12Feb

Building Humanitarian Entrepreneurial Innovation Spaces

Fostering ideas to full scale implementation is on many people’s minds in the Humanitarian Technology space. Yet, true sustainability and effectiveness can only happen with local knowledge, culture and partners. There is a convergence happening in the humanitarian space as technologists, humanitarians, businesses and governments are seeking better long-term ways to move past ‘little projects’ to healthier local engagement. The occasional marriage of entrepreneurs and humanitarian organizations is growing. We’ve seen the power of communities like Kathmandu Living Labs, Yellow House and global digital communities. How can we keep fostering these types of communal ideation spaces? Well, UNOCHA’s intern Kate Whitpky and Andrej Verity just published a report on: Establishing a Humanitarian Entrepreneurial Innovation Space. It was my pleasure to provide input into this important research.

Look and Feel via noun_149777_cc copy

” The Humanitarian Entrepreneurial Incubator (HEI) would be a partnership between humanitarian organisations and humanitarian entrepreneurs. Organisations host entrepreneurs within their office and provide resources and insight to them as they develop and implement an innovative product or service related to humanitarian response. This departs from a traditional incubator as a stand-alone entity and instead enables deeper collaboration between humanitarian entrepre-neurs and organisation staff.”

How will your organizational incorporate these learnings? Are you considering opening a Humanitarian Entrepreneurial Incubators (HEI)? We really need to convene all these actors mentioned in the research. What if a room of ‘doers’ or online forum could build out programmes to support civil society and NGOs? Would the technical companies support this? Could it be part of their CSR programmes or, better yet, have companies encourage employee sabbaticals to contribute as advisors and supporters for the local entrepreneurs? How can accelerators, incubators, labs, hubs and research institutes play a part?

In the conclusion of report: “As humanitarians worldwide engage in dialogue about changes to the humanitarian system, there is an opportunity to transform the way in which organisations respond, by adopting innovative practices that foster collaboration and ultimately contribute to building capacity. The growth of innovation spaces could signal a positive change that communities, entrepreneurs, and organisa-tions are teaming up to make humanitarian response even better.”

What does implementation look like?

With great interest, I read the UN Secretary General’s report for the upcoming World Humanitarian Summit. The research from this intensive consultation process indicates the need for strong ideas with funding legs to support the change from parachute technology to really locally driven service design. As the HEI report highlights, there are already many groups leading the charge. But it is my hope that we can foster more of this with local entrepreneurs supporting the needs of their communities. Plus, imagine the possibilities of ideas created in Kampala not only helping people in their city but also helping people in Phnom Penh.

From the Secretary General’s report:


“109. To this end, we need to embrace the opportunities of the 21st century. Capacities to prevent and respond to crises are now diverse and widespread. Community-level capacity in many crisis and risk-prone environments has increased. Technology and communications have given more people the means to articulate their needs or offer their assistance more quickly. Yet, international assistance too often still works in traditional ways: focused on delivery of individual projects rather than bringing together expertise to deliver more strategic outcomes. We operate in silos created by mandates and financial structures rather than towards collective outcomes by leveraging comparative advantage.”


The pieces are falling into place. Now, how can we implement changes and support the changes already in progress?


Honoured to have contributed to Establishing a Humanitarian Entrepreneurial Innovation Space incorporating on lessons and observations from RHOK, various social entrepreneurship zones plus being in an Accelerator programme with Qatar Computing Research Institute and Qatar Science & Technology Park.


[Image from the Noun Project (Look and Feel)]

8Feb

MIT in Doha: Public Talk about Self-Driving Cars

Doha is the land of cars and traffic. In the next few years, the Rail (Metro/Subway/Underground) will open. It is expected that traffic and our use of cars will also evolve. Qatar Computing Research Institute is excited to invite you to learn more about “Self-Driving Cars from MIT’s Daniela Rus”. With all the technology and car enthusiasts, we are sure to have a good conversation.

