Tag Archives: Disaster Response

GIS and GPS for Dangerous Environments

A colleague of mine recently pointed me to SAIC’s IKE 504, a GIS-integrated encrypted GPS targeting and data capture device. IKE captures the GPS coordinates and other geospatial data for any target from a safe distance (up to 1,000 meters) and provides a verifiable digital image of the target. To this end, IKE can be used for specialized mapping.

ike

Patrick Philippe Meier

Web4Dev: Innovation Track Day 2

The second day of the Innovation Track at Web4Dev focused on monitoring and evaluation. Robert Kirkpatrick from InSTEDD, Erik Hersman from Ushahidi and Christopher Strebel from UNESCO each gave a presentation.

Robert introduced InSTEDD’s Mesh4X and GeoChat which I’ve already blogged about here so won’t expand on. But Robert also introduced a new project I was not aware of called Evolve. This tool helps to synthesize data into actionable information, to collaborate around diverse data streams to detect, analyze, triage and track critical events as they unfold.

Erik introduced Ushahidi and described our increasing capacity to crowdsource eyewitness crisis data. However, the challenge is increasingly how to consume and make sense of the incoming data stream. There were thousands of Tweets per minute during the Mumbai attacks. Ushahidi is working on Swift River to explore ways to use crowdsourcing as a filter for data validation.

Christopher Strebel introduced GigaPan, a robotic camera that captures gigapixel images. The tool was developed for the Mars Rover program to take very high resolution images of Mars. UNESCO is introducing the technology for education purposes. I’m not sure I’m entirely convinced about this project; not just because the camera costs $300-$400 but because I don’t see what such a sophisticated  tool adds over regular cameras in terms of education and participation.

In any case, while I found all three presentations interesting, none of them actually addressed the second topic of today’s workshop, namely evaluation. I spent most of December and January working with a team of monitoring and evaluation (M&E) experts to develop a framework for a multi-year project in Liberia. I can conclude from this experience that those of us who don’t have expertise in M&E have a huge amount to learn. Developing serious M&E frameworks is a rigorous process.

Patrick Philippe Meier

Towards an Emergency News Service?

The 2005 World Disasters Report stated that “information is a vital form of aid in itself [since] disaster affected people need information as much as water, food, medicine or shelter. Information can save lives, livelihoods and resources.”

As we know only too well, information is often one of the first casualties in crises: crippled communications and shattered transportation links present significant obstacles. Communication with beneficiaries is rarely high on the priority lists of many relief responders.

ENA

The Thomson Reuters Foundation is therefore proposing to tackle this problem with the creation of an Emergency Information Service (EIS). The concept is simple:

Deploy highly mobile reporting teams to disaster zones to disseminate fast, reliable information to affected populations. The EIS will untangle the often chaotic information flows from governments, international agencies and domestic aid players, producing trustworthy material in local languages for distribution by domestic media, cell phone networks and other methods appropriate to circumstances.

Thompson Reuters wants to send out teams of specialist reporters to cover unfolding disaster zones and channel vital information directly to affected communities. The teams would also interface with governments, the military, the United Nations, international NGOs and local charities.

I can see how this would address some of the current shortcomings, but I’m not convinced about sending in teams of reporters. For one, how will EIS deal with governments that refuse entry into their disaster effected regions? We need a less “egocentric” approach, one that seeks “the proper balance between the need for external assistance and the capacity of local people to deal with the situation” (Cardona 2004).

EIS’s reporting strategy appears to replicate the top-down, external approach to humanitarian response instead of empowering local at-risk communities directly so they can conduct their own reporting and communicating. For example, why not include a strategy to improve and expand citizen journalism in crisis zones?

