Taking Advantage of Cash Delivery Data

Challenge presented by Catholic Relief Services


At the 2018 Emergency Data Science Workshop, Catholic Relief Services (CRS) presented a challenge on how we can improve decision-making in rapid onset emergencies though more objective, timely, and automated response analysis that utilizes the large datasets that humanitarian responders increasingly have access to, with a specific focus on cash programing. CRS, represented by William Martin, presented a future in which data-driven intelligence is leveraged in order to make cash programming more efficient (i.e., fewer days from onset of disaster to the start and completion of the cash transfer program, and lower overhead costs per $1 distributed to the affected population) and more appropriate (i.e., compliance with Sphere standards, participatory design with affected communities, and increased recipient satisfaction). During the workshop, a multi-disciplinary team of statisticians, computer scientists, psychologists, GIS specialists, designers, and cash programming specialists worked together to develop journey maps on how automated response analysis could be deployed to assist human decision-making in humanitarian response. The working group comprised of specialists from American Red Cross, CRS, University of California-Irvine, Pivotal Inc., and York University.

"With its participation to the Emergency Data Science workshop, CRS is part of a new humanitarianism where Big Data promises better humanitarian access, better participation of people affected by conflict and natural disaster, as well as timely, quality and dignified humanitarian assistance at scale. To succeed, and as demonstrated with the outcomes of the workshop, humanitarian practitioners are essential to address the new challenges brought by Big Data in Emergencies, while at the same time new set of skills, such as software development, ethics or mathematics, and new collaboration models are needed. Finally, revising humanitarian laws, principles and interventions in the light of ethical questions that the Big Data era raises, is critical and necessary for the future of humanitarian interventions. Dr. Orbinski’s announcement at the end of the workshop of the launch of an institute on Humanitarian Ethics is an initiative will definitely help defining this new humanitarianism, in which CRS can play a role."
William Martin, Catholic Relief Services


  • At the workshop, CRS connected with researchers from the Centre for Refugee Studies at York University who were also interested in computational modelling and data-driven decision-making tools to support responses to mass displacement crises. In Spring 2019, CRS and York researchers developed and submitted a collaborative research proposal to the Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC).
  • Through 2019 CRS has been remodelling its global data management architecture in order to support future big data applications. As of Summer 2019, CRS has begun to compile high-quality data in a well-structured environment that is amenable to big data applications. CRS is now actively exploring how these data can be used to gain operational insights and is seeking collaborators to sandbox new ideas, particularly with respect to operational decision-making tools for cash- and market-based programming. Specific topics of interest for CRS include using data to better understand where and what kind of assistance crisis-affected populations are seeking, and what kinds of cash and market distribution modalities are most effective in various settings.
  • In July 2019, the Centre for Refugee Studies organized a three-day meeting with CRS and data and social scientists at the Virginia Modeling, Analysis & Simulation Centre (VMASC) at Old Dominion University to explore data modeling opportunities with CRS’ aggregated market data from cash and market interventions. The collaborators identified and prioritized a number of questions that could advanced by computer aided solutions in the short- and long-term, and the strengths and nature of applying different kinds of solutions to these questions, for which they are currently developing new project proposals.

Learn More

Full Challenge Statement
Challenge Presentation here
Working Group Solution Pres here