“We spend a lot of time in out cars, yet this is a part of our lives where we have been vulnerable to the world’s leading cause of bodily harm. Now, the digitization of practically everything coupled with advanced robotics promises a future with extensive use of robots in our transportation systems. Self-driving cars have the potential to increase the safety and efficiency of our transportation systems and enhance the driving experience. In this talk I will address recent developments in self-driving cars. I will describe the state of the art in developing autonomous cars and mobility on demand with self-driving cars. I will also address some of the technological challenges and policy challenges ahead. I will then describe a scalable data-driven approach for developing mobility on demand systems with self-driving cars. ”

XKCD on driving

Iyad Rahwan and colleagues from the MIT Media Lab have been writing about the shift with self-driving cars. See the research on the ethical implications of autonomous cars. (This should drive some great questions!)

Register soon

Details:
    Sunday March 20, 2016
    4:00 PM to 5:30 PM (AST)
    Qatar National Convention Centre – Room 215-517 Ar-Rayyan, Al Rayyan QA

Registration (click here)


(comic source: XKCD CCBY (Buy his book and laugh for hours))

3Feb

Social Media and Humanitarian Response

[Ed. note: This is the full article submitted to the World Economic Forum report. Thanks to Shannon Dosemagen and Claire Wardle for their editorial guidance]

People use social media during emergencies. The speed and volume of online information is increasingly overwhelming to humanitarians. Digital humanitarians and individuals have organized into skilled teams to decypher the signal to the noise as well as seek valid, accurate and actionable data. These teams work in parallel to humanitarians with digital forensics, mapmaking, data mining, curation and conversations. Communication is aid and social media is part of this toolset. The complexities of privacy, power and access are just some of the gray areas as humanitarians and communities work to help those in need.

Introduction

Seeking to “do something”, more and more people are answering the call to action with each emergency. Digital responders or “digital humanitarians” log online at the speed of news spreading. Individuals and teams “activate” based on skillsets of volunteer and technical communities (VTCs). These digital responders use their time, online or technical skills as well as their personal networks in attempt to help with information overload. The terms often used to define these contributors in the humanitarian space includes remote help, citizen engagement, citizen response, localized community, civil society and global civic technology. Some participants are new to online humanitarian response, but have found a topic or location that drives their passion to get involved. This surge of participants is often just as chaotic as the actual physical emergency response. People are compelled, at a dizzying pace, by the fact that many parties require valid, urgent and actionable data. Focused on the needs of the citizens in the affected areas, informal and formal networks collaborate and sometimes collide in the effort to make sense, identify needs or stories and action this user-generated content. With a combination of will and skill, they create updated maps, datasets, information products and, even, communities (both online and offline networks). The global growth of these activities is based on access to information, connectivity and language skills as well as digital literacy levels. There are efforts to become more inclusive while respecting local language, culture and knowledge. The mantra by most digital responders is “support” not “supplant” local citizens, humanitarians and emergency responders.

The role of digital communities in humanitarian response has been well documented from the UN Disaster 2.0 report to the rise of the CrisisMappers Network and beyond. A starting point might be the use of online bulletin boards (BBS) and mailing lists in responses to Tsunami in Asia followed by a parallel timeline for most small and large humanitarian and conflict crisis since 2004. The tools and volume change over time, but the propensity to connect and potentially help occurs with each incident. The fact is that every day there is a local or global emergency (slow onset or immediate), and there is a flood of online communications (social and messaging) that follows immediately afterwards. The amount of news and citizen data saturates online spaces with such speed that accuracy and priority items become a blur. This user-generated content comes in many forms: text, photos, aerial and satellite imagery, video, and more. Digital responders learn and refine techniques with each response.

Humanitarians and citizens are overwhelmed by the speed of change and the onslaught of information.

In the five years since the Haiti earthquake, there has been a steady progression of change. There is resistance to incorporating social media into humanitarian information workflows. Often, this is due to process changes, trust, accuracy and fear of change. People who create user-generated content (UGC) are often considered outliers and have not yet gained the trust of leaders within official institutions. And, having people in the affected regions use these tools to help each other or ask for help changes the information flow from one way to two-way. Humanitarian institutions simply change at a slow pace. These institutions also have a low capacity to review information outputs or the funds to incorporate UGC into their process. Plus, they often do not understand the tools and techniques by which these online/offline communities connect. The conundrum is that UGC and citizens are simply changing faster. As such this gap is being tested and often fulfilled in new ways.

