barriers to DRC’s efforts in climate adaptation:

  • Knowledge: Many staff do not have the required technical knowledge or recognize connections to their “traditional” work
  • Time: Assessments are often done in haste, “on the side” or too late in the project cycle
  • Awareness: Staff may not know of the existence of already available tools
  • Access: DRC can’t always depend on having physical access to sites
  • Complexity: DRC staff need a clear framework/tool that reduces complexity by outlining the relevant factors facilitating transparent decision-making.

Existing solutions that the students can further develop or gain inspiration from (resources provided at hack):

  • NEAT+ (a new, fairly simple project-level environmental screening tool)
  • Rapid Environmental Impact Assessment in Disaster (a tool to identify, define, and prioritize environmental impacts in disaster situations)
  • CEDRIG (a tool looking at whether strategies and projects are at risk from climate change, environmental degradation and natural hazards)
  • CRisTAL (a project-planning tool that helps design activities that support climate adaptation at the community level)
  • DRC’s existing climate considerations, climate assessment tools/climate factors/minimum requirements
  • Environmental Assessments: Forms, Tools and Frameworks (draft)
  • SPHERE Standards: Reducing environmental impact in humanitarian response
  • Environmental Impact Assessment Tool, DRC Afghanistan
  • Access to/screen shots of the Foresight project, a user interface developed by DRC and IBM on predictive future displacement

Links and Access that will be provided

  • Website
  • Environmental Assessments: Forms, Tools and Frameworks
  • Compiled overview of data sources of potential use when doing environmental/climate assessments
  • Environmental Assessment: Example of Akula Region, Itang Woreda, Ethiopia
  • Complied overview of screening/assessment tools/approaches in the market