In August 2015, the Swiss humanitarian organization FSD kindly hired me as a consultant to work on the EU-funded Drones in Humanitarian Action program. I had the pleasure of working closely with FSD and team during the past 16 months. Today represents the exciting culmination of a lot of hard work by many dedicated individuals.
Today we’re launching our comprehensive report on “Drones in Humanitarian Action: A Guide to the Use of Airborne Systems in Humanitarian Crises.” The full report is available here (PDF). Our study draws on extensive research and many, many consultations carried out over a year and a half. The report covers the principle actors & technologies along with key applications and case studies on both mapping and cargo drones. Note that the section on cargo delivery is drawn from a larger 20+ page study I carried out. Please contact me directly if you’d like a copy of this more detailed study. In the meantime, I want to sincerely thank my fellow co-authors Denise Soesilo, Audrey Lessard-Fontaine, Jessica Du Plessis & Christina Stuhlberger for this productive and meaningful collaboration.
The report and case studies are also available on the FSD Website.
This year’s World Disaster Report was just released this morning. I had the honor of authoring Chapter 3 on “Strengthening Humanitarian Information: The Role of Technology.” The chapter focuses on the rise of “Digital Humanitarians” and explains how “Next Generation Humanitarian Technology” is used to manage Big (Crisis) Data. The chapter complements the groundbreaking report “Humanitarianism in the Network Age” published by UN OCHA earlier this year.
The key topics addressed in the chapter include:
Big (Crisis) Data
Self-Organized Disaster Response
Crowdsourcing & Bounded Crowdsourcing
Verifying Crowdsourced Information
Volunteer & Technical Communities
Libya Crisis Map
Typhoon Pablo Crisis Map
Syria Crisis Map
Microtasking for Disaster Response
Machine Learning for Disaster Response
Artificial Intelligence for Disaster Response (AIDR)
American Red Cross Digital Operations Center
Data Protection and Security
Policymaking for Humanitarian Technology
I’m particularly interested in getting feedback on this chapter, so feel free to pose any comments or questions you may have in the comments section below.
This short video was inspired by the pioneering work of the Standby Volunteer Task Force (SBTF). A global network of 1,000+ digital humanitarians in 80+ countries, the SBTF is responsible for some of the most important live crisis mapping operations that have supported both humanitarian and human rights organizations over the past 2+ years. Today, the SBTF is a founding and active member of the Digital Humanitarian Network (DHN) and remains committed to rapid learning and innovation thanks to an outstanding team of volunteers (“Mapsters”) and their novel use of next-generation humanitarian technologies.
The video first aired on the National Geographic Television Channel in February 2013. A big thanks to the awesome folks from National Geographic and the outstanding Evolve Digital Cinema Team for visioning the future of digital humanitarian technologies—a future that my Crisis Computing Team and I at QCRI are working to create.
An aside: I tried on several occasions to hack the script and say “We” rather than “I” since crisis mapping is very rarely a solo effort but the main sponsor insisted that the focus be on one individual. On the upside, one of the scenes in the commercial is of a Situation Room full of Mapsters coupled with the narration: “Our team can map the pulse of the planet, from anywhere, getting aid to the right places.” Our team = SBTF! Which is why the $$ received for being in this commercial will go towards supporting Mapsters.
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).
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.
The cleaned data was subsequently added to this Google Map and also made public on the official Google Crisis Map of the Philippines.
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.
I thrive when working across disciplines, building diverse cross-cutting coalitions to create, translate and apply innovative strategies driven by shared values. This has enabled the 20+ organizations I’ve worked with, and those I’ve led, to accelerate meaningful and inclusive social impact.
Which is why I've been called a social entrepreneur and a translational leader by successful innovators. President Clinton once called me a digital pioneer, while recent colleagues describe me as kind, dedicated, values-driven, authentic, creative, ethical, and impactful.