Web-based Information Exchange Platform for international Humanitarian Projects: Problems and Possible Solutions


Abstract

The objective of many international humanitarian development or non-governmental organisations is to improve the living conditions of the poor and disadvantaged people in the world. One of the activities they undertake to achieve this honourable goal are humanitarian projects. The management of such projects is a challenge because of the multitude of stakeholders that should be taken into account. Furthermore, the activities of various organisations must be coordinated to deliver efficient help and achieve sustainable impact. Last but not least, the control loop is weak in humanitarian organisations due to the limited usefulness of financial ratios in non-profit organisations. To overcome these problems, knowledge in form of qualitative information and experience has to be used to a great extent in the humanitarian sector. Computer-based information systems can help to close the control loop by facilitating organisational learning and improving the information exchange for coordination of projects. This thesis focuses on humanitarian projects and information systems. First, the actors and problems in the relief and development sector are described. Then, information and knowledge management as well as information systems are analysed to find out, how they can help to face some of the challenges identified. Architectures for distributed and loosely coupled information systems are examined and standards for the electronic exchange of information are considered. A qualitative market study is carried out to analyse the state of the practice in web-based information systems for humanitarian organisations. A concept is developed which includes the proposal for an architecture of a web-based information exchange platform for qualitative and quantitative project information. The concept takes into account the particularities of the humanitarian sector as well as theory about knowledge sharing. The system which is called “Development Information Exchange System (DIES)” is implemented as prototype. It enables the exchange of structured documents between autonomous and heterogeneous information systems. Due to a “mediator-wrapper-architecture” the connected systems only need minimal adaptation. The Extensible Markup Language (XML) is used for the information exchange. An own method for defining XML Schemas based on federated schemas is developed and applied to define the “idmlReporting” schema. The proposed format makes it possible to structure project reports and evaluations in the relief and development area. It is used as exchange standard between independent information systems that are linked together through the exchange platform. A subject area treated in the thesis is the conversion and mapping of XML Schemas to relational databases. Existing conversion rules are completed with two optimisation rules. This theory is verified with the “AIDA PC” prototype, an XML-enabled relational database that can be used as data provider for the “Development Information Exchange System”. The proposed concept and the constructed artefacts are evaluated to find out about their strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. The work should contribute to the technical enhancement of organisational learning in humanitarian organisations and to the improvement of project coordination within and between organisations.

Keywords

Design Science, Development Information Exchange System (DIES), humanitarian development projects, International Development Markup Language (IDML), Extensible Markup Language (XML), XML Schema, Extensible Stylesheet Language (XSL), organisational learning, project management in the relief and development sector, loosely coupled distributed information systems, knowledge management. If you are interested in the subject, please feel free to contact me: stefan@huesemann.org