Across the world there are branded hubs, labs, fellowships, meetings, conferences and research, (so much research!). Governments, International Non-Governmental Organizations (INGOs), Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) are all working on various projects. How can these new voices and communities become part of the humanitarian apparatus? From Unicef Innovation to Ihub Nairobi to Kathmandu Living Labs to UN Global Pulse Jakarta, there many new spaces to observe and create solutions. There is a parallel stream with the Code for All community and other civic technology or humanitarian technology/research communities who aim to connect software developers, data scientists and designers to solve hyperlocal issues with official organizations. Code for All has grown from United States to Japan and beyond. Their goal is to connect local communities and governments with digital technologies and problem solvers for all issues. The intersection of these two movements is inevitable in risk prone areas.

What is the scope of these Digital Response communities and how effective are their efforts?

The Digital Humanitarian Network consists of many groups, from those that create maps, like Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team, to those who curate social information like Humanity Road and Standby Task Force to bridging language skills via Translators without Borders. Ranging from small tasks to big asks, digital responders coalesce during an emergency. Over 2800 people contributed to Nepal Earthquake response with small tasks like MicroMappers by making quick decisions about text or images. These curated information insights were used by over 250 organizations to make decisions about various needs for the response, including damage assessments and aid distribution. The UGC could be created by anyone, but someone needs to parse the data, find the key points and match these core items to needs and actions. In reviewing the IP addresses of contributors, Qatar Computing Research Institute observed that the majority of these digital MicroMapper helpers were from northern countries.

For the Nepal Earthquake Response, over 7500 people contributed to improve OpenStreetMap in a short span of time. OpenStreetMap is a the Wikipedia of maps creating a large free and open dataset which anyone can use. Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (a VTC) creates tools and training to support mapping for humanitarian response and economic development. The Nepal earthquake response was co-lead by Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team and Kathmandu Living Labs. Kathmandu Living Labs, started in 2013, creates local data and map solutions and partnerships, for Nepal. They have steadily built a local community of mappers trained in OpenStreetMap plus they mapped the country. Over the years, they have also built relationships with local partners from emergency responders to universities. When the Nepal Earthquake struck, they lost their office and a day’s work. Meanwhile, remote digital responders in the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT) community activated. HOT, with generous support of partners, obtained both pre- and post disaster satellite imagery to trace the regions of Nepal that might be affected.

Once Kathmandu Living Labs returned online, they worked very closely with the global and local community, which included responders like the American Red Cross, Canadian Armed Forces, Nepal Red Cross and Nepal Civil Defence. Mappers traced and created millions of edits for roads, infrastructure, helicopter pads, and potential emergency zones. The map products were then added to devices, printed and shared among responders to help with logistics and overall response. Humanitarians are collaborating side-by-side with digital responders and civic technology communities. The HOT Activation team advised the global community of mappers where to map based on official needs as directed by emergency managers as well as via Kathmandu Living Labs. Online communities are stitched together with local civic technology communities. They connected via skype, IRC (internet relay chat), Twitter, Facebook, G+, Instagram, mailing lists, websites, and wikis.

The networks, while informal, are all driven by the common vision of UGC for humanitarian response. Simply put, they move fast and have initiative to do the needful. For example, the OpenStreetMap Japan Foundation community translated the Guide to Mapping Buildings in Nepal from the Kathmandu Living Labs. So, one former disaster affected civic technology community activated to aid another transferring skills and supporting the digital need. No government or formal institution advised that this was required. People simply self-organized based on digital responder knowledge and the desire to help their digital neighbour. While the processes are not yet seamless, the gap between official and informal is closing with each response.

