Frequently Asked Questions
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About the Humanitarian Data Exchange

The Humanitarian Data Exchange (HDX) is an open platform for sharing data across crises and organisations. Launched in July 2014, the goal of HDX is to make humanitarian data easy to find and use for analysis. Our growing collection of datasets has been accessed by users in over 200 countries and territories. Watch this video to learn more.

HDX is managed by OCHA's Centre for Humanitarian Data, which is located in The Hague. OCHA is part of the United Nations Secretariat and is responsible for bringing together humanitarian actors to ensure a coherent response to emergencies. The HDX team includes OCHA staff and a number of consultants who are based in North America, Europe and Africa.

For the latest pieces about HDX, click here. A selection is below:

To find our logo files and other materials, please click here.

Getting Started

We define humanitarian data as:
  1. data about the context in which a humanitarian crisis is occurring (e.g., baseline/development data, damage assessments, geospatial data)
  2. data about the people affected by the crisis and their needs
  3. data about the response by organisations and people seeking to help those who need assistance.
Yes. HDX uses an open-source software called CKAN for our technical back-end. You can find all of our code on GitHub.
We build and test HDX using the latest versions of Chrome and Firefox. We also test on Internet Explorer 10 and later, but do not formally support it.
You can register by clicking on 'Sign Up' on the upper-right corner of any HDX page.
Use our password recovery form to reset your account details. Enter your username or e-mail and we will send you an e-mail with a link to create a new password.
Anyone can view and download the data from the site, but registered users can access more features. After signing up you can:
  1. Contact data contributors to ask for more information about their data.
  2. Request access to the underlying data for metadata only entries (our HDX Connect feature).
  3. Join organisations to share data or to access private data, depending on your role within the organisation, e.g. an admin, editor, or member of the organisation (see more below).
  4. Request to create a new organisation and if approved, share data publicly or privately.
  5. Add data visualizations as showcase items alongside your organisations datasets.
  6. Follow the latest changes to data.
HDX allows registered users to follow the data they are interested in. Updates to the datasets that you follow will appear as a running list in your user dashboard(accessible from your user name in the top right of every page when you are logged in). You can follow data, organisations, locations, topics and crises.
You'll find a 'Request Access' button for datasets where only metadata is provided. The HDX Connect feature makes it possible to discover what data is available or what data collection initiatives are underway. Only registered users have the ability to contact the organisation through the request access module. The administrator for the contributing organisation can decide whether to accept or deny the request. Once the connection is made, HDX is not involved in the decision to share the data. Learn more about HDX Connect here. Find all 'by request' datasets here.
You'll find a 'contact the contributor' link below the title of the data on all the dataset pages. Please find more details here.

Organisations

Organisations in HDX can be legal entities, such as WFP, or informal groups, such as the Shelter Cluster or Information Management Working Group for a specific country. Data can only be shared on HDX through an organisation. The HDX team verifies all organisations to ensure they are trusted and have relevant data to share with the HDX user community.
You can request an organisation through the 'Add Data' button. We ask you to submit the following information: an organisation name, description and link to an organisation-related website (optional). We review this information and then either accept the request or ask for more information, such as a sample dataset.
Registered users can request membership through the organisation's profile page. Click on the 'Request Membership' button and a request will be sent to the organisation's administrator(s). The requestor can not specify the role (i.e., admin, editor or member). Instead, the person receiving the request assigns the role.
Organisation membership includes three roles:
  • Administrators can add, edit and delete datasets belonging to the organisation and accept or refuse new member requests.
  • Editors can add, edit and delete datasets belonging to the organisation but cannot manage membership.
  • Members can view the organisation's private datasets, but cannot add new datasets or manage membership.

The user who requests the creation of an organisation is assigned an administrator role. That person can invite other HDX users into their organisation and assign them one of the three roles above, or registered users on HDX can request membership from the organisation's administrator(s).

For full details on managing members, please read this document.
Yes. Registered users can be part of several organisations.
If your organisation is not listed, you can request to create one or you may want to join an existing organisation via your dashboard. For instance, there may be a WFP organisation that was created by its staff at headquarters in Rome. You may prefer to join that one rather than creating a separate organisation for a specific location, e.g., WFP Liberia. You can see the full list of organisations by clicking Organisations in the main navigation.