In any case, I think EIS’s disseminating strategy includes some good ideas. For example:

  • Remote information terminals: These are low-cost computer terminals to be distributed en masse to affected villages, local NGOs, media outlets etc. Terminals will be wind-up or solar-powered laptops capable of being connected to mobile or satellite phones. With minimal training, local people can set up the terminals and use them to gain critical information about relief efforts or trace relatives.
  • Mobile phone distributions: In many crisis situations, SMS messaging is possible even when other communications are destroyed or overloaded. The distribution of thousands of low-cost handsets to community leaders, NGO volunteers and members of the local media could create a “bush telegraph” effect and allow two-way interaction with beneficiaries.
  • Recorded information bulletins: Mobile phone users will be able to dial in to regularly updated, local-language bulletins giving the latest information on health, shelter, government response and so on.
  • Zero-tech solutions: Megaphones, posters, leaflet drops, bulletin boards, community newsletters.

In order for this to catch, ENS should be set up to provide services during times of non-disasters as well.

Trust.org

In terms of next steps:

“The Thomson Reuters Foundation will soon launch a new website – www.trust.org – to serve as a gateway for all its activities. The Emergency News Agency and AlertNet will be core components of the new site. Trust.org will provide a single point of access for aid professionals, journalists, pro bono service providers, donors and members of the public. Telecommunications allowing, it could also serve as a powerful resource centre for communities affected by disasters.”

For more information on the Emergency News Service, please see this thinkpaper (PDF).

Patrick Philippe Meier

3D Crisis Mapping for Disaster Simulation Training

I recently had a fascinating meeting in Seattle with Larry Pixa, Microsoft’s Senior Manager for Disaster Preparedness & Response Program. What I thought would be a half-hour meeting turned into an engaging two-hour conversation. I wish we had had even more time.

Acron

Harvard Humanitarian Initiative (HHI) co-Chair Dr. Jennifer Leaning and I had a conversation two years ago on the need to merge disaster training with serious gaming and 3-D crisis mapping. Her vision, for example, was to recreate downtown Monrovia as a virtual world with avatars and have both live and manual data feeds simulate the virtual environment, a.k.a. immersive realism meets reality mining.

This world would then be used to create scenarios for disaster preparedness and response training, much like my colleagues at ICNC have done by developing a serious game called “A Force More Powerful” which uses artificial intelligence and real-world scenarios to train nonviolent activists.

Force More Powerful

Larry and his colleagues at Acron are pushing the envelope of disaster simulation for training purposes. They are integrating Acron’s serious games know-how with Microsoft ESP and the video game engine of Microsoft’s Flight Simulator platform with dynamic crisis mapping to develop a pilot that closely resembles the vision set out by Jennifer back in 2006. I personally thought we were still a year or two away from having a pilot. Not so. Larry will be presenting the pilot at HHI’s Humanitarian Health Summit in March 2009.

The goal for the pilot, or as we the United Nation’s World Food Program (WFP) call it, the “software-based proof of concept,” is to establish the proof of concept into a “training platform” to be combined with training materials that will serve as a demonstrate the tool to governments and international organizations worldwide; particularly vis-a-vis training to build preparedness & response capabilities and informed decision making for the adoption of technologies to enable or improve disaster response and crisis management.

So our goal is to engage with any/all appropriate agencies to provide training against the “training platform”; the training will be based on some key scenarios in Bangladesh acquired through the partnership between WFP and Microsoft.

Successful training requires that we actually remember the training. But we all know from conventional class learning that we retain little of what we read. On the other hand, our memory retains almost all of what we do and that, according to Larry, is what his new disaster simulations platform seeks to achieve.

Microsoft

What I find particularly compelling about Larry’s work is that the tool he is developing can be used for both disaster training and actual disaster response. That is, once trainees become familiar with the platform, they can use it for in situ disaster response thanks to live data feeds rendering the “virtual” world in quasi-real time. This should eventually enable disaster responders to test out several response scenarios and thereby select the most effective one, all in quasi-real time.

Patrick Philippe Meier

Satellite Imagery, Mobile Phones and Radios

Earth Observation System Launches in Africa: the SERVIR system integrates satellite resources into a web-based Earth information system, putting previously inaccessible information into action locally.

