Tag Archives: #ICCM09

Wrap Up: The International Conference on Crisis Mapping (ICCM 2009)

Little did my co-organizer Jen Ziemke and I know how incredibly successful the first International Conference on Crisis Mapping (ICCM 2009) was going to be. Many participants noted in person or by email that the conference was one like no other. Some even said that ICCM ranks as the number one conference they’ve been to, period. Wow.

ICCM was certainly an incredible treat for me to co-organize and moderate. Yes, the workload was beyond ridiculous. But the reward was also beyond incredible. Sitting in on the Ignite Talks, Open Roundtables and Self-Organized Sessions was a thrill; not to mention perusing the always-active Tech Fair and reading through the insightful #ICCM09 conference Tweets.

The Self-Organized Sessions were some of the most engaged sessions I’ve ever seen at any conference. The same goes for the Open Roundtables. This is a testament to how absolutely tops ICCM participants are. ICCM 2009 was truly a participant-generated conference, which I suspect partly explains why so many participants had so many kind words to say about this unique event.

And then there were the many thought-provoking conversations over the lunches and dinners with some of the biggest movers and shakers in the crisis mapping field writ large. Indeed, having an off-the-record dinner  conversation at a famous Jazz restaurant with two senior representatives from the UN Secretary General’s Office is not something that happens everyday, not to me at least! And this is just one of many surprising anecdotes from ICCM.

For just a fleeting moment I thought I’d be able to summarize ICCM 2009 in a blog post. I’m now on a flight to Geneva and thus have plenty of time. But summarizing such a rich conference that spanned three days in just one blog post could not possibly do justice to the incredible contributions generated by the 100 or so participants who joined us in Cleveland for the first ICCM.

So let me instead use the remaining paragraphs to briefly reflect on conference design and to outline what you can expect from post-conference productions in the coming weeks.

I truly enjoyed designing the conference format for ICCM. The format very much resonated with participants as well. Not only did they laud the conference for the network it brought together, the partnerships and content generated, the facilities and service, but I was surprised to learn that the format itself was a model that many participants said should “be replicated everywhere.”

One of the many take-homes for me on how to run a successful conference is that experimenting with conference design is important. My word of advice to other budding conference designers out there is to find your own unique style, be bold and creative; try something new. Think of yourself as a DJ.

I realize I could easily write half-a-dozen blog posts of lessons learned on conference design, and I probably will in the future. I would simply add one more piece of advice here: take a leap of faith and keep your conference as “unstructured” as possible. This means defining topics not too narrowly and leaving plenty of time for open conversation. You’ll be surprised just how much conversation and knowledge this open space approach generates.

Just be sure you can fully participate yourself though!

So what’s next now that ICCM 2009 is over? Well, in a way, ICCM 2009 is not over. We launched the International Network of Crisis Mappers (CM*Net) on the final day of the conference and conversations are continuing via discussion forums online along with new blog posts added on a daily basis.

In the meantime, stay tuned for the conference report, which will provide a summary of the Open Roundtable discussions. We expect to get this out on November 16, 2009. But not to worry, our excellent film crew is already busy editing the 28 Ignite Talks videos and we plan to start releasing them as of next week. The Keynote address and a compilation of participant interviews will also be released in the near future.

Until then, all the slide presentations from ICCM 2009 are available here and all #ICCM09 Tweets can be found here. If you’d like to join us for ICCM 2010, be sure to add your thoughts on content and format here.

In closing, thanks again to all participants and our stellar volunteers for making ICCM 2009 the incredible success it was!

Patrick Philippe Meier

Evolving a Global System of Info Webs

I’ve already blogged about what an ecosystem approach to conflict early warning and response entails. But I have done so with a country focus rather than thinking globally. This blog post applies a global perspective to the ecosystem approach given the proliferation of new platforms with global scalability.

Perhaps the most apt analogy here is one of food webs where the food happens to be information. Organisms in a food web are grouped into primary producers, primary consumers and secondary consumers. Primary producers such as grass harvest an energy source such as sunlight that they turn into biomass. Herbivores are primary consumers of this biomass while carnivores are secondary consumers of herbivores. There is thus a clear relationship known as a food chain.

