500 days of Homes for Ukraine: a data-driven humanitarian operation

When Russia invaded Ukraine on the 24th February 2022, the view of experts was that Russian President Vladimir Putin expected the war to be over in a few days.

Yet Putin failed to anticipate the resilience of the Ukrainian people and the determination of their allies, such as the United Kingdom, to help.

An early example is the UK Government’s Homes for Ukraine scheme — a first-of-its-kind resettlement program that encourages people to host refugees in their homes. Since inception, it has provided a path to safety for over 128,000 refugees. Palantir is proud have to supported the UK government deliver this — with the Homes for Ukraine data platform, built on Palantir Foundry, being launched in just nine days.

Now, 500 days later, we reflect on how we have seen these policy ideas come to life.

Helping the UK government deliver for Ukrainian refugees

To make Homes for Ukraine possible, 3 pillars need to work together seamlessly: ambitious policy making, the generosity of the public, and the technology to enable complex and collaborative operations.

Homes for Ukraine is a bold rethink of traditional models of refugee resettlement in the UK. For the first time, it offered the public a means to directly express their support for refugees by offering their homes — uncapped in the number of people it could support. When the programme went live in March 2022, the public responded overwhelmingly; with over 120,000 offers of accommodation in just 24 hours.

The scale of the operational challenge this presented quickly became apparent. Across multiple government systems lay tens of thousands of visa applications and hundreds of thousands of offers of accommodation. Without connecting and sharing this data, it was not possible for local governments to know who might be coming to their area and when. For central government it was not possible for case workers to understand the suitability of hosting arrangements.

Only together could both gain a clear picture of what was really happening on the ground.

Collaboration across and beyond the walls of government

Broadly, Palantir Foundry’s role in the context of the Homes for Ukraine scheme is to enable operational collaboration for critical decision making. Key to this is the concept of an “Ontology” — ontology is a framework and collection of technologies upon which you can build your operations — it combines data, operations, and analytics into an interoperable platform.

With cross-government collaboration of this size, scale and sensitivity — security and governance of data are of paramount importance. With the right technology and governance, there need not be a tradeoff between security of data and collaboration.

For Homes for Ukraine, the UK government use Purpose-Based Access Controls to ensure that only approved users can access data for a specific reason — and only for as long as is necessary — with a full end-to-end audit trail of data access to data. This means that data that may previously have found itself in a collection of offline spreadsheets can now be managed in a secure environment within Palantir Foundry, greatly decreasing risks and increasing collaboration.

Pipeline above is notional

But as the scale of the data evolved — other challenges surfaced. How do you handle duplicated visa applications? How might you identify a traveling group? And with decisions being made at hundreds of sites — how do you make sure that your view of the world is not out of date immediately after a decision is made?

Embracing complexity to achieve simplicity

In a complex data landscape, it’s only through embracing complexity in your digital solution that you can achieve simplicity for an end-users.

On Foundry, the Ontology abstracts away complexity for end-users. Starting with multiple source systems, visa routes, data types, schema versions — Palantir Foundry orchestrates data from these systems and performs entity and group resolution. The end result is presented to end-users through a legible and easy to understand data model using clear real-world terms such as “Guests,” “Hosts” and “Accommodations.”

This Case View illustrates the relationships that a Case has with other Ontology objects. For example, several guests can link to one case, which links to one accommodation and one host. From this central view, users can inspect and interact with an entire Case and all its linked objects. This gives case workers quick and easy access to essential information for fast-paced, accurate decision making.

Used by over 3,000 case workers across the UK, the Ontology has created a common language across local and central government. It forms the backbone for every workflow on Foundry, ensuring users have reliable, up-to-date information to perform vital safeguarding checks and manage cases as guests arrive in the country — all while maintaining the security of this sensitive data.

It is this combination that has enabled case workers to perform over 166,000 safeguarding checks and helped over 128,000 refugees safely arrive to the UK in the last 500 days.

Driving efficiency and empowering users of all technical backgrounds

The Ontology provides an entry route to Palantir Foundry’s application development tools. Ranging from code to point-and-click, these tools enable applications, reports and investigations to be created by all users — from non-technical teams to developers. By opening up development to all users, teams are empowered to respond in real-time as situations evolve.

As all users are working from the same view of the data, the decisions that are made on the back of these applications are implicitly shared across relevant actors in local and central government. For example, when a caseworker flags a concern, they can have confidence that decision makers further down the line will be alerted and can react accordingly.

Crucially to Homes for Ukraine, this centralizes efforts to improve data quality — as any improvement made to data quality centrally saves the effort of hundreds of local government bodies each having to address it locally. This allows local government across the UK to spend more time and resources supporting Ukraine refugees, rather than each trying to individually make sense of their data.

Delivery uninhibited by technology

A forward deployed model meant that our engineers were constantly desk-side with end-users trying to understand how to improve the service and make life easier for those actually delivering Homes for Ukraine.

To account for the breadth of needs in a UK wide roll-out, our partners at the Department of Leveling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) created a weekly Show and Tell . For over a year now, a consistent body of 150 power-users across local government have represented their areas and shaped the Homes for Ukraine platform through their collective recommendations. Through the Ontology, we’ve been able to respond to their needs through releases at a weekly cadence.

Over the last 500 days, we have seen incredible and continued support for Ukraine — from the public, central government, and local government. We have had the honour of playing a part in facilitating their collaboration and aimed to ensure that their collective will was uninhibited by technology.

Though we hope there is no need for Homes for Ukraine for another 500 days, we hope that the lessons from this programme enable governments to help many more who are in need.

The work in the UK is far from over. If you would like to join the effort and offer your home to host Ukrainian refugees, please check your eligibility and register at: https://www.gov.uk/register-interest-homes-ukraine

500 days of Homes for Ukraine: a data-driven humanitarian operation was originally published in Palantir Blog on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.