Menu ENN Search

Spreading around the globe: ActivityInfo

By Claire Barnhoorn

Claire Barnhoorn is a graduate from the NOHA MSc Humanitarian Assistance (UCD, Dublin) and currently working at MSF. Besides a long standing interest in (technical) innovations within humanitarian aid, she is passionate about data, measurable M&E and informed decision-making. Previously she was the project leader of ActivityInfo, assisting organisations to operationalise ActivityInfo and in 2012, worked as a UNICEF-Mali consultant to lead the roll out of AcitivityInfo for the emergency response.

Location: Global

What we know: Sharing programme data and analyses takes considerable time and resources in humanitarian operations and is complicated. Practical constraints include lack of harmonised units of measure between programmes, multiple data submissions to different users (internal use, sectoral coordinators, donors) and incompatible worksheets.

What this article adds: ActivityInfo is an online/offline, browser-based humanitarian project management and monitoring tool, licensed as open source software. It was developed at field level to simplify reporting and allow for real time monitoring. Its use has spread by ‘word of mouth’ from DRC to Mali, Somalia, Madagascar, South Sudan, Jordan and Lebanon. See:

Sharing information on activities is a challenge for many among us working in humanitarian aid. Current systems of storing and sharing information are often resource intensive (in terms of time and money) and lead to sub-optimal outcomes in the quality of our programming as a result of data loss, lack of information shared and lack of analysis. Ask any humanitarian programme manager how many hours are spent on reporting, meetings and requests for programme information and the answer will probably easily exceed half of our working hours. Hours not counted are those spent in frustration at incompatible excel sheets, lost macros or different unit of measures when aggregating data. On entering cluster meetings, agency representatives working in humanitarian emergencies often start by calling out numbers, toilets build, MAM/SAM cases admitted, kits distributed or cholera cases found. Hours pass before being able to really analyse the needs, appropriateness of the response and being able to plan for activities. Another great difficulty often encountered with data is ‘the unit of measure’ since not all involved in a humanitarian response are using the same definition. For example, you can find that one organisation reports toilets being built by block while another organisation reports toilets by door, creating a tough job for information management officers.

The need

In late 2008, UNICEF’s Emergency Unit in the Democratic Republic Congo (DRC) faced the challenges of coordinating two large multi-year, multi-partner programmes. These were the Programme for Expanded Assistance to Returnees (PEAR) and the Rapid Response Mechanism (RRM) which merged into the RRMP (Response Rapide de Movement des Populations)1. UNICEF’s Emergency Unit in the DRC started to work with an information management consultant to address the issues and challenges faced by developing a field-driven tool for monitoring and evaluation (M&E). The requirements were shaped by organisations working within RRM and PEAR and were tested through the assignment. Realising that building another excel-based datasheet was not going to solve the real issues, the idea of a new field-driven tool called ActivityInfo was born. From the start, ActivityInfo was built as an open source solution (under GPL (General Public Licence), making it possible for the wider humanitarian world to benefit in the future. Furthermore, the software can be adapted and developed as needed.


The first version of ActivityInfo was developed between January and March 2009, and evolved monthly through 2009 in response to user feedback and emerging operational needs. In late 2009, ActivityInfo was adopted as the Non-Food Items (NFI) and Education Clusters’ information management platform in the DRC and in 2010, OCHA began expanding ActivityInfo’s use to the remaining clusters there.

Because ActivityInfo’s developers were based in eastern DRC throughout 2009, the application has been built from ‘the ground up’, to function well in the most challenging of environments. It is optimised for latency-satellite connections and ready for chaotic IT environments with support for all browsers, and works both on- and off-line. ActivityInfo databases can be created for a project, a mission, a cluster, an operational coordination centre, etc, with different indicator-based activities and enables monitoring at every level. Database rights can be allocated to specific users with separate logins. Data need only be entered once, since they can be exported to other databases (e.g. to the cluster or funding agency). Development and evolution continues, for example, in 2013 there was an integration with ODK (OpenData Kit), following a growing number of organisations in aid using ODK. ActivityInfo also strengthens data security as the data are not stored within separate datasheets (Excel files etc.) on local computers.

Spreading the word

ActivityInfo is now used by more than 300 people from 75 different organisations in the DRC alone, from local Congolese NGOs to large international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and United Nations (UN) agencies. It has helped many organisations improve decision making by ensuring availability of the most recent data, chronologically and geographically, as well as disaggregated by partner, programme or any possible combinations of these. However there has been limited PR or communication carried out by the company behind ActivityInfo; the experiences of individuals and organisations are the driving force behind the growth in its use. Staff turnover and rotating rosters of organisations result in the spread of ActivityInfo, with individuals starting to take the tool with them to be implemented in other settings. As an example of this, by 2012 ActivityInfo was rolled out in Mali’s emergency response by UNICEF. This was followed by a request from Madagascar for the tool to be used in the cyclone response. In 2013, both UNHCR and UNICEF used ActivityInfo as their information management system in the Syria response, operating from Jordan and Lebanon, as well as a roll out for UNMISS2 starting in South Sudan. UNHCR has currently its own ActivityInfo portal in Jordan3, serving as a platform for approximately 300 organisations to better centralise, map and analyse humanitarian activities. International NGOs are also taking on ActivityInfo, e.g. Mercy Corps has been using ActivityInfo for some years in Somalia. Small local NGOs are also benefiting and enjoying functions, such as being able to produce quality maps without Geographic Information Systems(GIS) expertise and sending out automated custom made reports with graphs and tables using real time information.

