Image by UNHCR Ethiopia/J. Ose
  • Report
  • 29 August 2019

Harmonising registration and identification in emergencies in Somalia

In this report we look at cash transfer programmes in Somalia and how data systems could be harmonised to better support them.


This report studied how different humanitarian agencies in emergency contexts in Somalia are collecting, analysing, reporting and sharing data on recipients of assistance in cash transfer programmes, and what opportunities exist for harmonising data systems. The study sought to understand:

  • the current operational policies and practices related to the collection and sharing of registration data;
  • the current initiatives towards harmonising data systems;
  • the options for standardising, sharing, storing, monitoring and protecting data in a secure way that increases the efficiency and effectiveness of the response, minimises duplication and remains operationally relevant to the identification of needs in Somalia;
  • and the ethical, fiduciary, reputational and legal risks associated with harmonising cash transfer programme data systems.

Key findings

There are some initiatives by humanitarian actors, donors and the Federal Government of Somalia to harmonise cash transfer programme data systems, but more effort is needed to develop an effective solution. Such a solution should aim to unlock the benefits of harmonisation – including improved aid effectiveness and better coordination and caseload planning – while navigating the privacy, security, fiduciary, legal and reputational risks that harmonisation presents.

Our study identified some key challenges towards this:

  • There is limited standardisation of data fields, which hinders the establishment of interoperability.
  • Developing data-sharing agreements that conform to the different organisation-level policies remains a significant challenge. Somalia has a weak legal framework for data protection, which has contributed in part to the development of a number of varying organisation-level data protection protocols and policies.
  • Lack of a unique identifier to link and match datasets across databases.
  • The politics of ownership and control over access to data prevent collaborative efforts by humanitarian agencies to harmonise data systems.
  • The lack of a common stance among donors leads to uncoordinated efforts to harmonising data systems.
  • Fear of the potential disruptions that harmonisation can cause to current operations of humanitarian agencies leads to resistance.
  • There is a lack of trust in the quality of data from external sources.


Humanitarian agencies should harmonise data fields, improve data quality, implement measures to protect personal data, obtain adequate consent to share data and establish cross-agency data sharing agreements to facilitate establishment of interoperability and sharing of data. They should also work with donors, the Cash Learning Partnership, the government and the private sector to develop a short-term identification mechanism such as an algorithm based on matching a combination of a selection of data variables to determine potential duplication in the absence of a national ID system.

Donors should adopt a coordinated approach to harmonising data systems, working with other actors and consortia to develop a shared vision and objective for harmonising data systems, and providing financial and technical support to humanitarian agencies towards the achievement of this. Policies should be implemented to prioritise the implementation of cash transfer programmes that use streamlined targeting, registration, distribution and monitoring and evaluation approaches, underpinned by interoperable databases, harmonised data collection tools and data-sharing agreements.

The Federal Government of Somalia should enact legislation to guide the protection, sharing and use of personal data in the short term, and complete the development and roll-out of a digital ID system to support effective identification and verification in cash transfer programmes in the long term.

Photo: UNHCR Ethiopia/J. Ose. A ration card is being scanned into the system for a recently arrived Somali refugees by UNHCR at a transit center in Dolo Ado, Ethiopia June 11, 2012. Due to recent poor rain and continuing insecurity, the number of new arrival has increased.

This document is an output from a project funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID) through the Research for Evidence Division (RED) for the benefit of developing countries. However, the views expressed and information contained in it is not necessarily those of or endorsed by DFID, which can accept no responsibility for such views or information or for any reliance placed on them.