Technology and Innovation

HHI's research on Technology and Innovation examines the impact of emerging technologies on the humanitarian field, focusing on both ethical and technical considerations. Explore the individual programs below to learn more about this work. 

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Technology and Innovation


A suite of tools for field data collection for use in challenging environments

Signal Program

Advances the safe, ethical, and effective use of information technologies by communities of practice during humanitarian and human rights emergencies

Humanitarian Geoanalytics

Leverages the potential of geospatial data and analytics to introduce new ways of thinking, identify targets for micro-planning and research, and optimize resource allocation for cost-effective programming

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Works to ensure that Big Data serves the interests of people across the globe, especially those of poor and vulnerable populations. Links to an external site.

Related Publications

Erica Nelson, Saira Khan, Swapna Thorve, and P. Gregg Greenough. 12/2020. “Modeling pastoralist movement in response to environmental variables and conflict in Somaliland: Combining agent-based modeling and geospatial data.” PLOS ONE.Abstract

This study explores how pastoralists respond to changing environments in Somaliland . An agent-based model is used to simulate the movement of nomadic pastoralists based on typologically diverse, historical data of environmental, interpersonal, and transactional variables in Somaliland and Puntland between 2008 and 2018. Through subsequent application of spatial analysis such as choropleth maps, kernel density mapping, and standard deviational ellipses, we characterize the resultant pastoralist population distribution in response to these variables.

Signal Program. 3/2020. Displacement & Destruction: Analysis of Idlib, Syria 2017-2020.Abstract
As the Syrian civil war enters its tenth year on  March 15, the Signal Program on Human Security and Technology conducted satellite imagery analysis to capture the rapid expansion of displaced people’s camps and the widespread impact of aerial bombardment in Idlib, Syria. This work was completed in collaboration with Save the Children and World Vision International. On 1 March 2020, the UN estimated that 961,286 individuals have been displaced since December 1, 2019; this is the largest mass displacement and acute humanitarian crisis since the  Syrian conflict began in 2012. Analyzing two internally displaced person (IDP) camps, the Signal team found that the camp areas analyzed increased by approximately 100% and 177% respectively between September 2017 and February 2020. Camp growth between December 2019 and 2020 revealed new structures and further construction, consistent with a significant influx of displaced persons.  The UN Human Rights Council reports that between May 2019 and January 2020, aerial bombardment and a surge of ground-level assaults contributed to a wave of IDPs throughout Idlib as civilian areas were repeatedly targeted. Signal’s analysis of two areas in conflict-affected towns in southern Idlib found that approximately 30% of structures were damaged; this figure likely underestimates the total damage.
Saira Khan, Rob Baker, Caitlin Howarth, Erica Nelson, Isaac Baker, Natalia Adler, and Stefaan Verhulst. 11/2019. Lessons Learned Report: Using Satellite Data Analysis in Conflict/Famine-Affected Areas.Abstract
This report captures the lessons learned during a project titled, “Children on the Move: Using Satellite Data Analysis in Conflict/Famine-Affected Areas.” This document details the project’s progression and the rationale for transitioning from satellite imagery analysis to agent-based modeling as the primary mode of analysis. This project was conducted in collaboration with the Governance Lab at New York University, the Signal Program on Human Security and Technology at Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, and UNICEF. 
Saira Khan, Isaac Baker, and Rob Baker. 11/2019. Satellite Imagery Interpretation Guide of Landscape Features in Somaliland.Abstract

This guide outlines the tools and techniques to establish a foundation for visual analysis and discusses how these techniques can assist in identifying notable landscape features pertaining to agriculture, settlements, water catchment, and livestock in northern Somalia. To the knowledge of the Signal Program analysts, there is no systematic open-source remote sensing documentation of frequently occurring natural and man-made features in Somalia. This guide helps users to identify and analyze these features, particularly humanitarian practitioners supporting activities in the Horn of Africa. This project, titled “Children on the Move: Using Satellite Data Analysis in Conflict/Famine-Affected Areas,” was carried out in collaboration with UNICEF, the GovLab at NYU, and the Signal Program on Human Security and Technology at Harvard Humanitarian Initiative.

Mark Latonero, Danielle Poole, and Jos Berens. 3/2018. Refugee Connectivity: A Survey of Mobile Phones, Mental Health, and Privacy at a Syrian Refugee Camp in Greece.Abstract
The report, Refugee Connectivity: A Survey of Mobile Phones, Mental Health, and Privacy at a Syrian Refugee Camp in Greece, is the result of 2017 field research by Data & Society, the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative’s (HHI) Signal Program on Human Security and Technology, and Centre for Innovation at Leiden University. Lead authors of the report are Mark Latonero, Ph.D. of Data & Society, Danielle Poole of HHI/Signal and the Harvard School of Public Health, and Jos Berens, formerly of Leiden University. 
Stuart R. Campo, Caitlin N. Howarth, Nathaniel A. Raymond, and Daniel P. Scarnecchia. 5/2018. Signal Code: Ethical Obligations for Humanitarian Information Activities.Abstract

Humanitarians today lack sufficient ethical guidance adapted to the realities of humanitarianism in the information age to responsibly navigate the challenges and realities of the digital age.

The Signal Code: Ethical Obligations for Humanitarian Information Activities translates and applies the foundational sources of ethical humanitarian practice to humanitarian information activities, such as mobile devices, WiFi provision, data collection, storage and analysis, and biometric registration tools. This document represents the first effort to provide humanitarian practitioners and researchers with comprehensive ethical guidance for this increasingly commonplace and critical area of humanitarian practice.

The Obligations builds upon the rights-based approach first articulated in the January 2017 publication of The Signal Code: A Human Rights Approach to Information during Crisis. The Code seeks to identify extant international humanitarian and human rights law and standards, as well as other relevant and accepted international instruments, that provide all people basic rights pertaining to the access to, and provision and treatment of, information during a crisis. The first volume of the Code is employed as an underlying framework for how the Obligations is structured and from where the obligations are, in part, derived.

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