The World Humanitarian Summit, scheduled for May 2016, includes a consultation stream called “Transforming through Innovation”. The reports are glaring in their observations of NGO needs, power imbalances across the globe and, even, the desire for new technical skills to problem-solve. The Doha Youth Declaration for the World Humanitarian Summit consultation cited the need for more digital technology training, like the ones noted above. They cited a gap in training for civil society organizations across the globe, but especially in disaster risk areas. The Children and Youth Major Group has set up a working group to investigate implementation of digital training among other suggested outputs. In the months leading up to the summit there will be more reports analysis about innovation and scalability. Most of these are being shared widely via the WHS website or #ReShapeAid hashtag on twitter. But, the parallel system highlighting growth of digital responders can be found via hashtags like #civictech or website like Civicist or Code for All.

Despite the efforts of digital responders in the past five years, there is still also a gap in funding models. The skilled groups create tools, training and techniques which are increasingly invaluable to humanitarian needs. Yet, traditional donors do not consider them a right fit in NGO models, nor are they pure social entrepreneurs who can garner support from VCs or big business. A bright spot is that some NGOs are starting to get digital savvy by hiring data scientists/crisis informatics expertise (NetHope), GIS Professionals (eg. MSF, ARC) as well as software developers and social media curators. Plus there are programmes like Missing Maps that connect official organizations like HOT with MSF, American/British/Dutch Red Cross and CartONG to map the most vulnerable places in the world.

The Future

Community networks are blurred between offline and online. Social Media has become an essential service. People go online during all emergencies seeking information about “What is happening” and are their connections ok. Recently, the attacks in Paris, Beirut and Mali demonstrated that the pace and complexity of UGC is shifting more. The Facebook safety check is a tool that allows users to “check in” as “ok” in a specific affected area. This “check in” alerts individuals within a network. It is a newer feature widely used after the Nepal Earthquake. The surge of support to increase social sharing by key tools was demonstrated by online requests and the subsequent decision by Facebook to include Safety Notifications in conflict areas. After the Paris bombing, Facebook received overwhelming social response to make this feature available for more events across the world. Facebook agreed to open up this feature for more emergencies. There are questions about privacy of the individuals who use these tools during complex times. Data mining is part of Facebook’s revenue model with advertising. Digital Humanitarians are using social media tools for digital forensics to help affected communities and humanitarians. Concerns about who uses this data and for what purpose is ongoing. While the safety check is helpful on the surface, it could potentially put people in harm’s way.

Groupe Speciale Mobile Association (GSMA) reports cite the mobile use growth in the world. By simply overlaying a population map, it is clear that there is a correlation with youth populations. For affected communities and humanitarians alike, social media provides a massive shift in the information flow. New super skills will continue to build on the momentum to obtain and analyze aerial imagery for any digital response. Efforts will also continue to further the computational response by combining machine learning and human computing to parse massive datasets at high speed. It’s incredible to think about what will be possible in the very near future.

Three Challenges

  • At the moment, the vast majority of social media is available via public posts. But with huge growth in private Messaging tools like Whatsapp, how will digital response incorporate data from platforms like this?
  • In times of crisis, data becomes the lifeblood of managing humanitarian operations. But as access to data increases, how will people safeguard the privacy and security of those who need help?
  • What role should the main social platforms play during disasters? Can these social networks work together more closely to coordinate their responses?

2Feb

How Digital Humanitarians Are Closing the Gaps In Worldwide Disaster Response

[Reposted from the Huffington Post, January 28, 2016]

It is now commonplace for people around the world to use social media during emergencies, and the volume of online information coupled with its rapid arrival is becoming increasingly overwhelming to humanitarian organizations. In response, digital humanitarians (individuals who participate in humanitarian relief online) have organized into skilled teams online to decipher the signals from the noise and thus provide accurate data. These teams work in partnership with formal humanitarian organizations using digital forensics, mapmaking, data mining, curation and open dialogue. Communication is now considered a crucial part of aid, and social media is part of this toolset. Even so, privacy, power and access are just some of the complex challenges that digital humanitarians must navigate when using these platforms in their work to help communities in need.

