The Humanitarian Exchange Language (HXL) is a standard that speeds up data processing and creates interoperability across data sources. Although the benefits of HXL are clear, it takes time to learn how to use it – something busy humanitarians do not always have. We have therefore created a 30 minute, step-by-step training to help people get started with HXL.

The tagline we use for HXL is that it’s a simple standard for messy data. The standard consists of hashtags and attributes that can be mixed and matched to describe a wide range of common humanitarian data. For example, if a data column contains the number of people in need of humanitarian assistance, you could label the column with the hashtag #inneed.

HXL has become an important part of how the HDX team creates interactive visuals like the Ukraine Data Explorer. To date, more than 40 percent of the 18,000+ datasets on HDX include HXL hashtags, with contributions from organizations such as IOM, UNHCR and the British Red Cross. This means that our system can read those hashtags and preview the data for HDX users using QuickCharts, among other benefits.

As the data literacy lead for the Centre, I have provided many sessions on HXL for field-based data and information management officers. Based on what people have found most useful, we have developed an introduction to HXL that you can start and come back to as you have time. The learning path includes an overview of the standard, followed by four training videos focused on the following:

  1. How the building blocks of the standard, hashtags and attributes, work.
  2. How to describe who-is-doing-what using HXL.
  3. How to describe locations and places using HXL.
  4. How to describe population figures and people in need using HXL.

The videos are narrated by several Centre colleagues including David Megginson who has led the development of HXL since 2015. The learning path concludes with a tutorial on how to add and customize QuickCharts on HDX, something we hope data contributors will do more of in the future.

We hope you find this new resource useful. And if you are hungry to learn more, you can get started on a second learning path focused on disclosure risk assessment which explains how to assess and manage sensitive data. Please feel free to reach out with questions or comments at