How the UN Used Social Media in Response to Typhoon Pablo (Updated)

Our mission as digital humanitarians was to deliver a detailed dataset of pictures and videos (posted on Twitter) which depict damage and flooding following the Typhoon. An overview of this digital response is available here. The task of our United Nations colleagues at the Office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), was to rapidly consolidate and analyze our data to compile a customized Situation Report for OCHA’s team in the Philippines. The maps, charts and figures below are taken from this official report (click to enlarge).

Typhon PABLO_Social_Media_Mapping-OCHA_A4_Portrait_6Dec2012

This map is the first ever official UN crisis map entirely based on data collected from social media. Note the “Map data sources” at the bottom left of the map: “The Digital Humanitarian Network’s Solution Team: Standby Volunteer Task Force (SBTF) and Humanity Road (HR).” In addition to several UN agencies, the government of the Philippines has also made use of this information.

Screen Shot 2012-12-08 at 7.26.19 AM

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The cleaned data was subsequently added to this Google Map and also made public on the official Google Crisis Map of the Philippines.

Screen Shot 2012-12-08 at 7.32.17 AM

One of my main priorities now is to make sure we do a far better job at leveraging advanced computing and microtasking platforms so that we are better prepared the next time we’re asked to repeat this kind of deployment. On the advanced computing side, it should be perfectly feasible to develop an automated way to crawl twitter and identify links to images  and videos. My colleagues at QCRI are already looking into this. As for microtasking, I am collaborating with PyBossa and Crowdflower to ensure that we have highly customizable platforms on stand-by so we can immediately upload the results of QCRI’s algorithms. In sum, we have got to move beyond simple crowdsourcing and adopt more agile micro-tasking and social computing platforms as both are far more scalable.

In the meantime, a big big thanks once again to all our digital volunteers who made this entire effort possible and highly insightful.

37 responses to “How the UN Used Social Media in Response to Typhoon Pablo (Updated)

  1. I think it would really interesting (and important) to look back at this data six months or a year from now and see how it compares to a more thorough on-the-ground analysis of impacts to determine how accurate and complete the social media sources are.

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  3. Reblogged this on Brandon Greenberg and commented:
    This is a great example of Social Media use in Humanitarian Emergencies!

  4. Shadrock Roberts

    Aside from being an important first, this project should also be recognized as an important success is adapting a flexible approach in a large (and probably difficult) organizational/political setting: getting large humanitarian or development agencies to try something new is very difficult and requires a lot of background work. So a very hearty congratulations to everyone who was behind-the-scenes to ensure that this was an official product.

    I’m curious about following the impacts. I think that we’re all getting better at measuring the visibility of these types of projects, but I find it very hard to tie them to specific decisions. Any thoughts on how we can better measure impacts?

    Again, great work!

    • Hi Shadrock,

      Yes – connecting these efforts to a specific decision made is very difficult. OCHA has struggled with the same question in regards to our regular map.

      The social media data is intended to augment on-the-ground assessment findings to help give a better “picture” to what the impact of the storm has been. It is this combined information that helps to inform the Flash Appeal [which is a set of prioritized projects which donors can rapidly fund]. So, if we say that this data helped produce a “clearer picture” which was translated into such an appeal, can we say that it had an impact?

      But, it would be interesting work to try to perhaps find a framework (?) on how to connect and/or measure the impact [It is something that Jennifer Chan and Kenny Meesters have been trying to articulate and find funding for!]


  5. An excellent summary, I trust this opportunity can evolve quickly, it demonstrates excellently the importance of Open Data, Shared Research & Analysis, and Inter-Operable systems, a show case for the value of Semantic Web. Optimistically, I look forward to the relatively rapid adoption and sharing of information by hundreds of Humanitarian Actors in preparedness and response going forward. With Digital Humanitarians being pivotal!

  6. Great work from the volunteers. This takes a lot of diligence and commitment from the volunteers and I applaud them all for responding so rapidly.

  7. This is the reason I am passionate about Twitter — it is instrumental to bringing about change that, until recently, we never imagined possible. I am specifically thankful to Twitter and to your project for the help it brings to my motherland in times of need. I understand that you are moving away from crowd-sourcing, but if I can be of help, perhaps with tagging or other non-technical ways, please let me know.

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