Introduction

Seeking a way to “do something,” more and more people are answering the call to action on social media after each emergency. Digital responders or “digital humanitarians” immediately log on when news breaks about a natural disaster or human-created catastrophe. Individuals and teams “activate” based on skill sets of volunteer and technical communities (VTCs). These digital responders use their time and technical skills, as well as their personal networks in an attempt to help mitigate information overload for formal humanitarian aid in the field. The terms often used to define these contributors in the humanitarian space are remote help, citizen engagement, citizen response, localized community, civil society and global civic technology. Some participants are new to online humanitarian response, but have found a topic or location that drives their passion to get involved.

This surge of action by participants is often just as chaotic as the actual physical emergency response. People are compelled to work, at a dizzying pace, by the fact that many parties involved in first response require valid, urgent and usable data. Focused on the needs of the citizens in affected areas, informal and formal networks collaborate and sometimes collide in an effort to make sense of and identify needs or stories from this user-generated content. With a combination of will and skill, they create updated maps, datasets, information products, and even communities (both online and offline). The global growth of these activities is based on access to information, connectivity and language skills as well as digital literacy levels. These groups are making efforts to become more inclusive while respecting local language, culture and knowledge. The mantra of most digital responders is “support” not “supplant” local citizens, humanitarians and emergency responders.

The role of digital communities in humanitarian response has been well documented in the past few years, from the UN Disaster 2.0 report to the rise of the CrisisMappers Network and beyond. A starting point might be the use of online bulletin boards (BBS) and mailing lists in response to the tsunami in Asia followed by a parallel timeline for most small and large humanitarian and conflict crises since 2004. The tools and volume have changed over time, but the propensity to connect and potentially help occurs after each incident. The fact is that every day there is a local or global emergency happening somewhere (slow onset or immediate), and there is a flood of online communications that follows immediately afterwards. The high volume of news and citizen data saturates online spaces with such speed that accurate reports and priority items can become a blur. This user-generated content (UGC) comes in many forms: texts, photos, aerial and satellite imagery, videos and more. Digital responders learn and refine techniques with each response.

Humanitarian organizations and the citizens they serve are overwhelmed by the speed of change and the onslaught of information. In the five years since the Haiti earthquake, there has been a steady progression of change. Humanitarian groups have sometimes resisted incorporating social media into their information workflows. Often this is due to process changes, a lack of trust, concerns about accuracy and fear of change. People who create user-generated content are often considered outliers and have not yet gained the trust of leaders within official institutions. And having people in affected regions use these tools to help each other or ask for help changes the information flow from one-way to two-way. Humanitarian institutions simply adapt to change at a slower pace. They also have a low capacity to review information outputs and seldom have the funds to incorporate UGC into their processes. Plus, they often do not understand the tools and techniques these online/offline communities use to connect. The conundrum is that UGC and citizens are simply changing faster. As a result, this gap between the two groups is being tested and often fulfilled in new ways.

Across the world there are branded hubs, labs, fellowships, meetings, conferences and research. Governments, international non-governmental organizations (INGOs) and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are all working on various projects. How can these new voices and communities become part of the humanitarian apparatus? From Unicef Innovation to Ihub Nairobi, Kathmandu Living Labs to UN Global Pulse Jakarta, there are many new spaces where solutions have been observed and created. There is a parallel stream with groups like the Code for All community and other civic technology or humanitarian technology/research communities who aim to connect software developers, data scientists and designers to solve hyperlocal issues with official organizations. Code for All has grown from its base in the United States to Japan and beyond. Their goal is to connect local communities and governments with digital technologies and problem solvers for all issues. The intersection of these two movements is inevitable in risk-prone areas.