“A satellite birds-eye view can provide an overall picture of a natural disaster and its consequences,” said Dr. Tesfaye Korme, director of remote sensing and geographic information systems at RCMRD. “The new SERVIR-Africa platform comes just in time to provide us with the satellite data to develop maps of last week’s flooding in western Kenya and eastern Uganda, and estimate the number of displaced people.  We will provide this information to the authorities responsible for disaster response.”

For early warning in advance of events, SERVIR-Africa is developing tools to predict floods in high-risk areas and vector-borne diseases such as Rift Valley Fever. It will also provide visualization capability to map the location of climate change projections so people can see, for example, the potential impact climate change may have on the land resources where they live.  In addition, SERVIR-Africa’s information technology team will use the Internet to serve up satellite and ground-based earth observations, map data, and geospatial analyzes that target issues such as urbanization, biodiversity threats, and management of natural resources.  Mobile phones and radio, too, will be explored as a means to deliver useful information to people.
I’m particularly pleased to read that mobile phones and radios will be explored (and hopefully used) to deliver information at the community level.

InSTEDD’s Mesh4X Explained

I’ve had the pleasure of crossing paths with InSTEDD’s Robert Kirkpatrick on several occasions this year and always come away from our conversations having learned something new. Robert has recently been presenting InSTEDD’s new Mesh4X project. I confessed to him that I wasn’t entirely sure I fully grasped all the technical language he used to describe Mesh4X (which may serve as one answer to Paul Curion’s recent questions on The Innovation Fallacy).

Shortly after our recent CrisisMappers Meeting in Orlando, Robert kindly took the time to rework his description of Mesh4X for non techies. What follows is this description in Robert’s own words: “Having now heard the message a second time, I’m trying to clarify my description of Mesh4x for a lay audience. This version is more of a ‘product brochure’ in style, but I hope you find it useful in filling in any gaps.”

_____________________________________________

InSTEDD Mesh4X

Problem:  cross-organizational data sharing shouldn’t be this hard.

A major obstacle to effective humanitarian action today is that while advances in information technology have made it possible for individual organizations to collect, organize, and analyze data as never before, sharing of data between organizations remains problematic.  Organizations choose to adopt different information systems and software applications for many good reasons, yet a consequence of this is that data ends up fragmented across multiple organizations’ servers, PCs, and networks and remains “trapped” in different databases and formats.

This fragmentation incurs a high opportunity cost, as each organization working on a problem ends up having to act based on a fraction of what is actually known collectively. When data is shared today, it typically involves staff manually exporting from a database,  emailing spreadsheets files, and them importing them manually on the receiving end – a cumbersome and error-prone process further complicated by situations where Internet access is slow, unreliable, or completely unavailable.

Solution: Mesh4X – critical data when you need it, where you need it.

  • Imagine if that spreadsheet on your desktop, filled with health surveys, supply requests, or project status reports, were seamlessly linked to databases, programs, map software, websites and PDAs of others you want to share with, so that whenever you add or update data, the changes end up  being reflected everyone else as well, and all of their changes would also show up in your spreadsheet automatically.
  • Imagine being able to see all of this collective information on a map – a map that updates itself whenever anyone makes a change  to shared data.
  • Now imagine being able to exchange data with others even when no Internet access is available.

InSTEDD Mesh4X is a technology designed to create seamless cross-organizational information sharing between different databases, desktop applications, websites, and devices. It allows you to create or join a shared “data mesh” that links together disparate software and servers and synchronizes data between them automatically. You choose the data you wish to share, others do the same, and now everyone’s data ends up everywhere it needs to be.

  • Using Mesh4X, changes to data in any one location in the mesh are automatically synchronized to every other location.
  • If you’re offline at the time, all of your data will synchronize the next time you connect to the network.
  • For cases where no Internet access is available at all, there is no longer any need for the slow transport of files physically between locations.  Mesh4X gives you the option to synchronize all data via a series of SMS text messages – just plug a compatible phone into your laptop, and Mesh4X does the rest.
Using Mesh4X, you’ll have access to more information, and sooner, when making critical decisions.  When you need to collaborate with multiple organizations toward a shared goal, everyone will have a more complete and up-to-date understanding of needs, resources, and who is doing what where.

