Why Ushahidi Should Embrace Open Data

“This is the report that Ushahidi did not want you to see.” Or so the rumors in certain circles would have it. Some go as far as suggesting that Ushahidi tried to burry or delay the publication. On the other hand, some rumors claim that the report was a conspiracy to malign and discredit Ushahidi. Either way, what is clear is this: Ushahidi is an NGO that prides itself in promoting transparency & accountability; an organization prepared to take risks—and yes fail—in the pursuit of this  mission.

The report in question is CrowdGlobe: Mapping the Maps. A Meta-level Analysis of Ushahidi & Crowdmap. Astute observers will discover that I am indeed one of the co-authors. Published by Internews in collaboration with George Washington University, the report (PDF) reveals that 93% of 12,000+ Crowdmaps analyzed had fewer than 10 reports while a full 61% of Crowdmaps had no reports at all. The rest of the findings are depicted in the infographic below (click to enlarge) and eloquently summarized in the above 5-minute presentation delivered at the 2012 Crisis Mappers Conference (ICCM 2012).

Infographic_2_final (2)

Back in 2011, when my colleague Rob Baker (now with Ushahidi) generated the preliminary results of the quantitative analysis that underpins much of the report, we were thrilled to finally have a baseline against which to measure and guide the future progress of Ushahidi & Crowdmap. But when these findings were first publicly shared (August 2012), they were dismissed by critics who argued that the underlying data was obsolete. Indeed, much of the data we used in the analysis dates back to 2010 and 2011. Far from being obsolete, however, this data provides a baseline from which the use of the platform can be measured over time. We are now in 2013 and there are apparently 36,000+ Crowdmaps today rather than just 12,000+.

To this end, and as a member of Ushahidi’s Advisory Board, I have recommended that my Ushahidi colleagues run the same analysis on the most recent Crowdmap data in order to demonstrate the progress made vis-a-vis the now-outdated public baseline. (This analysis takes no more than an hour a few days to carry out). I also strongly recommend that all this anonymized meta-data be made public on a live dashboard in the spirit of open data and transparency. Ushahidi, after all, is a public NGO funded by some of the biggest proponents of open data and transparency in the world.

Embracing open data is one of the best ways for Ushahidi to dispel the harmful rumors and conspiracy theories that continue to swirl as a result of the Crowd-Globe report. So I hope that my friends at Ushahidi will share their updated analysis and live dashboard in the coming weeks. If they do, then their bold support of this report and commitment to open data will serve as a model for other organizations to emulate. If they’ve just recently resolved to make this a priority, then even better.

In the meantime, I look forward to collaborating with the entire Ushahidi team on making the upcoming Kenyan elections the most transparent to date. As referenced in this blog post, the Standby Volunteer Task Force (SBTF) is partnering with the good people at PyBossa to customize an awesome micro-tasking platform that will significantly facilitate and accelerate the categorization and geo-location of reports submitted to the Ushahidi platform. So I’m working hard with both of these outstanding teams to make this the most successful, large-scale microtasking effort for election monitoring yet. Now lets hope for everyone’s sake that the elections remain peaceful. Onwards!

5 responses to “Why Ushahidi Should Embrace Open Data

  1. A good start — and applause for moral high ground. Now take it a step further — no one or two opens will do by themselves. We have to go “all in” across all the opens. Open cloud, open hardware, open software, open spectrum, open standards. See the list (preliminary) and the manifesto at http://tinyurl.com/OSE-LIST

  2. Hi Patrick,
    The dashboard is something in the works, it requires some dev time. More soon. Re: Open Data, it is at the core of what we do and have embraced it ever since (just search for open data on the Ushahidi blog), not just from the code but also to reaching out to various organizations who want to liberate shape files, data and present that to citizens. As you know it is an uphill climb but we press on. More to do for sure; thanks for your enthusiasm re: Kenya elections looking forward to working with you more.

    • Hi Juliana,

      Many thanks for reading and taking the time to comment, I really appreciate it. Yes, Open Data is at the core of Ushahidi, which is why Ushahidi should open up it’s own data (not just others’) or else run the risk being accused of double standards (like many other traditional NGOs). Remember the awesome term you came up with years ago, “Data-Hugging Disorder”?

      Glad to hear the dashboard is in the works. And yes, it is an uphill climb. I should know, since I spent half-a-year (from November 2011 to May 2012) trying to set this up whilst at Ushahidi. You will recall that my colleagues over at RealImpact created a customized dashboard for Ushahidi and did so completely pro-bono. They even gave us a full demo 10 months ago, on April 5, 2012 to be precise. All that was left for us to do was to push the Crowdmap data to the Dashboard and voila.

      In any case, as mentioned in my blog post, running the analysis on the most recent Crowdmap data takes less than an hour. I’m sure Rob Baker could do it half that time. So just sharing the results of that publicly would already be a huge step forward in terms of fulfilling Ushahidi’s commitment to Open Data.

      Yes, I’m very enthusiastic about collaborating with you and the rest of the Ushahidi gang on the upcoming elections. There is still a lot of work left to do and little time, so we’re doubling up efforts on our end. Looking forward to working with you just like the good old days!

      Thanks again,

  3. Pingback: The World at Night Through the Eyes of the Crowd | iRevolution

  4. Pingback: Ushahidi :: Crowdsourcing Crisis Information (FOSS) | Tim Batchelder.com

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