Digital Response Communities, Their Scope and Effectiveness

The Digital Humanitarian Network consists of many groups, from those that create maps, like Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team, and those who curate social information like Humanity Road and Standby Task Force, to those bridging language skills like Translators without Borders. Digital responders coalesce during an emergency to tackle tasks that can be large or small. For instance, over 2,800 people contributed to the Nepal earthquake response by doing small tasks such as using MicroMappers to make quick decisions about text or images. These curated information insights were used by over 250 organizations to make decisions about various needs for their response, including damage assessments and aid distribution. This example shows that UGC can be created by anyone, but someone still needs to parse the data, find the crucial points and match these items to needs and actions. After reviewing the IP addresses of contributors, Qatar Computing Research Institute observed that the majority of these digital MicroMapper helpers were from northern countries.

For the Nepal earthquake response, over 7,500 people contributed to improve OpenStreetMap in a short span of time. OpenStreetMap is the Wikipedia of maps, creating a large free and open dataset that anyone can use. The Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (a VTC) creates tools and training to support mapping for humanitarian response and economic development. The Nepal Earthquake response was co-lead by the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team and Kathmandu Living Labs. Kathmandu Living Labs, started in 2013, creates local data and map solutions and partnerships for Nepal. They have steadily built a local community of mappers trained to use OpenStreetMap, and they have mapped the country. Over the years, they have also built relationships with a range of local partners, from emergency responders to universities. When the Nepal earthquake struck, they lost their office and a day’s worth of work. Meanwhile, remote digital responders in the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT) community activated. HOT, with the generous support of partners, obtained both pre- and post-disaster satellite imagery to determine the regions of Nepal that might be affected.

While they are informal, these networks are all driven by the common vision of UGC for humanitarian response. Simply put, they move fast and have the initiative to do what is most needful. For example, the OpenStreetMap Japan Foundation community translated the Guide to Mapping Buildings in Nepal from the Kathmandu Living Labs. Thus one former disaster-affected civic technology community activated to aid another, transferring skills and supporting digital needs. No government or formal institution advised that this was required; people simply self-organized based on digital responder knowledge and the desire to help their digital neighbours. While these processes are not yet seamless, the gap between official and informal is closing with each response.

Three Challenges

1. At the moment, the vast majority of social media is available via public posts. But with huge growth in private messaging tools like WhatsApp, how will digital response incorporate data from platforms like this?

2. In times of crisis, data becomes the lifeblood of managing humanitarian operations. But as access to data increases, how will people safeguard the privacy and security of those who need help?

3. What role should the main social platforms play during disasters? Can these social networks work together more closely to coordinate their responses?


This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and The World Economic Forum sharing insights gained from surveying 5,000 digital media users from Brazil, China, Germany, South Africa and the U.S on the impact of digital media on society. The series is developed in conjunction with the Forum’s Shaping the Future Implications of Digital Media for Society project and the Forum’s Impact of Digital Content: Opportunities and Risks of Creating and Sharing Information Online white paper. The series is running during the Forum’s Annual Meeting 2016 (in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland, Jan. 20-23). Read all the posts in the series here.

31Jan

Mini-Project: Open Source in ICT and Humanitarian Response

What is the impact of Open Source in ICT and HFOSS? How can we share our overall story better? Often this larger topic is buried in reports from individual organizations and in delivery of those who produce or consume outputs using Open Source. The “Economic Impact of Open Source on Small Business: A Case Study” (report) from O’Reilly is an example of the type of report this document intends to start writing. A few days ago an article was written “The Revolution will not be Open Source”. This spurred some discussion as to the potential gap in this literature. This topic may well have research literature or reports. Great! Please add these to the bibliography so that we can all share widely.

Open Source hello from Opensource.com

How can we measure the impact of Open Source in this area? Can we collect a common bibliography and showcase these stories better? As a wider community, we can collaboratively share insights, collect data and a bibliography. At the moment, this is just a running shared document, but if there is potential to make this more formal, I would be happy to keep on this important topic flowing with a github account and trello board. (I also think we could remix the the Sunlight and the wider Open Data Community on “Reasons (not) to Release Data” to a framework “Reasons to (Not) use Open Source in ICT/HFOSS.” This might be a side-topic and happy to do another time.)


Add your Comments and Citations here.