_____________________________________________

Thanks again to Robert for pulling this version together. I’m now more assured that I did grasp the in’s and out’s of Mesh4X. My next question to Robert and the InSTEDD team is whether Mesh4X is at point where it’s “plug and play”? That is, as easy to download and set up as, say, a blog on wordpress? Will the setup process be facilitated by a Microsoft-like-wizard for easy guidance and implementation?

InSTEDD’s Mesh4X Explained

I’ve had the pleasure of crossing paths with InSTEDD’s Robert Kirkpatrick on several occasions this year and always come away from our conversations having learned something new. Robert has recently been presenting InSTEDD’s new Mesh4X project. I confessed to him that I wasn’t entirely sure I fully grasped all the technical language he used to describe Mesh4X (which may serve as one answer to Paul Curion’s recent questions on The Innovation Fallacy).

Shortly after our recent CrisisMappers Meeting in Orlando, Robert kindly took the time to rework his description of Mesh4X for non techies. What follows is this description in Robert’s own words: “Having now heard the message a second time, I’m trying to clarify my description of Mesh4x for a lay audience. This version is more of a ‘product brochure’ in style, but I hope you find it useful in filling in any gaps.”

_____________________________________________

InSTEDD Mesh4X

Problem:  cross-organizational data sharing shouldn’t be this hard.

A major obstacle to effective humanitarian action today is that while advances in information technology have made it possible for individual organizations to collect, organize, and analyze data as never before, sharing of data between organizations remains problematic.  Organizations choose to adopt different information systems and software applications for many good reasons, yet a consequence of this is that data ends up fragmented across multiple organizations’ servers, PCs, and networks and remains “trapped” in different databases and formats.

This fragmentation incurs a high opportunity cost, as each organization working on a problem ends up having to act based on a fraction of what is actually known collectively. When data is shared today, it typically involves staff manually exporting from a database,  emailing spreadsheets files, and them importing them manually on the receiving end – a cumbersome and error-prone process further complicated by situations where Internet access is slow, unreliable, or completely unavailable.

Solution: Mesh4X – critical data when you need it, where you need it.

  • Imagine if that spreadsheet on your desktop, filled with health surveys, supply requests, or project status reports, were seamlessly linked to databases, programs, map software, websites and PDAs of others you want to share with, so that whenever you add or update data, the changes end up  being reflected everyone else as well, and all of their changes would also show up in your spreadsheet automatically.
  • Imagine being able to see all of this collective information on a map – a map that updates itself whenever anyone makes a change  to shared data.
  • Now imagine being able to exchange data with others even when no Internet access is available.

InSTEDD Mesh4X is a technology designed to create seamless cross-organizational information sharing between different databases, desktop applications, websites, and devices. It allows you to create or join a shared “data mesh” that links together disparate software and servers and synchronizes data between them automatically. You choose the data you wish to share, others do the same, and now everyone’s data ends up everywhere it needs to be.

  • Using Mesh4X, changes to data in any one location in the mesh are automatically synchronized to every other location.
  • If you’re offline at the time, all of your data will synchronize the next time you connect to the network.
  • For cases where no Internet access is available at all, there is no longer any need for the slow transport of files physically between locations.  Mesh4X gives you the option to synchronize all data via a series of SMS text messages – just plug a compatible phone into your laptop, and Mesh4X does the rest.
Using Mesh4X, you’ll have access to more information, and sooner, when making critical decisions.  When you need to collaborate with multiple organizations toward a shared goal, everyone will have a more complete and up-to-date understanding of needs, resources, and who is doing what where.

