Who? What? Where? — How the GO 3W aims to map the Red Cross Red Crescent network

6 min readMay 18, 2020
Promotional video for IFRC GO platform 3w

There are certain questions which mark you out as a naïve newcomer to the RC/RC Movement. One such question relates to the lack of a single ‘picture’ of Movement footprint and activities— essentially, why is there no single source to understand which National Societies supporting which of their sister NS, what kind of interventions they are doing and where?

This is the story of an attempt to answer that question.

There are, of course, lots of lists of projects in the RC/RC Movement. Individual National Society lists, sector lists, one-off ‘mapping’ lists, lists related to a specific emergency and so on. In fact, this is part of the problem. A meeting called by then Under Secretary General, Jagan Chapagain in August 2019 brought the number of programmatic project lists and platforms used by the IFRC secretariat in Geneva to capture this data into sharp focus.

After reviewing the twelve different platforms presented, Jagan stressed the need to create something streamlined, simple and pragmatic. Essentially, his point was that if an NS is being asked a dozen times, for inconsistent standards and detail of data from the small group present, never mind the regional, national and other ‘one-off’ data collection initiatives, that it might not be a surprise if the data received was patchy, contradictory and inconsistent. In conclusion, Jagan asked if the GO platform could incorporate a Movement 3w to bring together the many various data collection efforts into a good-enough, coherent and technically smooth process.

The Who does What, Where (3w) system is a basic data product that lets humanitarians understand what activities are taking place, by which organizations and where.

The original 3w is humanitarians sitting around after the workday (often with a cold beverage in hand) discussing their work and what they had seen that day. This kind of direct information exchange is still the most direct and networked type of 3w, where valuable knowledge and organic collaboration passes between those struggling with the hardest humanitarian response problems.

Informal 3w type products existed in the 1990s, however they became more structured during the large responses of the early 2000s such as the Indian Ocean Tsunami. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) Humanitarian Information Centers (HICs) first established the broad outlines of the 3w tool. The 3w is now one of the core situational datasets in a large multi-agency humanitarian response operation enabling a simple picture of coverage, gaps and scale of a response.

GIS-based spatial analysis by the Indonesian Red Cross Society (Palang Merah Indonesia or PMI)(credit: IFRC)

The 3w has evolved over the years. Initially it was quite a manual process, requiring an excel to be emailed round and cleaned before before use of ESRI for often painstaking map production. These days, the 3w is usually compiled using cloud-based tools to allow synchronised data input and visualised using business intelligence software such as Tableau or PowerBI. The data is often looking to capture not just the who, what and where, but also the when, with whom and even the why of a particular project.

There are many challenges to enabling a sustainable 3w process and product, especially at the global level. While OCHA continue to deliver the 3w in specific emergencies or country operations, they abandoned attempts at a global dataset in 2011. Some of the key lessons include:

1. Narrow the audience, functionality, & scope, + control expectations — The 3w should not be all things to all people. Successful 3ws are operational fast moving decision making support tools, and should never be financial or programmatic reporting tools of record. Narrow the audience, functionality and scope to the bare minimum and control expectation that this tool is not for all data & information needs.

2. It will be difficult: persistence wins the 3w game — It will be difficult at first, then it will continue to be difficult. There is no free 3w lunch. This is a tool that requires constant update, maintenance and outreach to be adopted, and used over the long term

3. Process is everything — Process, incentives and follow up are more important than technology (but the technology has to work).

4. Be simple: complexity kills a 3w — Complexity kills 3ws. Simplicity supports 3ws. The less we ask National Society focal points to enter, the better.

5. Helpdesk is essential — A strong helpdesk is essential to providing proactive support to users. Users who do not understand or have difficulties entering or uploading data must have responsive, near immediate feedback to retain interest and engagement. IFRC should establish helpdesk protocols and explore outsourcing the daily interaction to a service provider.

6. Sustained user engagement and service is crucial -. Constant communications & engagement mechanisms must be in place for the duration of the life of the 3w tool. IFRC must adopt a service mindset and provide tangible 3w data services for the reporting National Societies.

7. Data quality is a constant battle — Data definitions, standardization and consistency is a constant battle. A successful 3w requires a team of people manually checking data, requesting updates and working with users to maintain data quality.

8. Give something back: add incentives for data sharing and update — Successful 3w products incentivize users to add their data. This can happen through encouragement and thanks, as well as through creating data products to help promote the user’s National Society and programmes.

9. Use the ‘Fear of Missing Out’ to drive adoption and update — Use the Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) as a powerful force for adoption. Publishing regular updates of the tool without key player’s data can speed universal adoption.

10. Link the 3w to a response plan — Successful 3ws are integrated to an humanitarian response plan to require reporting and participation. Preferably, the 3w should tie directly into a logical framework structure that links to organizational objectives, activities and indicators. Voluntary reporting has its limits.

11. Be seamless in the workflow — Humanitarian professionals are time starved and slow to adopt additional workflow requirements. The 3w should therefore be integrated and included in existing processes.

12. Data visualisation matters — Beautiful, interactive data visualization of 3w data can help incentivise users to want to add their data to the platform. We designed a data visualisation challenge to help gather ideas and one of the winning designs went on to inform the design of a project flow sankey diagram.

13. Country level granularity leads to 3w success — Humanitarian organizations that have tried to unite 3w systems into a global platform have failed in every instance to date. This risk can be mitigated by retaining a national level focus and support for the tool in each unique context.

14. National ownership is essential — National Societies need to own and manage 3w data for themselves. They need to feel ownership and get value from the process.

15. Define and build buy in for a process, roles & responsibilities — The 3w must have a clearly defined and agreed process. This includes reporting timeframes, deadlines, summary releases and milestones when the data becomes public.

From initial design and internal consultation to the launch of the 3w at the end of April took around a year. This included detailed feedback from and discussions with National Societies and the SIMS information management community of practice ICRC and Movement data colleagues, IFRC Regional Offices and technical / sector leads and colleagues at the Federation-wide Databank and Reporting System, the IFRC’s statement of National Society record. Over 100 detailed user requirements have since been incorporated into the system. A consultancy was launched in early 2020 to develop the lessons learned review summarised above, instructional and promotional videos, detailed user guidance, an IFRC data model schematic and communications materials, all of which are available on the GO Resources page.

Instructional video for IFRC GO platform 3w

The 3w is now live on the GO platform but we continue to learn and adapt based on user needs and feedback. The first such enhancement we’ve implemented is to allow for multi-region (adm 1) project tagging. Other feature requests include a Partner National Society view and graphic export of the project flow sankey diagram.

Due to the global domestic nature of the RC/RC Movement’s response to COVID-19, the 3w has taken on increasing importance to present the footprint of RC/RC movement activities across the globe.

We continue to value your feedback and invite you to send us your ideas, blockers, and suggestions to im@ifrc.org