(Image Credit: Open Source nametag via OpenSource.com ccby)

21Jan

Scaling Inclusiveness for HumTech

Four months tasked to a large project often means readjusting all kinds of perspectives, lessons learned and new/old ideas. Add to that: the email backlog and reconnecting with people. Wiping up the dust and catching up on tabled research and social innovation programmes comes with the opportunity of walking around with new eyes.

Aingel presenting
(Demo Day, January 18,2016. Photo by Irina Temnikova)

There are many models for accelerators, labs, social entrepreneurs, lean startups and hubs. The debate about whether an accelerator actually helps a business is kind of moot. Each experience is worth it for the team and, hopefully, for the individuals involved. I blame the hours of reading about business models, how to startup and innovation creation. Models, formulas, templates, schemes, and meetings are simply devices for you get something and take something away. The magic comes from us. Our Accelerator team is in review process and next steps planning. And, I am reflecting: how can I apply these experiences to humanitarian technology innovation (humtech)?

Scaling Humanitarian Technology

It is my life’s goal to help people involved in their world with technology. To make this possible, we need step ladders of engagement: to give opportunities for small tasks and big asks. We need plans to tackle the right types of questions and problems. The Qatar Computing Research Institute’s Crisis Computing team is building machine learning and human computing software to enable microtasking databits. We keep studying and improving the software and engagement. Fortunately, our allies at UN OCHA and the Standby Task Force have been core to teaching us how to we can help during large scale emergencies. We use social media, news and aerial imagery data right now. But the opportunity to consume SMS, Messaging and sensor data is huge. Each layer of data informs. True, this all hinges on access to engagement tools and the ability to speak safely. Some day each part might fit, until then, many people in the humanitarian technology fields are working hard to make small differences.

There is no one way to scale a humanitarian project. This piece by Thoughtworks and the work of Humanitarian Innovation Fund explore the question: How to scale innovation and new technology for humanitarian responses?

For the past years, I have looked from these angles:

  • Hackathons, camps, and mini-projects: Random Hacks of Kindness, Space Apps, Crisis Commons, Mozilla Humanitarian Badges
  • Social Entrepreneurship: Ushahidi
  • Non-Profits/Open Source Communities: Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team, Open Knowledge (School of Data), PeaceGeeks, Ushahidi, Standby Task Force, Digital Humanitarian Network
  • Accelerators and hubs: AINGEL/AIDR (QCRI), Ihub Research, Geeks without Bounds
  • Research: QCRI

There are many great ideas that never get traction or support. Today I am asking again: What does implementation look like? I keep reflecting on some of the models and ideas that we had during our Crisis Commons sprints. What if we could collaborate more and make a top ten of things that need to get built then make it happen? What if there is amazing research idea/prototype that needs ‘accelerating’ to scale? How would this happen? I think that the local hubs and accelerators around the world are very much a potential. I also think that the Civic Tech communities are core to results. But how can we include the unusual suspects and the reluctant innovators.

The Humanitarian Innovation Fund is a start, but what are some other ways that techs, researchers and creative people can actually work with practicioners to solve these questions. How can techs and others find these opportunities to contribute? I love the Linked in For Good pages and the work of Code for All, but can we widen the circle?

Share your thoughts? Maybe I will convene an adhoc skype conversation on this topic. Let me know if you would like to join.

19Jan

Thank you, Team Aingel

When an emergency happens, lives and homes are affected. People share images and information via social media. There are more data sources available to provide insights, including aerial imagery. All these data items result in information overload. How can technology help address this question of discoverability of key insights for humanitarians? Qatar Computing Research Institute (QCRI) has been tackling this research project on information curation pipeline for over 3 years. Many bright minds have contributed to the project called Artificial Intelligence for Disaster Response (AIDR) which combines machine learning and human computing.

QSTP DEMO Day

QCRI participated in the Qatar Science & Technology Park Accelerator programme from September 2015 – January 2016. We took the prototype of AIDR and spin up AINGEL, a startup idea. Last night was Demo Day and we are happy to share some thanks and details about the project. As you can imagine, working on a startup idea is a steep curve for entrepreneurs and innovators. For the past 6 years, I have been involved in various types of humanitarian technology projects, so being in a ‘startup’ has been a fascinating learning journey. I’ll write more about this topic in the coming weeks. My colleagues will be sure to share more about the next steps for the startup.