_____________________________________________

Thanks again to Robert for pulling this version together. I’m now more assured that I did grasp the in’s and out’s of Mesh4X. My next question to Robert and the InSTEDD team is whether Mesh4X is at point where it’s “plug and play”? That is, as easy to download and set up as, say, a blog on wordpress? Will the setup process be facilitated by a Microsoft-like-wizard for easy guidance and implementation?

Policy Briefing: Information in Humanitarian Responses

The BBC World Service Trust just released an excellent Policy Brief (PDF) on “The Unmet Need for Information in Humanitarian Responses.” The majority of the report’s observations and conclusions are in line with the findings identified during Harvard Humanitarian Initiative’s (HHI) 18-month applied research project on Conflict Early Warning and Crisis Mapping.

I include below excerpts that resonated particularly strongly.

  • People need information as much as water, food, medicine or shelter. Information can save lives, livelihoods and resources. Information bestows power.
  • Effective information and communication exchange with affected populations are among the least understood and most complex challenges facing the humanitarian sector in the 21st century.
  • Disaster victims need information about their options in order to take any meaningful choices about their future. Poor information follow is undoubtedly the biggest source of dissatisfaction, anger and frustration among affected people.
  • Information—and just as important communication—is essential for people to start claiming a sense of power and purpose over their own destiny.

In this context, recall the purpose of people-centered early warning as defined by the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) during the Third International Conference on Early Warning (EWC III) in 2006:

To empower individuals and communities threatened by hazards to act in sufficient time and in an appropriate manner so as to reduce the possibility of personal injury, loss of life, damage to property and the environment, and loss of livelihoods.

picture-6

Other important observations worth noting from the Policy Brief:

  • Sometimes information is the only help that can be made available, especially when isolated populations are cut off and beyond the reach of aid.
  • There are still misplaced assumptions and confusion about how and what to think about information and communication—and where organizationally to locate it. Humanitarian actors systematically fail to see the difference between public relations and communications with affected populations, and thus funds neither the expertise nor infrastructure necessary.
  • The information needs of people affected by disasters remain largely unmet because the people, systems and resources that are required to meet them simply don’t exist in a meaningful way.
  • The humanitarian system is not equipped with either the capacity or the resources to begin tackling the challenge of providing information to those affected by crises.
  • A prior understanding of how populations in disaster prone areas source information is vital in determining the best channels for information flow: for example, local media, local religious networks and local civil society groups.
  • Studies have shown that affected populations go to great lengths to reinstate their media infrastructure and access to information at the earliest opportunity following a disaster. Relief efforts should recognize these community-driven priorities and response accordingly.

My one criticism of the report has to do with the comments in parentheses in this paragraph:

Rebuilding the local media infrastructure for sustained operations must be prioritized as aid efforts continue. This may be as simple as providing a generator to a radio station that has lost its electricity supply, using UN communications structures such as the World Food Program towers to relay local radio stations (though in politically complex environments this needs careful thought)…

The BBC’s Policy Brief focuses on the unmet need for information in humanitarian responses but leaves out of the equation “politically complex environments.” This is problematic. As the UNISDR remarked in it’s 2006 Global Survey of Early Warning Systems (PDF), “the occurrence of “natural” disasters amid complex political crises is increasingly widespread: over 140 natural disasters have occurred alongside complex political crises in the past five years alone.”

Operating in politically volatile, repressive environments and conflict zones presents a host of additional issues that the majority of policy briefs and reports tend to ignore. HHI’s research has sought to outline these important challenges and to highlight potential solutions both in terms of technology and tactics.

picture-7

The importance technology design has been all but ignored in our field. We may continue to use every day communication tools and adopt them for our purposes, but these will inevitably come with constraints. Mobile phones were not designed for operation in hostile environments. This means, for example, that mobile phones don’t come preinstalled with encrypted SMS options. Nor are mobile phones designed to operate in a peer-to-peer (mesh) configuration, which would render mobile phones less susceptible to repressive regimes switching off entire mobile phone networks.

