Data Innovation

Our vision

We’re building a culture of innovation to ensure UNHCR can responsibly and creatively take advantage of big data analytics, AI, intelligent automation, and other exponential technologies to further our mandate.

Our approach

The industry of new information and communication technologies is rapidly advancing, but is still nascent in many areas, and not yet fully tested in society. The humanitarian sector faces a challenge of how to adopt nascent technologies while exploring how to use them to support the delivery of the UNHCR protection mandate in a way that complies with UN policies, human-rights based approaches, and humanitarian and ethical standards.

UNHCR’s Data Innovation programme is inspired and in support of creating evidence for the advancement of the UN Secretary General Digital Roadmap, the UN Secretary General Data Strategy 2020-2022 and the UNHCR Data Transformation Strategy 2020-2025.

This programme works to innovate, experiment and leverage data in new and creative ways to improve UNHCR’s work and the lives of the people it serves. Innovative solutions include ethics and human rights-based approaches, responsible data practices, evidence-based humanitarian decision making, and privacy-enhancing technologies that can shape the future of the humanitarian sector.

Data Innovation Fund

The Data Innovation Fund provides targeted financial and technical support to colleagues in UNHCR who are interested in exploring innovation methodologies in combination with data science and other non-traditional analysis techniques, or exploring emerging technologies to perform data analysis in more creative ways. 

The Data Innovation Roadmap

The Data Innovation Programme nurtures innovative, ethical approaches to data and emerging technology using the Data Innovation Roadmap. The Roadmap is a bespoke practical guide through the process of data innovation in humanitarian contexts, ensuring a rigorous engagement with data science, data engineering, and innovation methodologies.

Through both a visual map and a guiding document, it lays out the different stages that data innovation initiatives should go through – scoping, research and development, production, and scale – and the tools, methodologies, and deliverables required to advance from one stage to the next. You can explore the Roadmap here:

Our past projects

The Innovation Service’s work on big data and artificial intelligence takes many forms, including support and services to UNHCR operations, training on bias ethics and a human-rights based approach, partnering with non-traditional actors to explore creative approaches, and holistic support to nurture pilots breaking new ground. Here’s a glimpse into some of this work:


The Innovation Service’s Data Innovation team uses narratives and stories to bring insight and learnings into its work, collaboration alongside colleagues and refugees and how the team imagines the future of data in the humanitarian sector. You can find our latest articles here.

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Research and publications

A collection of research, insights, and publications from at the crossroads of data innovation and humanitarian response to learn how UNHCR navigates challenges and is thinking about the role of data innovation in its work with refugee communities. 

Technical guidance

Key technical resources to support UNHCR’s data and artificial intelligence work, from the practical “how-tos” to due diligence, technical guidance, and policy.

Additional resources

Further resources to inform UNHCR’s Data Innovation work.


A list of some of our most frequently asked questions on the Innovation Service’s data and artificial intelligence work.

What is UNHCR Innovation Service’s Data Innovation work focused on?
Our work is focused on improving and innovating UNHCR’s capacity to collect, analyse and visualise data for strengthening its programme and protection-related work, aiming for the delivery of the UNHCR protection mandate in a way that complies with UN policies, human-rights based approaches, and humanitarian and ethical principles.
How is the Innovation Service’s work different from UNHCR’s Global Data Service (GDS) and/or the Joint World Bank-UNHCR Data Center (JDC)
Our role is to foster and mainstream data innovation within UNHCR with a responsible and human-rights based data approach and to help UNHCR achieve the data transformation strategy’s innovation-related work. The Innovation Service contributes to the UNHCR-WB Joint Data Centre in sharing research insights, particularly on predictive analytics and other big data/AI-research based projects.
Why are big data and artificial intelligence relevant to the UN Refugee Agency?
Part of UNHCR’s vision of becoming a trusted leader in data and information relating to refugees and affected populations requires understanding, co-designing, building, launching and maintaining projects that utilize either big data or AI. These technologies will be fundamental to an agile and innovative organisation that will be more prepared to anticipate and respond to the crises of tomorrow.
Does the Innovation Service collaborate with partners on big data and AI?
Yes, we have worked with many partners, such as academia, the nonprofit sector, collaborative platforms, governments, the private sector, other UN agencies and persons of concern. Our recent collaborations include:

How can we collaborate, engage or know more about this area of work?
Collaboration with the Innovation Service’s Data Innovation can take many forms, including research in data-related work, designing webinars and knowledge sharing, providing scoping for challenge identification, mainstreaming innovation methodologies in data-related work and strengthening a human-rights based approach to humanitarian innovation work.
What types of technologies have you worked with?
Everything and anything: we either build our own computer programme tools from open source repositories and packages, or we test commercial off-the-shelf tools and solutions. We are technology agnostic, and only use technology when it is appropriate and adapted to the humanitarian context and abides with data protection, data responsibility, ethics and human-rights based approaches. This entails a wide range of technologies, from radio to satellites, techniques, preliminary analysis and scenario building.
What are some options for qualitative data analysis or text analysis? What tools do you recommend?
In our projects section, the project “Text analytics for improved protection” describes some of the methodologies, techniques and other partners’ projects in relation to text analytics, including social media and other formats of text for humanitarian/displacement analysis. There are many different open source and off-the-shelf commercial tools that allow  exploration of the different research questions (what you want to obtain from the data) and methodologies and techniques (e.g. topics modelling, natural language processing, NLP) to be able to process and make sense out of it. We recommend getting familiar with the  following links for a brief introduction to text analysis, and to understand how to make sense out of your data, prior to recommending a specific tool: Link 1, Link 2, Link 3
What if I have other questions I need answered?
Please get in touch at [email protected] with any questions or ideas.


Are you working on big data, artificial intelligence and other exponential technologies and displacement or related human-rights or ethics work, and you have interesting perspectives to share? Do you have questions or want to support our work? Get in touch at [email protected]