Tag Archives: #ICCM

Opening Keynote Address at CrisisMappers 2013

Screen Shot 2013-11-18 at 1.58.07 AM

Welcome to Kenya, or as we say here, Karibu! This is a special ICCM for me. I grew up in Nairobi; in fact our school bus would pass right by the UN every day. So karibu, welcome to this beautiful country (and continent) that has taught me so much about life. Take “Crowdsourcing,” for example. Crowdsourcing is just a new term for the old African saying “It takes a village.” And it took some hard-working villagers to bring us all here. First, my outstanding organizing committee went way, way above and beyond to organize this village gathering. Second, our village of sponsors made it possible for us to invite you all to Nairobi for this Fifth Annual, International Conference of CrisisMappers (ICCM).

I see many new faces, which is really super, so by way of introduction, my name is Patrick and I develop free and open source next generation humanitarian technologies with an outstanding team of scientists at the Qatar Computing Research Institute (QCRI), one of this year’s co-sponsors.

We’ve already had an exciting two-days of pre-conference site visits with our friends from Sisi ni Amani and our co-host Spatial Collective. ICCM participants observed first-hand how GIS, mobile technology and communication projects operate in informal settlements, covering a wide range of topics that include governance, civic education and peacebuilding. In addition, our friend Heather Leson from the Open Knowledge Foundation (OKF) coordinated an excellent set of trainings at the iHub yesterday. So a big thank you to Heather, Sisi ni Amani and Spatial Collective for these outstanding pre-conference events.

Screen Shot 2013-11-19 at 10.48.30 AM

This is my 5th year giving opening remarks at ICCM, so some of you will know from previous years that I often take this moment to reflect on the past 12 months. But just reflecting on the past 12 days alone requires it’s own separate ICCM. I’m referring, of course, to the humanitarian and digital humanitarian response to the devastating Typhoon in the Philippines. This response, which is still ongoing, is unparalleled in terms of the level of collaboration between members of the Digital Humanitarian Network (DHN) and formal humanitarian organizations like UN OCHA and WFP. All of these organizations, both formal and digital, are also members of the CrisisMapper Network.

Screen Shot 2013-11-18 at 2.07.59 AM

The Digital Humanitarian Network, or DHN, serves as the official interface between formal humanitarian organizations and global networks of tech-savvy digital volunteers. These digital volunteers provide humanitarian organizations with the skill and surge capacity they often need to make timely sense of “Big (Crisis) Data” during major disasters. By Big Crisis Data, I mean social media content and satellite imagery, for example. This overflow of such information generated during disasters can be as paralyzing to humanitarian response as the absence of information. And making sense of this overflow in response to Yolanda has required all hands on deck—i.e., an unprecedented level of collaboration between many members of the DHN.

So I’d like to share with you 2 initial observations from this digital humanitarian response to Yolanda; just 2 points that may be signs of things to come. Local Digital Villages and World Wide (good) Will.

Screen Shot 2013-11-18 at 2.09.42 AM

First, there were numerous local digital humanitarians on the ground in the Philippines. These digitally-savvy Filipinos were rapidly self-organizing and launching crisis maps well before any of us outside the Philippines had time to blink. One such group is Rappler, for example.

Screen Shot 2013-11-18 at 2.10.37 AM

We (the DHN) reached out to them early on, sharing both our data and volunteers. Remember that “Crowdsourcing” is just a new word for the old African saying that “it takes a village…” and sometimes, it takes a digital village to support humanitarian efforts on the ground. And Rappler is hardly the only local digital community that mobilizing in response to Yolanda, there are dozens of digital villages spearheading similar initiatives across the country.

The rise of local digital villages means that the distant future (or maybe not too distant future) of humanitarian operations may become less about the formal “brick-and-mortar” humanitarian organizations and, yes, also less about the Digital Humanitarian Network. Disaster response is and has always have been about local communities self-organizing and now local digital communities self-organizing. The majority of lives saved during disasters is attributed to this local agency, not international, external relief. Furthermore, these local digital villages are increasingly the source of humanitarian innovation, so we should pay close attention; we have a lot to learn from these digital villages. Naturally, they too are learning a lot from us.

The second point that struck me occurred when the Standby Volunteer Task Force (SBTF) completed its deployment of MicroMappers on behalf of OCHA. The response from several SBTF volunteers was rather pointed—some were disappointed that the deployment had closed; others were downright upset. What happened next was very interesting; you see, these volunteers simply kept going, they used (hacked) the SBTF Skype Chat for Yolanda (which already had over 160 members) to self-organize and support other digital humanitarian efforts that were still ongoing. So the SBTF Team sent an email to it’s 1,000+ volunteers with the following subject header: “Closing Yolanda Deployment, Opening Other Opportunities!”

