UNICEF Primero - Global Platform for Data Collection & Case Managment

UNICEF Primero - Global Platform for Data Collection & Case Managment

A case study of the Primero system development project led by Quoin for UNICEF.

UNICEF Primero - Global Platform for Data Collection & Case Managment

A case study of the Primero system development project led by Quoin for UNICEF.

United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is a global leader in humanitarian work with a mandate to protect the welfare of children and mothers, particularly in zones of conflict or humanitarian crisis. The importance of the organization’s work has been highlighted in recent years, with the number of forcibly displaced people reaching over 65 million worldwide in 2016. Since children represent over half of refugees globally, UNICEF plays an essential role in ensuring their care and protection in over 190 countries. With an increasing workload, UNICEF pursued the development of a comprehensive information management system that could handle the immense challenges aid workers face in the field: lack of internet connectivity and its implications for information sharing; sensitivity of data and the security risks inherent to working in conflict zones; transient populations that often move from one field office or camp to another; a host of interdependent partner organizations with conflicting priorities; and, intermittent or even non-existent power supplies in rural areas. This new information management system would need to go beyond simple data entry and monitoring, and facilitate the day-to-day processes necessary to a range of specializations within humanitarian field work.

As a solution to these challenges, Quoin developed Primero – a highly configurable web application and mobile app designed to address the needs of UNICEF and its partner organizations. Our engineering team built Primero to operate as a standalone application or as a centrally-hosted system. This architecture enables the system to run on a laptop, a privately-hosted server, or in a managed cloud environment. Primero supports data collection and case management workflows for ongoing field work, and can be configured to perform periodic synchronization of data with other system instances to support collaboration and data-sharing. The ability to have a laptop-hosted instance allows field workers using the application in remote areas without internet connectivity or consistent power to operate independently for long spans of time. Quoin developed this design as a way of meeting the specific needs of those delivering humanitarian services.

General Implementation - New Page

Primero Implementations can take a number of forms, allowing the system to perform across a wide range of field scenarios.

The Primero application itself is built with Ruby on Rails and runs in an Ubuntu environment, which can be replicated on a standard Windows laptop using the Primero Windows Installer via a virtual machine. The application uses CouchDB as its data store due to its advanced dataset syncing and merging capabilities, and employs SOLR as an intermediary for searching and indexing the data store. Nginx handles all http traffic to and from the application, and a notifier queue built using the EventMachine library handles background maintenance tasks.
Primero Stack - New Page
Requirements Gathering and Usability Testing

Quoin’s project team took a user-centered and field-based approach to the design of Primero. We captured requirements directly from discussions with field workers and usability testing with end-users. To better understand the unique needs and operational concerns that aid work entails, Quoin travelled to three areas where the UN is responding to ongoing crises: Kenya, Jordan, and the Somali capital of Mogadishu. Throughout these trips, our team introduced local aid workers to a prototype version of Primero, and conducted usability tests using eye-tracking technology that monitored workers’ use of the system. This experience allowed us to better understand how users of the system interact with electronic devices and react to the user interface. With this data, as well as conversations with stakeholders and the collaboration of UNICEF staff, Quoin’s engineers were able to craft specialized solutions to address users’ concerns about the platform, develop new features, and prioritize various features requested in the field.

Quoin business analyst Michael Griggs leads a demonstration of the Primero web application at a refugee camp in Kenya.



A UNHCR tent at a refugee camp in Kenya.

For the first field visit, Quoin travelled to a refugee camp run by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Kenya, where the agency hosts individuals fleeing from a number of conflicts across the region. Kenya, which is home to more than 500,000 refugees, has been at the center of UN responses to crises ranging from violence in South Sudan to the ongoing unrest in Somalia. With the challenge of rapid registration of incoming refugees, and the high prevalence of children among refugee populations, relief efforts in Kenya represent an important use case for Primero’s Child Protection (CP) functionality. Field testing with camp workers yielded invaluable input on usability and key features.



The Jordanian capital of Amman.

The small country of Jordan faces massive logistical and infrastructural problems as it continues to host over a million refugees from the Syrian Civil War. Quoin travelled to Jordan to interact with those workers registering and caring for refugees, to get their perspective on the challenges of day-to-day work in the midst of a humanitarian crisis, and to determine how Primero can best address those challenges.