What are today’s most vexing problems in the field of humanitarian early warning and response? This is a question often posed by my colleague Ted Okada to remind us that we often avoid the most important challenges in the humanitarian field. It’s one thing to respond in a post-disaster environment with easy access to refugee populations and donor funding. It’s quite another to be operating in a conflict zone, with restrictions on mobility, with no clear picture of the effected population and with donors reluctant to fund experimental communication projects.

It is high time we focus our attention and resources on tackling the most vexing issues in our field since the solutions we develop there will have universal application elsewhere. In contrast, identifying solutions to the less vexing problems will be of little benefit to large humanitarian community operating in political complex environments. As my colleague Erik Hersman is fond of saying, “If it works in Africa, it’ll work anywhere.” I’ve been making a similar argument over the past year: “If it works in conflict zones, it’ll work anywhere.”

Patrick Philippe Meier

Crisis Mapping Kenya’s Election Violence

Are citizen journalists playing an increasingly important role in documenting violent conflict and human rights violations? I posed this question during the 2008 Global Voices Summit and answered affirmatively—but without more than a hunch and rather limited anecdotal evidence. Paul Curion took issue and David Sasaki recommended that someone carry out an empirical study.

I appreciated David’s practical recommendation and decided to pursue the project since the topic overlaps with the Conflict Early Warning and Crisis Mapping project I’ve been working on at the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative (HHI). Supported by Humanity United, the project seeks to explore the changing role and impact of information communication technology in crisis early warning and humanitarian response.

Seeing that I was in Nairobi visiting my parents during the election violence, I chose Kenya as a case study to assess the role of citizen journalists in crisis environments as compared to the mainstream media. My colleagues Kate Brodock, Briana Kramer and I used event-data analysis to code reports of violent and peaceful events as documented by about a dozen citizen journalist bloggers between December 27, 2007 and January 27, 2008.

We did the same for mainstream media, ranging from print media (national newspapers) to radio and television programs. I also included the Ushahidi data because I wanted to carry out a three way comparison between mainstream news media, citizen journalism and a dedicated crowdsourcing platform.

We then created a Google Earth layer to visualize the data over time and space. Below is a YouTube video I created of the animation (for slower Internet connections). Here is the Google Earth layer (KMZ). The data can also be visualized on Google Maps here.

Yellow icon = mainstream news reports; Blue icon = citizen journalism blogs; Green icon = Ushahidi reports.

A dynamic time line is also available below. The interactive time line depicts the number of daily reports produced by mainstream news, citizen journalists and Ushahidi over the 30-day period of study.

Our preliminary findings:

  • Mainstream media reported actual death count before citizen journalists; however, on many accounts, mainstream media did not report on incidents leading to actual deaths, i.e., early warning signs;
  • Citizen journalist reports and Ushahidi reports did not overlap geographically with mainstream media reports;
  • Citizen journalists tended to report as soon as violence started, well before mainstream media;
  • The number of comments on citizen journalist blogs increased during the 30-day period, or during particular periods of violence;
  • The comment section was also used as a medium for real-time updating;
  • Many citizen journalist bloggers used real-time updates sent to them via SMS, primarily from rural areas;
  • Citizen journalism reports declined after the launch of Ushahidi;
  • Ushahidi reports document an important number of violent events not reported by the mainstream media and citizen journalists;
  • Contrary to news media and citizen journalist reports, Ushahidi data always had specific location information;
  • Ushahidi reports also covered a wider geographical area than both mainstream news and citizen journalist bloggers.

For further information on our project’s methodology and sources, please see this short powerpoint presentation (PDF) which we have also uploaded on Slideshare. For more on crisis mapping, please see this page. For additional information on the role of digital technology during Kenya’s post election violence, see this narrative-based analysis (PDF) by my two colleagues Josh Goldstein and Juliana Rotich.

We look forward to receiving as much feedback as possible so we can improve our methodology and analysis in future case studies. We’re especially keen to have others interpret the dynamics displayed in the animation above. In the meantime, please contact me if you’d like to join the team and contribute to our next case study, which will be of Georgia.

