Frequently Asked Questions
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About the Humanitarian Data Exchange

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

A team within the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) manages HDX. OCHA is part of the United Nations Secretariat, responsible for bringing together humanitarian actors to ensure a coherent response to emergencies. The HDX team includes OCHA staff and a number of consultants. We are based in North America, Europe and Africa.

The following is a selection of articles that have been written about HDX:

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.
HDX includes two categories of data - curated indicators and user-contributed datasets. We curate about 130 indicators from multiple sources, ensuring they are comparable across countries and have gone through a quality-control process. We also have datasets that organisations have shared.
Yes. HDX uses an open-source software called CKAN for our technical back-end. We partner with ScraperWiki for data transformation and operations support. 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.
Anyone can view and download the data from the site, but registered users can access more features. After signing up you can:
  1. follow the latest changes to data, locations, organisations, topics and crises;
  2. share datasets publicly or privately, and join organisations to get access to private datasets*;
  3. add data visualizations as gallery items alongside datasets*;
  4. contact data contributors.


*You need to be affiliated with an organisation to access these features.

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 'contact the contributor' link below the title of every dataset. Please find more details here.
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.

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. Only users belonging to an organisation can add data to HDX.
If your organisation is not listed, you can request to create one (click the 'Add Data' button) or you may want to join an existing organisation. 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 the 'Organisations' link at the top of any page.
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. We created our first custom organisation pages for WFP and the Somalia NGO Consortium. If you would like a custom page, send a request to hdx.feedback@gmail.com.
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 email 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 more under Organisations above.)
Yes. For each dataset that you create, you have a choice of sharing publicly or restricting access to other members of the same organisation. The default visibility is set to private when you upload a new dataset. We encourage the open sharing of data, but we recognize that some data may not be suitable for public release.
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 walk-through 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, you will find an 'Edit' button just below the dataset description. 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 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.feedback@gmail.com.
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 logged into Google Drive. 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.

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 can click on 'Add Data' and choose the option to import files from 'Dropbox'. A 'Dropbox' popup will show and help you choose the file/files from your account.

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, download the sheet to your own computer in Excel or CSV format, then open your web browser's 'Downloads' screen and copy the link from there.
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=0

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 on HDX will always reflect updates made to the remote resource (such as a file on Dropbox or on a GeoNode). 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. The changes to the date of the dataset are only updated automatically if the resource is stored on HDX. We are working to improve this functionality, so please bear with us!
The library is open source software and available here: hdx-python-api. Learn more about the library in this blog post.

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 extenion 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.
HDX has some datasets that are links to data stored on GeoNodes, such as the Ebola GeoNode, the Sala Humanitaria GeoNode, and the U.S. Department of State GeoNode. These links are currently maintained manually. Updates to downloadable resources on a GeoNode will be reflected in the download from HDX. Updates to metadata or descriptions are only captured if the dataset owner updates them manually on HDX.

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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, accuracy, 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.
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 gallery. These changes will appear in the activity stream on the left-hand column of the dataset page.

HDX API

There are two APIs for accessing HDX. The best choice for most tasks is the HDX Python Library. The library is open source software available here: hdx-python-api. Learn more about the library in this blog post.

The HDX Python Library is essentially a wrapper around the most common functions of the base CKAN API, on which HDX is built. HDX supports both the core CKAN 2.3 API and, for some datasets, the CKAN Datastore API. For more information, please e-mail hdx.feedback@gmail.com. We will be happy to assist you.

HXL

The Humanitarian Exchange Language (HXL) is a simple standard for messy data. It is based on spreadsheet formats such as CSV or Excel, but it adds hashtags with semantic information to allow software to validate, clean, merge and analyse data more easily.

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.

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. This is called a "HXL Preview." For a HXL Preview to be generated, your dataset needs:
  1. A CSV with HXL tags as the first resource. HXL is easy! Check out the 30-second tutorial. The CSV can be stored on HDX or as a remote resource at another URL.
  2. To be tagged with "HXL" on the dataset page. This is not referring to the HXL tags inside the CSV, but rather the metadata tags that you set for the whole dataset. This is a flag to HDX to try and process the CSV as a HXL-ated dataset.

The system will generate a palette of visualizations and you can choose up to six of them for display of your dataset. You can find an example here. You can always edit or remove the HXL Preview later.

If you decide not to save any HXL Preview, this section will be hidden for users that don't have the right to edit the dataset.

For more details you can view this screencast.
To generate a HXL Preview, a dataset can have multiple resources but only the first resource in the list of resources can be previewed. At this stage, HXL Preview is working with a limited number of HXL tags, including: #affected, #inneed, #reached, #targeted, #country, #adm1, #adm2, #adm3, #adm4, #adm5.

Data Policy

Yes and no. HDX does not allow personally identifiable information (PII) to be shared in public datasets. All data shared publicly 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 PII, such as contact information for humanitarian responders. Read more about our Terms of Service.
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, e-mail hdx@un.org. If you see an issue with the site, e-mail hdx.feedback@gmail.com. You can also reach us on Twitter at @humdata. Sign up to receive our blog posts here.