Screen Shot 2013-11-18 at 2.11.28 AM

The email provided a list of the most promising ongoing digital volunteer opportunities for the Typhoon response and encouraged volunteers to support whatever efforts they were most drawn to. This second reveals that a “World Wide (good) Will” exists. People care. This is good! Until recently, when disasters struck in faraway lands, we would watch the news on television wishing we could somehow help. That private wish—that innate human emotion—would perhaps translate into a donation. Today, not only can you donate cash to support those affected by disasters, you can also donate a few minutes of your time to support the relief efforts on the ground thanks to new humanitarian technologies and platforms. In other words, you, me, all of us can now translate our private wishes into direct, online public action, which can support those working in disaster-affected areas including local digital villages.

Screen Shot 2013-11-18 at 2.12.21 AM

This surge of World Wide (good) Will explains why SBTF volunteers wanted to continue volunteering for as long as they wished even if our formal digital humanitarian network had phased out operations. And this is beautiful. We should not seek to limit or control this global goodwill or play the professional versus amateur card too quickly. Besides, who are we kidding? We couldn’t control this flood of goodwill even if we wanted to. But, we can embrace this goodwill and channel it. People care, they want to offer their time to help others thousands of miles away. This is beautiful and the kind of world I want to live in. To paraphrase the philosopher Hannah Arendt, the greatest harm in the world is caused not by evil but apathy. So we should cherish the digital goodwill that springs during disasters. This spring is the digital equivalent of mutual aid, of self-help. The global village of digital Good Samaritans is growing.

At the same time, this goodwill, this precious human emotion and the precious time it freely offers can cause more harm than good if it is not channeled responsibly. When international volunteers poor into disaster areas wanting to help, their goodwill can have the opposite effect, especially when they are inexperienced. This is also true of digital volunteers flooding in to help online.

We in the CrisisMappers community have the luxury of having learned a lot about digital humanitarian response since the Haiti Earthquake; we have learned important lessons about data privacy and protection, codes of conduct, the critical information needs of humanitarian organizations and disaster-affected populations, standardizing operating procedures, and so on. Indeed we now (for the first time) have data protection protocols that address crowdsourcing, social media and digital volunteers thanks to our colleagues at the ICRC. We also have an official code of conduct on the use of SMS for disaster response thanks to our colleagues at GSMA. This year’s World Disaster Report (WDR 2013) also emphasizes the responsible use of next generation humanitarian technologies and the crisis data they manage.

Screen Shot 2013-11-18 at 2.13.03 AM

Now, this doesn’t mean that we the formal (digital) humanitarian sector have figured it all out—far from it. This simply means that we’ve learned a few important and difficult lessons along the way. Unlike newcomers to the digital humanitarian space, we have the benefit of several years of hard experience to draw on when deploying for disasters like Typhoon Yolanda. While sharing these lessons and disseminating them as widely as possible is obviously a must, it is simply not good enough. Guidebooks and guidelines just won’t cut it. We also need to channel the global spring of digital goodwill and distribute it to avoid  “flash floods” of goodwill. So what might these goodwill channels look like? Well they already exist in the form of the Digital Humanitarian Network—more specifically the members of the DHN.

These are the channels that focus digital goodwill in support of the humanitarian organizations that physically deploy to disasters. These channels operate using best practices, codes of conduct, protocols, etc., and can be held accountable. At the same time, however, these channels also block the upsurge of goodwill from new digital volunteers—those outside our digital villages. How? Our channels block this World Wide (good) Will by requiring technical expertise to engage with us and/or  by requiring an inordinate amount of time commitment. So we should not be surprised if the “World Wide (Good) Will” circumvents our channels altogether, and in so doing causes more harm than good during disasters. Our channels are blocking their engagement and preventing them from joining our digital villages. Clearly we need different channels to focus the World Wide (Good) Will.

Screen Shot 2013-11-18 at 2.14.21 AM

Our friends at Humanitarian OpenStreetMap already figured this out two years ago when they set up their microtasking server, making it easier for less tech-savvy volunteers to engage. We need to democratize our humanitarian technologies to responsibly channel the huge surplus global goodwill that exists online. This explains why my team and I at QCRI are developing MicroMappers and why we deployed the platform in response to OCHA’s request within hours of Typhoon Yolanda making landfall in the Philippines.

Screen Shot 2013-11-18 at 2.15.21 AM

This digital humanitarian operation was definitely far from perfect, but it was super simple to use and channeled 208 hours of global goodwill in just a matter days. Those are 208 hours that did not cause harm. We had volunteers from dozens of countries around the world and from all ages and walks of life offering their time on MicroMappers. OCHA, which had requested this support, channeled the resulting data to their teams on the ground in the Philippines.

These digital volunteers all cared and took the time to try and help others thousands of miles away. The same is true of the remarkable digital volunteers supporting the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap efforts. This is the kind of world I want to live in; the world in which humanitarian technologies harvest the global goodwill and channels it to make a difference to those affected by disasters.

Screen Shot 2013-11-18 at 2.09.42 AM

So these are two important trends I see moving forward, the rise of well-organized, local digital humanitarian groups, like Rappler, and the rise of World Wide (Good) Will. We must learn from the former, from the local digital villages, and when asked, we should support them as best we can. We should also channel, even amplify the World Wide (Good) Will by democratizing humanitarian technologies and embracing new ways to engage those who want to make a difference. Again, Crowdsourcing is simply a new term for the old African proverb, that it takes a village. Let us not close the doors to that village.