This is an excellent video visualizing food web dynamics produced by researchers affiliated with the Santa Fe Institute (SFI):

Our information web (or Info Web) is also composed of multiple producers and consumers of information each interlinked by communication technology in increasingly connected ways. Indeed, primary producers, primary consumers and secondary consumers also crawl and dynamically populate the Info Web. But the shock of the information revolution is altering the food chains in our ecosystem. Primary consumers of information can now be primary producers, for example.

At the smallest unit of analysis, individuals are the most primary producers of information. The mainstream media, social media, natural language parsing tools, crowdsourcing platforms, etc, arguably comprise the primary consumers of that information. Secondary consumers are larger organisms such as the global Emergency Information Service (EIS) and the Global Impact and Vulnerability Alert System (GIVAS).

These newly forming platforms are at different stages of evolution. EIS and GIVAS are relatively embryonic while the Global Disaster Alert and Coordination Systems (GDACS) and Google Earth are far more evolved. A relatively new organism in the Info Web is the UAV as exemplified by ITHACA. The BrightEarth Humanitarian Sensor Web (SensorWeb) is further along the information chain while Ushahidi’s Crisis Mapping platform and the Swift River driver are more mature but have not yet deployed as a global instance.

InSTEDD’s GeoChat, Riff and Mesh4X solutions have already iterated through a number of generations. So have ReliefWeb and the Humanitarian Information Unit (HIU). There are of course additional organisms in this ecosystem, but the above list should suffice to demonstrate my point.

What if we connected these various organisms to catalyze a super organism? A Global System of Systems (GSS)? Would the whole—a global system of systems for crisis mapping and early warning—be greater than the sum of its parts? Before we can answer this question in any reasonable way, we need to know the characteristics of each organism in the ecosystem. These organisms represent the threads that may be woven into the GSS, a global web of crisis mapping and early warning systems.

Global System of Systems

Emergency Information Service (EIS) is slated to be a unified communications solution linking citizens, journalists, governments and non-governmental organizations in a seamless flow of timely, accurate and credible information—even when local communication infrastructures are rendered inoperable. This feature will be made possible by utilizing SMS as the communications backbone of the system.

In the event of a crisis, the EIS team would sift, collate, make sense of and verify the myriad of streams of information generated by a large humanitarian intervention. The team would gather information from governments, local media, the military, UN agencies and local NGOs to develop reporting that will be tailored to the specific needs of the affected population and translated into local languages. EIS would work closely with local media to disseminate messages of critical, life saving information.

Global Impact and Vulnerability Alert System (GIVAS) is being designed to closely monitor vulnerabilities and accelerate communication between the time a global crisis hits and when information reaches decision makers through official channels. The system is mandated to provide the international community with early, real-time evidence of how a global crisis is affecting the lives of the poorest and to provide decision-makers with real time information to ensure that decisions take the needs of the most vulnerable into account.

BrightEarth Humanitarian Sensor Web (SensorWeb) is specifically designed for UN field-based agencies to improve real time situational awareness. The dynamic mapping platform enables humanitarians to easily and quickly map infrastructure relevant for humanitarian response such as airstrips, bridges, refugee camps, IDP camps, etc. The SensorWeb is also used to map events of interest such as cholera outbreaks. The platform leverages mobile technology as well as social networking features to encourage collaborative analytics.

Ushahidi integrates web, mobile and dynamic mapping technology to crowdsource crisis information. The platform uses FrontlineSMS and can be deployed quickly as a crisis unfolds. Users can visualize events of interest on a dynamic map that also includes an animation feature to visualize the reported data over time and space.

Swift River is under development but designed to validate crowdsourced information in real time by combining machine learning for predictive tagging with human crowdsourcing for filtering purposes. The purpsose of the platform is to create veracity scores to denote the probability of an event being true when reported across several media such as Twitter, Online news, SMS, Flickr, etc.

GeoChat and Mesh4X could serve as the nodes connecting the above platforms in dynamic ways. Riff could be made interoperable with Swift River.

Can such a global Info Web be catalyzed? The question hinges on several factors the most important of which are probably awareness and impact. The more these individual organisms know about each other, the better picture they will have of the potential synergies between their efforts and then find incentives to collaborate. This is one of the main reasons I am co-organizing the first International Conference on Crisis Mapping (ICCM 2009) next week.

Patrick Philippe Meier