ActivityInfo helps lower the burden of reporting and improves informed decision making and programming. There has been little research conducted so far on ActivityInfo and its impact on monitoring and ultimately on humanitarian responses, since it has been operating under the
radar for most of us, while being developed in field offices. The year 2014 will mark the 5th anniversary of ActivityInfo and might mark a change in this with the recent rapid escalation in its use following its roll out in large emergencies (Syria and South Sudan).

For more information, contact Claire Barnhoorn: email: or BeDataDriven, the company which developed ActivityInfo: email:

Show footnotes

2United Nations Mission in the Republic of South Sudan

3Syrian Refugee Response Tracking:

More like this

FEX: UN and INGO experiences of coordination in Jordan

By Alex Tyler and Jack Byrne Alex Tyler is Inter-Sector Coordinator for UNHCR Jordan Jack Byrne is Country Director for IRC and Chair of the INGO Forum for Jordan As of July...

FEX: A systematic review of obstacles to treatment of adult undernutrition

Summary of MMedSci research1 By Claire Bader Since graduating as a Registered Nurse in 1995, Claire has spent over 12 years working in a variety of health and nutritional...

FEX: National and local actor’s share of global humanitarian funding

Summary of report1 Location: Global What we know: Emergency aid funding has risen tenfold in the last 14 years. What this article adds: A recent review of national and...

FEX: The use of evidence in humanitarian decision making

Summary of study1 Location: Ethiopia, DRC and Philippines What we know: Decision making in humanitarian response requires timely information and analysis and there are...


Name GOAL Year formed 1977 Address PO Box 19, Dun Laoghaire, Co Dublin, Ireland Chief Executive John O'Shea Telephone +353 1 2809779 Overseas staff 116 expatriate,...

FEX: Population Explorer: Estimate local populations anywhere

By Lisa Jordan and Rob Rose Lisa Jordan is jointly Assistant Professor of Geography and Public Health at Florida State University. Her areas of research include population...

FEX: Alert and rapid response to nutritional crisis in DRC

By Alain Georges Tchamba View this article as a pdf Lisez cet article en français ici Alain Georges Tchamba is the Nutrition coordinator at Cooperazione...

FEX: Lessons From SC UK Evaluation in DRC

By Anna Taylor, Nutrition Advisor, SC UK Summary of internal evaluation Save the Children UK (SC UK) began implementing emergency health and nutrition interventions in...

FEX: Interventions to build resilience of the health system to the El Niño drought in Ethiopia

By Amal Tucker Brown and Eric Alain Ategbo View this article as a pdf Lisez cet article en français ici Amal Tucker Brown has worked for UNICEF since 2007 and joined...

FEX: Issue 13 Editorial

Dear Readers, The first in a new series of articles appears in this issue of Field Exchange. 'Embracing Cultures', written by Ariana Curdy will, over the next few editions...

FEX: Global Nutrition Cluster Rapid Response Team

By Ayadil Saparbekov View this article as a pdf Lisez cet article en français ici Ayadil Saparbekov has been in a position of the Deputy Global Nutrition Cluster...

FEX: Vouchers and fairs as emergency response in DRC

Summary of evaluation1 Masisi Centre fair In late 2008, escalated fighting among rebels and the Congolese Armed Forces (FARCD) provoked renewed and widespread displacement in...

FEX: The 2011 famine in Somalia: lessons learnt from a failed response

Summary of published research1 Location: Somalia What we know: In July 2011, a famine was declared in Southern Somalia despite sufficient, timely and robust early warnings....

FEX: Enhancing infant and young child feeding in emergency preparedness and response in East Africa: capacity mapping in Kenya, Somalia and South Sudan

By Patrick Codjia, Marjorie Volege, Minh Tram Le, Alison Donnelly, Fatmata Fatima Sesay, Joseph Victor Senesie and Laura Kiige View this article as a pdf Lisez cet article en...

FEX: DRC experiences of cash assistance to non-camp refugees in Lebanon and Turkey

By Louisa Seferis Louisa is the MENA Regional Livelihoods & Cash Advisor for the Danish Refugee Council (DRC). She has worked for three years with the DRC for the Syrian...

FEX: Development of Rapid and Comprehensive Assessment Tools for Emergencies

At a recent meeting of the Inter Agency Standing Committee (IASC) Nutrition Cluster (see box) in Rome, work on assessment in emergencies was shared. An assessment sub-working...

FEX: Zambia efforts in prevention, early detection and treatment of wasting during COVID-19

View this article as a pdf By Getinet Babu, Agnes Aongola, Colleen Emary, Phyllis Oyugi, Claire Beck, Chansa Tembo Getinet Babu is a humanitarian nutritionist with over 16...

FEX: Experiences and challenges of programming in Northern Syria

By Emma Littledike and Claire Beck Emma Littledike has been the Health and Nutrition Manager for World Vision International on the Northern Syria response since September...

FEX: Improving nutrition surveys: New developments and changes at UNHCR

By Timo Luege, Caroline Wilkinson and Maeve de France Timo Luege is an independent, humanitarian communications and advocacy consultant based in Berlin, Germany. Timo has...

FEX: IASC Nutrition Cluster: Key Things to Know

The Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) have recently produced a 'Note' about the Cluster Approach which includes details about the Nutrition Cluster component. Cluster...


Reference this page

Claire Barnhoorn (). Spreading around the globe: ActivityInfo. Field Exchange 47, April 2014. p51.



Download to a citation manager

The below files can be imported into your preferred reference management tool, most tools will allow you to manually import the RIS file. Endnote may required a specific filter file to be used.