So on this note, I thank *you* for participating in ICCM and for being a global village that cares, both on and offline. Big thanks as well to our current team of sponsors for caring about this community and making sure that our village does continue to meet in person every year. And now for the next 3 days, we have an amazing line-up of speakers, panelists & technologies for you. So please use these days to plot, partner and disrupt. And always remember: be tough on ideas, but gentle on people.

Thanks again, and keep caring.

My Opening Speech at CrisisMappers 2011 in Geneva

Good Afternoon Crisis Mappers!

It is my great pleasure and honor to open the third International Conference of CrisisMappers. Thank you very much for being here and for contributing both your time and expertise to ICCM 2011. This past year has been a challenging and busy year for all of us in the CrisisMappers community. So the timing of this conference and its location in this quiet and scenic region of Switzerland provides the perfect opportunity to pause, take a deep breath and gently reflect on the past 12 months.

As many of you already know, the CrisisMappers Community is an informal network of members who operate at the cutting edge of crisis mapping and humanitarian technology. We are not a formal entity; we have no office, no one location, no staff, and no core funding to speak of. And yet, more than 3,000 individuals representing over 1,500 organizations in 140 countries around the world have joined this growing and thriving network.

Some of you here today were also with us in Cleveland for ICCM 2009, which is where and when, this Crisis Mappers Community was launched. We collectively founded this network for a very simple reason: to advance the study, practice and impact of crisis mapping by catalyzing information sharing and forming unique partnerships between members. A lot has happened since Cleveland, and yes, that is indeed an understatement. Take the following as just a simple proxy: shortly before ICCM 2009, I did a Google search for “crisis mapping”; this returned some 8,000 hits. Today, just two short years later, this number is well over a quarter million and growing rapidly. Much of this new content and activity is a direct result of our combined efforts, particularly in 2011.

To be sure, we have seen many new exciting developments in the field of crisis mapping and humanitarian technology in just the past 12 months. In fact, there are simply too many to highlight in these short introductory remarks, so I invite you to visit the CrisisMappers website for the full list of projects that you yourselves have ranked as most important in 2011. Over the next two days, many of these projects will be featured in Ignite Talks, demo’s and posters in the Techmology Fair and in the self-organized sessions as well.

In addition to these fine projects, a number of important and recurring themes have emerged over the past year. So I’d like to briefly touch on just five of these as a way to inform some of our conversations over the next two days.

The first is validation. We need to better assess the impact of our work. More specifically, we need independent experts who specialize in monitoring and evaluation (M&E) to critically assess our crisis mapping deployments. I thus urge our donors, many of you are here today, to make independent evaluations a requirement for all your grantees who actively deploy crisis mapping platforms. Rigorous evaluations do cost money so I strongly encourage you to make funding available in 2012 so we can validate our work.

A second theme is security. We all know that the majority of crisis mapping platforms and the technologies they integrate were not designed for highly hostile environments. At the same time, computer security is a highly specialized field and we are in serious need for security experts to lend their direct support at the coding level to resolve existing security risks. Talking is important, but coding is more important. Security experts who are members of the Crisis Mappers community already know what needs to be done. So lets get this done. What we do need to talk about is developing a clear and well defined set guidelines on how to handle Open (Social) Data that is crowdsourced from conflict zones. To be sure, we urgently need a code of conduct and one endorsed by an established and credible organization to hold ourselves accountable.

The third theme I would like to highlight is the consolidation of key partnerships between formal humanitarian organizations and informal volunteer networks. We began this conversation together exactly 12 months ago at ICCM 2010. And a considerable amount of time and energy has since gone into developing the initial scaffolding necessary to streamline these partnerships. But we still have much work to do. There is absolutely no doubt that these partnerships will continue to be critical in 2012, so we need to have these collaboration mechanisms in place earlier rather than later. To do this, we need to participate in joint crisis response simulations now to ensure that we end up with appropriate, and robust but flexible mechanisms in 2012.

A fourth recurring theme this year has been the increasing need to scale our crisis mapping efforts. This requires a change in data licensing, particularly around satellite imagery and the data derived thereof. We also need both micro-tasking platforms and automated filtering mechanisms to scale our efforts. On filtering, for example, we need natural language processing (NLP) tools to help us monitor, aggregate, triangulate and verify large volumes of social media data and text messages in real time. While these solutions already exist in the private sector and increasingly in public health, they are still not accessible or widely used by many members of the CrisisMappers community. This needs to change. The good news is that a number of colleagues who are here at ICCM have been actively working on developing micro-tasking and automated filtering solutions. I sincerely hope they’ll share their platforms more widely with the CrisisMappers community in 2012.

A fifth and final theme is of course “Mainstreaming Crisis Mapping,” the theme of this year’s international conference. Our co-hosts ICT4Peace and the JRC will discuss this theme in detail in their keynote address. So let me now turn it over to my fellow colleague and co-founder, Professor Jen Ziemke, to tell you more about our co-hosts and what to expect over the next two days…