If you have previously created an organisation and no longer see it on the site, this is because you have not yet shared a public dataset. Once you share a dataset, your organisation will become active and visible on the site. For details on how to upload a dataset, see "How do I add a dataset?".
Yes. Each administrator is able to manage datasets and membership. If a user requests membership, the request will be sent to all organisation administrators. The decision to accept or deny a membership request will be taken by whichever administrator acts first. The other administrators are not alerted to this action. We are planning to make this process more clear in future versions of the platform, so please bear with us!
HDX offers custom organisation pages to all organisations on the site. The page includes the organisation's logo and colour palette, topline figures, space for a data visualization and the list of datasets. If you would like a custom page, send a request to hdx@un.org.
'Group message' lets members of an organisation send messages to all other members of their organisation. Please find more details here.
You can keep your account. On the organisation page that you're a part of, click the link to 'Leave this organisation'. If you want to change the e-mail address associated with your account, click on your username on the upper-right corner of any HDX page and then select 'User Settings'. From there, you can update your profile.

Sharing and Using Data

Data on HDX is shared through organisations. You need to be a member of an organisation (with appropriate privileges) before you can contribute data. If you have data to share, you can either request to create a new organisation or ask to join an existing one. (See the Organisations section above.)There are three ways to share data on HDX:

Public - Data shared publicly is accessible to all users of the HDX platform, whether or not they are registered. All public data must be shared under an appropriate license. Select the 'public' setting in the metadata field when uploading data.

Private - Organisations can share data privately with their members. The administrator of each organisation controls who can become a member. The default visibility is set to 'private' when uploading new data. To make data accessible to HDX users, the contributing organisation needs to change the visibility to public.

By Request - Organisations can share the metadata of a dataset and grant access to the underlying data when requested by a registered user. Learn more about the HDX Connect feature here.

Learn more about how HDX handles sensitive data below.
A dataset is a collection of related data resources. A resource is an individual file within a dataset. When sharing data, you first create a dataset and then you can add one or more resources to it. A resource can either be a file uploaded to HDX (such as a CSV or XLS file) or a link to another website with a downloadable file. A resource, such as a readme file, could also contain documentation that helps users to understand the dataset, such as a readme file.
Click on the 'Add Data' button from any page on HDX. You will be required to login and associate yourself with an organisation. These slides provide a walkthrough of how to add a dataset. Here are more details on the 'update frequency' field.
You can only edit a dataset if you are an administrator or editor of your organisation. If you have the appropriate role, on the dataset page you will find an 'Edit' button just below the dataset title on the right. This will allow you to edit the dataset metadata and the resources. These slides provide a walk-through of how to edit a dataset.
If your data uses the HXL standard, then HDX can automatically create customizable graphs and key figures to help you highlight the most important aspects of your dataset. We call these 'Quick Charts'. For a Quick Chart to be generated, your dataset needs to be public and contain a CSV or XLSX resource with HXL tags. HXL is easy! Check out the 30-second tutorial.

The resource can be stored on HDX or as a remote resource at another URL. Quick Charts will be generated from the first resource with HXL tags in the list of a dataset's resources. The system will try to generate up to three charts based on the HXL tags, and these can be changed to best tell the story in your data. You can edit each Quick Chart's title, axis labels, and description. Don't forget to save the changes so they become the default view that users see when viewing your dataset. Here's a good example to get you started.

Learn more about HXL and HDX Tools in the section below.
Organization admins and editors can add data visualizations to dataset pages to let users explore your data. The data visuals can be made using Tableau, Power BI or whatever software you prefer. The visuals will appear in the "Interactive Data" section at the top of the page.

Learn how to do this by taking a quick look at these slides.
Resources can be either different formats of the same data (such as XLSX and CSV) or different releases of the same data (such as March, April, and May needs assessments). Always put the resource with the most-recent or most-important information first, because the HDX system will by default use the first resource to create visualisations such as Quick Charts or geographic preview (this default can be overridden in the dataset edit page).

If you have data that is substantially different, like a different type of assessment or data about a different province, we recommend creating a separate dataset.
If your resource is simply a link to a file hosted elsewhere, there is no size limit. If you are uploading a file onto HDX, the file size is limited to 300MB. If you have larger files that you want to share, e-mail us at hdx@un.org.
Yes. HDX can host the data for you, but it works equally well with a link to data hosted somewhere else on the web. For example, if your organisation already has a system or API that produces data for download, you can simply include a link to that data as a resource in your dataset, and the version on HDX will automatically stay up to date.
Yes. HDX allows you to drag and drop files from your computer. First, you need to click on the 'Add Data' link and then select files from your computer. Drop the files in the designated area. A new dataset form will appear with some fields already pre-filled.

First you need to be sure that the Google Drive file or files are publicly visible or accessible to anyone who has the link. For instructions on how to change, follow this walkthrough. You can click on 'Add Data' and choose the option to import files from 'Google Drive'. A 'Google Drive' pop-up will show and help you choose the file/files from your account. The files will not be copied into HDX. Instead, the HDX 'Download' button will always direct users to the live version of the Google document.

