Guest Blogger: Diane Coyle, lead author of UN/Vodafone Report
The tone of some comments about our report has surprised and disappointed me. It should go without saying that a report-as opposed to a catalog-could never include all the technologies and applications available in this exciting field now.
We selected examples that illustrated relevant aspects of the use of communications and information in the context of an emergency or conflict. The selection methodology was that they should be good illustrations of innovative uses, covering a reasonable spread of technologies, users and countries. In addition, we played to our own strengths in terms of the technologies and approaches we know well, meaning that we understood thoroughly the contribution they can make.
What’s more, this is not an academic report, which some of the criticisms ignored. It is meant to be accessible to a general audience, especially practitioners and policy makers. Why on earth would we include a literature review?
Some comments simply seemed to have missed the point, and no doubt I could have spelled some things out more clearly. For example, the point made in the document about Cyclone Nargis is precisely that even in contexts which hold no promise for humanitarian agencies to introduce new information-rich technologies, very simple low-tech information can still help build community resilience.
Having said that, I am really grateful for comments which pointed out a few factual errors and infelicities, and I hope we can correct them soon. I’m confident that the report makes an important contribution in highlighting the potential for the latest technologies in this field, and the obstacles to realization of that potential.
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I think the issue is that by admittedly selecting “examples” and playing to your own “strengths in terms of the technologies and approaches we know well”, the report becomes excessively exclusionary, which is fine when published by Patrick Meier and Diane Coyle. But when you slap a UN and Vodaphone label on the report, it becomes influential by a factor of 10 (no offense to your credentials both personally), and the omissions can affect others negatively in ways you never intended.
Sanjana’s suggestions – to include references and bibliographies to similar projects not highlighted in the report, would have alleviated many of the issues several have taken up with you on this report. (No one was suggesting an academic/literature review). And certainly having a better understanding of the selection criteria and explanation that the report was not intended to be comprehensive in its coverage documented within the report would have been helpful.
As you and Patrick are experts in this field, many, including myself, would have expected that you could have done a bit more research and outreach to see if there were other projects and initiatives worth mentioning, even if briefly. This would not have added that much effort – while there are a lot of new technologies in this sector, the list is not endless or exhaustive.
I’m sure you can both appreciate how important a simple mention in a “UN” report can be to an open source or voluntary technology project in terms of fundraising, community-building, and deployment opportunities.
I appreciate your’s and Patrick’s willingness to make revisions/updates if the opportunity allows. Keep up the good work.
Thank you Mark for this response. I sympathize with the issue you raise, although it will always be the case that there will be projects, initiatives and reports that have to be left out. Patrick and I are of course aware of some of them. Not even a UNF/VF report can reference every project which would benefit from that recognition. There will always be someone who feels excluded. We will certainly seek to flag up that the report was never intended to be comprehensive. (Actually, I doubt that ‘comprehensive’ is possible in this space.) We are very open to reviewing whether there are specific projects or pieces of work that should be included in a revision but can’t for obvious reasons make any promises.
Dear Mark, I want to thank you for your balanced and constructive criticism.
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