Towards a Twitter Dashboard for the Humanitarian Cluster System

One of the principal Research and Development (R&D) projects I’m spearheading with colleagues at the Qatar Computing Research Institute (QCRI) has been getting a great response from several key contacts at the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). In fact, their input has been instrumental in laying the foundations for our early R&D efforts. I therefore highlighted the initiative during my recent talk at the UN’s ECOSOC panel in New York, which was moderated by OCHA Under-Secretary General Valerie Amos. The response there was also very positive. So what’s the idea? To develop the foundations for a Twitter Dashboard for the Humanitarian Cluster System.

The purpose of the Twitter Dashboard for Humanitarian Clusters is to extract relevant information from twitter and aggregate this information according to Cluster for analytical purposes. As the above graphic shows, clusters focus on core humanitarian issues including Protection, Shelter, Education, etc. Our plan is to go beyond standard keyword search and simple Natural Language Process-ing (NLP) approaches to more advanced Machine Learning (ML) techniques and social computing methods. We’ve spent the past month asking various contacts whether anyone has developed such a dashboard but thus far have not come across any pre-existing efforts. We’ve also spent this time getting input from key colleagues at OCHA to ensure that what we’re developing will be useful to them.

It is important to emphasize that the project is purely experimental for now. This is one of the big advantages of being part of an institute for advanced computing R&D; we get to experiment and carry out applied research on next-generation humanitarian technology solutions. We realize full well what the many challenges and limitations of using Twitter as an information source are, so I won’t repeat these here. The point is not to suggest that a would-be Twitter Dashboard should be used instead of existing information management platforms. As United Nations colleagues themselves have noted, such a dashboard would simply be another dial on their own dashboards, which may at times prove useful, especially when compared or integrated with other sources of information.

Furthermore, if we’re serious about communicating with disaster affected comm-unities and the latter at times share crisis information on Twitter, then we may want to listen to what they are saying. This includes Diasporas as well. The point, quite simply, is to make full use of Twitter by at least extracting all relevant and meaningful information that contributes to situational awareness. The plan, therefore, is to have the Twitter Dashboard for Humanitarian Clusters aggregate information relevant to each specific cluster and to then provide key analytics for this content in order to reveal potentially interesting trends and outliers within each cluster.

Depending on how the R&D goes, we envision adding “credibility computing” to the Dashboard and expect to collaborate with our Arabic Language Technology Center to add Arabic tweets as well. Other languages could also be added in the future depending on initial results. Also, while we’re presently referring to this platform as a “Twitter” Dashboard, adding SMS,  RSS feeds, etc., could be part of a subsequent phase. The focus would remain specifically on the Humanitarian Cluster system and the clusters’ underlying minimum essential indicators for decision-making.

The software and crisis ontologies we are developing as part of these R&D efforts will all be open source. Hopefully, we’ll have some initial results worth sharing by the time the International Conference of Crisis Mappers (ICCM 2012) rolls around in mid-October. In the meantime, we continue collaborating with OCHA and other colleagues and as always welcome any constructive feedback from iRevolution readers.

18 responses to “Towards a Twitter Dashboard for the Humanitarian Cluster System

  1. Good news, crisismapping initiatives move forward into actions through internationally recognised institutions and support by R&D. It’s hope that anyone can use to inform a decion making process better,

  2. Yeah having friends at international R&D consortia sure makes “doing vs talking” a whole lot easier. Nice Job Patrick! Also very glad to see SMS creep it’s way back into the conversation. Perhaps some of us can pull together policy suggestions for wider support of humanitarian SMS – it sure would reduce the complexity of Machine Learning, NLP et&c.

  3. Hey, this looks like an interesting project! I actually just used the Libya OCHA Crisis Map as a negative exemple in a blog post. I hope this data extraction and visualisation model side-steps the hurdles they faced. Great job!

  4. Hey Patrick , sounds good and interesting. I was talking to some people in Sendai about this awhile back and they suggested that Swift river could maybe do something to centralize and capture different feeds of information and allow us to see trends and manage big data. The people I have had discussions with are really keen to see some sort of system like the one you are talking about. They have a system in the American RC that they developed with Dell that might be worthwhile having a look at also, I understand that it can take feeds from a variety of sources, i’m interested to see how that works also. I suppose the next big thing after we sort and manage the feeds will be the delivery of outcomes based on the data relevant to peoples needs….Listen – Act – Now 🙂

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  6. Patrick – you may want to hook up with Ian Gray, head of Innovation at World Vision. They’re developing something called Speed Evidence which sounds similar to the Dashboard. Maybe you’re in touch already.

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  8. Patrick: We had integrated our Twitris system ( ) with Usahidi/SwiftRiver and in one case also incorporated SMS (from NGOs in case of Pakistan Flood). If you go to Archive section of Twitris (select from top left), you will see disaster/crisis/terrorism/social movement events (Japan Earthquake/Tsunami, Austin plan crash, India terrorism …). Given Twitris’ Spatio-Temporal-Thematic, People-Content-Network Analysis, semantic exploration using background knowledge, and Emotion-Sentiment-(upcoming Intent) capabilities, it can give multi-faceted, comprehensive and deep view (eg I can show you some interesting attempts to coordinate using Japan Tsunami event) . We are now focusing specifically on developing capability to support coordination (find people with specific roles, help them identify and be part of an emergent community/group, sustainability of a group…), during emergency response: . In principal, I would like provide some of the capabilities and platform to the kind of causes you describe. Hope to connect with you to discuss further…

    • Hi Amit, many thanks for your note. I’m working on this project with my colleague ChaTo at QCRI who I believe you recently connected with after I contacted your PhD student Hermant. I would be more than happy to discuss this particular project with you and ChaTo…

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