The HDX Resource Picker for Google Drive will only have access to your list of Google Drive files when you are choosing Google Drive resources through the HDX interface. You can revoke this permission at any time in Google Drive's App Manager. However, this will not change the visibility of the Google Drive resources already created on HDX.

To include a link to a Google Sheet, you must first set the sheet's sharing permissions so that it is either publicly visible or at least accessible to anyone who has the link. We recommend creating at least two separate resources for each Google Sheet: 1) a link to the sheet itself in the regular Google Drive interface; and 2) a direct-download link to an Excel or CSV version of the sheet, so that users can preview it in HDX. The version in HDX will update automatically as you make changes to the original Google Sheet.

To obtain the direct download link, select "Publish to the web..." from the "File" menu in Google Sheets, then in the dialog box that opens, under the 'Link' tab select your preferred file format (such as Excel or CSV), confirm, and Google Sheets will provide you the link. (Note that this process is not necessary simply for working with HXL-aware tools like Quick Charts, because they can open data directly from the regular Google Sheets link.)
HDX can live-link to and preview files stored in any Dropbox folder and even preview them if they are in CSV or XLS format. You must login to Dropbox via the web application and navigate to the folder containing the spreadsheet (or other file) that you want to share. Select the file and choose 'Share link', following the instructions in the Dropbox help centre. You will then receive a special link that allows anyone to download the file.

Add that link as a resource to your HDX dataset. When you receive a Dropbox link, it normally looks something like this:
https://www.dropbox.com/etc/etc/your_file_name.csv?dl=0

For HDX to be able to process and preview your file, you'll need to change the last '0' to a '1' so that it looks like this:
https://www.dropbox.com/etc/etc/your_file_name.csv?dl=1

The HDX resource will automatically track any changes you save to the Dropbox file on your own computer. Be careful not to move or rename the file after you share it.
The data that users download from HDX will always reflect updates made to the remote resource (such as a file on Dropbox or Google Drive). However, the metadata and activity stream will not automatically indicate the updated date of the data. This has to be done manually in HDX by the dataset owner. We are working to improve this functionality, so please bear with us!

Geodata

The HDX system will attempt to create a map, or geographic preview, from geodata formats that it recognizes. For a geographic preview to be generated, your data needs to be in either a zipped shapefile, kml or geojson format. Ensure that the 'File type' field for the resource also has one of the above formats. Pro tip: HDX will automatically add the correct format if the file extension is '.shp.zip', '.kml', or '.geojson'. Here are examples of geodata points, lines, and polygons showing the preview feature.

The preview feature will continue to work when there are multiple geodata resources in a single dataset (i.e., one HDX dataset with many resources attached). The layers icon in the top-right corner of the map enables users to switch between geodata layers. Here is an example.
To generate a map preview, a dataset can have multiple resources but each resource can only include one layer within it. Resources with multiple layers (e.g., multiple shapefiles in a single zip file) are not supported. In this case, the system will only create a preview of the first layer in the resource, however all the layers will still be available in the downloaded file. If you would like all of the layers to display, you need to create a separate resource for each layer.

Metadata and Data Quality

All data on HDX must include a minimum set of metadata fields. You can read our Guide to Metadata to learn more. We encourage data contributors to include as much metadata as possible to make their data easier to understand and use for analysis.
Data quality is important to us, so we manually review every new dataset for relevance, timeliness, interpretability and comparability. We contact data contributors if we have any concerns or suggestions for improvement. You can learn more about our definition of the dimensions of data quality and our quality-assurance processes here.
This metadata field indicates how often you expect your data to be updated and includes values like Every day and Every year as well as the following:
  • Live - for datasets where updates are continuous and ongoing
  • As needed - for datasets with an unpredictable, widely varying update frequency
  • Never - for datasets with data that will never be changed
The green leaf symbol indicates that a dataset is up to date - that there has been an update to the metadata or the data in the dataset within the expected update frequency plus some leeway. For more information on the expected update frequency metadata field and the number of days a dataset qualifies as being fresh, see here.
No. HDX will never make changes to the data that has been shared. We do add tags, or make changes to dataset titles to help make your data more discoverable by HDX users. We may also add a data visualization for the data in the dataset showcase. A list of changes appears in the activity stream on the left-hand column of the dataset page.

Resources for Developers

Please see our Resources for Developers page for more information.