Mogadishu, Somalia


A user tests out Primero during a seminar in Mogadishu.

Quoin met with child protection organizations currently working in the Somali capital. The organizations dealt with different aspects of child protection and needed a way to exchange data while preserving the child’s confidentiality. Primero was designed to meet the diverse needs and operational contexts of the humanitarian aid community. Testing in Mogadishu provided a vastly different environment from the refugee camps where the team had run user tests.

Training Seminar: New York

Organizational chart after a training session with UNICEF and partner organization personnel in New York.

As the production launch of Primero approached, Quoin project team members met in New York with representatives from UNICEF and its partner organizations in order to introduce them to the Primero platform. We used this opportunity to gather requirements for future development phases and consult on institutional and field challenges for system deployments. Quoin conducted training on the system’s core functionality using a series of group learning exercises and distributed demo instances of Primero to attendees for them to use and explore on their own computers. These demos allowed Quoin to hear feedback from product stakeholders, which has prompted valuable improvements to its design. The group also discussed how Primero could be developed to accommodate the specific needs of the diverse agencies present. Quoin saw these discussions and the conclusions they presented as essential to a successful transition into real-world use of Primero.

Implementation: Sierra Leone


West Africa’s Ebola outbreak of 2014-2015 left more than 16,000 children without parents. Throughout the outbreak, Child Protection workers struggled to cope with this crisis of orphaned or stigmatized children, an event which demonstrated clearly the need for a comprehensive information management system like Primero to keep track of all those in need of services. The Quoin team made two visits to Sierra Leone during the outbreak: the first to gather information about the particular challenges facing workers and institutions in this unique environment; and the second to put in place a tailored implementation of the Primero platform based on this information. As a part of the requirements-gathering mission, our team conducted multi-day seminars across the country with government officials, aid workers, and community-based organizations, introducing them to the platform, getting their feedback, and asking as many questions as possible to fit the implementation to their needs.

Quoin built Primero to be a versatile platform capable of meeting the needs of various types of aid organizations. In the wake of the Ebola epidemic, social workers continue to provide many types of services, including psychosocial, food, medical, and residential care. The aid programs have a wide range of oversight priorities, such as knowing the speed with which workers can register a child, which organisations are most effective at delivering services, and enforcing standards for stringent data confidentiality. Through its discussions with UNICEF, government officials, and partner organizations, Quoin devised a combination of features and product configurations that optimized Primero to properly balance this mixture of institutional needs. The Primero platform helps workers in Sierra Leone securely record the personal and protection concern data of at-risk children, keep track of their appointments with aid workers, reunite them with family members from whom they have been separated, and connect them with appropriate services. Primero also facilitates governance for the country and supporting non-governmental organizations with dashboards and reports that provide statistics on the number of open cases, ongoing protection concerns, and services that are being provided.

Implementation: Jordan


Primero training session with government social workers in Amman

Building on previous requirements-gathering trips to Jordan, the Quoin team has led two implementations in the Hashemite Kingdom: one being used by UNICEF--along with partners like International Rescue Committee and Save the Children--to provide services to Syrian refugees; and the second being used by a host of Jordanian government ministries and nonprofits to help combat the country’s plague of domestic abuse.
The second of these implementations required Quoin to work with stakeholders to re-configure Primero to address the unique business processes and challenges involved in addressing domestic abuse cases, drawing on the needs of law enforcement professionals, public health officials, and most importantly, the families at risk. Quoin undertook two mission trips to Amman as part of this implementation: consulting administrators on proper maintenance and support practices and leading a week-long training session with service providers and caseworkers from a number of stakeholder organizations.

Continued Development and Support 

In 2017, Quoin was selected by UNICEF to serve as a long-term partner on the Primero initiative. Our team looks forward to maintaining and supporting the platform’s current users, developing new features to augment Primero’s functionality, and assisting UNICEF and its partners in implementing technical solutions and business processes that will allow them to harness the full potential of the Primero platform in the future.
Quoin now supports fifteen Primero deployments across twelve countries, with more on the way. An essential element of this continued support work has also been the maintenance of Primero as an open-source platform that is free for contributors to develop and use. Our work has involved not just creating a product, but fostering the growth of a community of developers and aid specialists who can continually build, maintain, and implement Primero to serve endangered populations in every corner of the globe.