To cite this research, please use: Meier, Patrick and Kate Brodock (2008). “Crisis Mapping Kenya’s Election Violence: Comparing Mainstream News, Citizen Journalism and Ushahidi.” (Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, HHI, Harvard University: Boston). URL: https://irevolution.wordpress.com/2008/10/23/mapping-kenyas-election-violence

Patrick Philippe Meier

Crisis Mapping Kenya’s Election Violence

Are citizen journalists playing an increasingly important role in documenting violent conflict and human rights violations? I posed this question during the 2008 Global Voices Summit and answered affirmatively—but without more than a hunch and rather limited anecdotal evidence. Paul Curion took issue and David Sasaki recommended that someone carry out an empirical study.

I appreciated David’s practical recommendation and decided to pursue the project since the topic overlaps with the Conflict Early Warning and Crisis Mapping project I’ve been working on at the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative (HHI). Supported by Humanity United, the project seeks to explore the changing role and impact of information communication technology in crisis early warning and humanitarian response.

Seeing that I was in Nairobi visiting my parents during the election violence, I chose Kenya as a case study to assess the role of citizen journalists in crisis environments as compared to the mainstream media. My colleagues Kate Brodock, Briana Kramer and I used event-data analysis to code reports of violent and peaceful events as documented by about a dozen citizen journalist bloggers between December 27, 2007 and January 27, 2008.

We did the same for mainstream media, ranging from print media (national newspapers) to radio and television programs. I also included the Ushahidi data because I wanted to carry out a three way comparison between mainstream news media, citizen journalism and a dedicated crowdsourcing platform.

We then created a Google Earth layer to visualize the data over time and space. Below is a YouTube video I created of the animation (for slower Internet connections). Here is the Google Earth layer (KMZ). The data can also be visualized on Google Maps here.

Yellow icon = mainstream news reports; Blue icon = citizen journalism blogs; Green icon = Ushahidi reports.

A dynamic time line is also available below. The interactive time line depicts the number of daily reports produced by mainstream news, citizen journalists and Ushahidi over the 30-day period of study.

Our preliminary findings:

  • Mainstream media reported actual death count before citizen journalists; however, on many accounts, mainstream media did not report on incidents leading to actual deaths, i.e., early warning signs;
  • Citizen journalist reports and Ushahidi reports did not overlap geographically with mainstream media reports;
  • Citizen journalists tended to report as soon as violence started, well before mainstream media;
  • The number of comments on citizen journalist blogs increased during the 30-day period, or during particular periods of violence;
  • The comment section was also used as a medium for real-time updating;
  • Many citizen journalist bloggers used real-time updates sent to them via SMS, primarily from rural areas;
  • Citizen journalism reports declined after the launch of Ushahidi;
  • Ushahidi reports document an important number of violent events not reported by the mainstream media and citizen journalists;
  • Contrary to news media and citizen journalist reports, Ushahidi data always had specific location information;
  • Ushahidi reports also covered a wider geographical area than both mainstream news and citizen journalist bloggers.

For further information on our project’s methodology and sources, please see this short powerpoint presentation (PDF) which we have also uploaded on Slideshare. For more on crisis mapping, please see this page. For additional information on the role of digital technology during Kenya’s post election violence, see this narrative-based analysis (PDF) by my two colleagues Josh Goldstein and Juliana Rotich.

We look forward to receiving as much feedback as possible so we can improve our methodology and analysis in future case studies. We’re especially keen to have others interpret the dynamics displayed in the animation above. In the meantime, please contact me if you’d like to join the team and contribute to our next case study, which will be of Georgia.

To cite this research, please use: Meier, Patrick and Kate Brodock (2008). “Crisis Mapping Kenya’s Election Violence: Comparing Mainstream News, Citizen Journalism and Ushahidi.” (Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, HHI, Harvard University: Boston).
URL: http://irevolution.net/2008/10/23/mapping-kenyas-election-violence

Patrick Philippe Meier