HXL and HDX Tools

The Humanitarian Exchange Language (HXL) is a simple standard for messy data. It is based on spreadsheet formats such as CSV or Excel. The standard works by adding hashtags with semantic information in the row between the column header and data allow software to validate, clean, merge and analyse data more easily. To learn more about HXL and who's currently using it, visit the HXL standard site.

HDX is currently adding features to visualise HXL-tagged data. To learn more about HXL and who's currently using it, visit the HXL standard site.

HDX Tools include a number of HXL-enabled support processes that help you do more with your data, more quickly. The tools include:
  • Quick Charts - Automatically generate embeddable, live data charts, graphs and key figures from your spreadsheet.
  • HXL Tag Assist - See HXL hashtags in action and add them to your own spreadsheet.
  • Data Check - Data cleaning for humanitarian data, automatically detects and highlights common errors including validation against CODs and other vocabularies.


You can find all HDX Tools through tools.humdata.org. The tools will work with data that is stored on HDX, the cloud or local machines. The only requirement is that the data includes HXL hashtags.
If your data uses HXL hashtags, then the Quick Charts tool can automatically create customizable graphs and key figures to help you highlight the most important aspects of your dataset. Quick Charts require the following:
  1. The first resource in your dataset (stored on HDX or remotely) must have HXL hashtags.
  2. That dataset must have the HDX category tag 'HXL' (not to be confused with the actual HXL hashtags).


For more details you can view these walkthrough slides.
Every Quick Chart on HDX includes a small link icon at the bottom, that will give you HTML markup to copy into a web page or blog to add the chart. The chart will be live, and will update whenever the source data updates. If your data is not on HDX, you can also generate a Quick Chart using the standalone version of the service, available on https://tools.humdata.org.
At this stage, Quick Charts are working with a limited number of HXL hashtags, but we are constantly expanding the list. The current set of JSON-encoded Quick Charts recipes is available on GitHub.
The HXL Tag Assist tool will show you different HXL hashtags in datasets that organisations have already uploaded to HDX. You can find a quick (and portable) list of the core HXL hashtags on the HXL Postcard. The detailed list of HXL hashtags and attributes is available in the HXL hashtag dictionary. Finally, an up-to-date machine-readable version of the hashtag dictionary is available on HDX.
You can use Data Check to compare your HXL-tagged dataset against a collection of validation rules that you can configure. Data Check identifies the errors in your data such as spelling mistakes, incorrect geographical codes, extra whitespace, numerical outliers, and incorrect data types.

For more details you can view these walkthrough slides .

Sensitive Data

For the purpose of sharing data through HDX, we have developed the following categories to communicate data sensitivity:
  1. Non-Sensitive - This includes datasets containing country statistics, roadmaps, weather data and other data with no foreseeable risk associated with sharing.
  2. Uncertain Sensitivity - For this data, sensitivity depends on a number of factors, including other datasets collected in the same context, what technology is or could be used to extract insights, and the local context from which the data is collected or which will be impacted by use of the data.
  3. Sensitive - This includes any dataset containing personal data of affected populations or aid workers. Datasets containing demographically identifiable information (DII) or community identifiable information (CII) that can put affected populations or aid workers at risk, are also considered sensitive data. Depending on context, satellite imagery can also fall into this third category of sensitivity.
HDX does not allow personal data or personally identifiable information (PII) to be shared in public or private datasets. All data shared through the platform must be sufficiently aggregated or anonymized so as to prevent identification of people or harm to affected people and the humanitarian community. We do allow private datasets to include contact information of aid workers if they have provided consentto the sharing of their data within the organisation. Read more in our Terms of Service.
HDX endeavors not to allow publicly shared data that includes community identifiable information (CII) or demographically identifiable information (DII) that may put affected people at risk. However, this type of data is more challenging to identify within datasets during our quality assurance process without deeper analysis. In cases where we suspect that survey data may have a high risk of re-identification of affected people, we run an internal statistical disclosure control process using SDCmicro. If the risk level is high (>2%), HDX will make the dataset private and notify the data contributor who can then further anonymize the data or share only the metadata through HDX Connect.

We invite HDX users to notify us should they become aware of this type of data being shared through the site. Data contributors can request HDX to analyze the risk of data before it is shared. Send an e-mail to hdx@un.org to request this support.

Data Licenses

HDX promotes the use of licenses developed by the Creative Commons Foundation and the Open Data Foundation. The main difference between the two classes of licences is that the Creative Commons licences were developed for sharing creative works in general, while the Open Data Commons licences were developed more specifically for sharing databases. See the full list of licences here.

Contact

For general enquiries or issues with the site, e-mail hdx@un.org. You can also reach us on Twitter at @humdata. Sign up to receive our newsletter here.