We have many people to thank for their hard work, ideas, support and sheer grit to incept, design, research, and test a product. Add to this going through the process of an Accelerator to deliver a demo and pitch.

Thank you!

AIDR and AINGEL Product Development: Carlos (Chato) Castillo, Muhammad Imran, Patrick Meier, Ji Kim Lucas, Meghna Singh, Koushik Sinha, Latika Bhurani, Kushal Goyal, Sushant Dahiya, Sonu Malpani and Aman Agrawal.

Research, Advisal and Operations: Justine Mackinnon, Jaideep Srivastava. Lokendra Chauhan, Peter Mosur, Ibrahim Soltan, Raymond Filippe and Madj Abbar. Graphics by Jaideep Singh and Video by Farthest Star.

QSTP: Pontus All, Salvino Salvaggio, Mohammed Zebian and Haya Al Ghanim. Also, the PR and Events team.

Thanks as well to all our amazing classmates. Keep changing the world and Qatar with your ideas and startups.

ABOUT AINGEL:

Here is a video of our prototype and our slides:

Next steps

Participation in the Accelerator Programme is only the beginning for AINGEL. The team will definitely keep iterating. Any future inquiries should be directed to qcri.org.qa or lokendra AT gmail.com. And, stay tuned for more posts about humanitarian technology and innovation paths.

9Dec

Delivering, Still Waiting


Harvard Humanitarian Initiative
is hosting a Data and Technology Humanitarian Response Workshop this week. I’m delighted to attend on behalf of Qatar Computing Research Institute. This occasion gives me pause to reflect: Where is humanitarian technology going, what are the gaps, what are the new research questions, what is innovative, what needs remixing, what have we learned and what does implementation look like? Certainly, this burst of questions are not something a blog post can address. But, it is my expectation that smart people are working on these items and syncing up to collaborate is essential.

Humanitarian Innovation: Where is the parallel stream

In October, the World Humanitarian Summit held a Global Consultation in Geneva. There was an Innovation Marketplace with small NGOs, large NGOs, technology companies and Digital Humanitarians. Representing OpenAerialMap (OAM) on behalf of Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team, along with my colleague Nate Smith from Development Seed, I spent the day talking with our fellow presenters and some of the participants. A conference and marketplace/demonstration hall is never fully representative of what is happening globally in the field, but it was a snapshot of a certain view. Humanitarian Innovation Fund had a few of their successful projects demonstrating their work on exciting projects like 3D printing and our OAM (aerial imagery platform). There was a virtual reality space and some demonstrations. Catching up with Bob Marsh from Inveneo lit up this idea that parallel systems matter. I mention these small highlights because there was a distinct gap.

Occupy Your Reality (photo in Padua)

The Innovation Marketplace was not enough to actually represent or connect people doing true innovation in the field, including Humanitarian technology. Early summaries from the WHS cite more localized support and even digital training (the WHS Youth agenda). Where will the real work happen to 1. identify which innovations (specifically humanitarian technology) that need to be supported 2. build a plan to implement them. This is still super unclear for me. Innovators don’t wait for conferences or research papers to deliver. Sure, there is a keen eye on the high level conversations and a hope that there will be increased support for the various streams of activities. Negotiations will happen. People will write more reports. Yet, the world keeps turning. Simply put: some of the priorities, activities and innovations cannot wait for large NGOs and the UN to get on board. It is the hallways and community centers in small local spaces that will really do the shining.

If the observations and suggestions truly mean to deliver, it needs more strong support from business, NGOs, donors and you. Sitting in Geneva made me again realize that we need stronger parallel systems to succeed. We need a humanitarian technology roadmap. It would help to have local, multi-lingual side events online and in person focused on doing instead of more writing more reports. If we are really going to ReShapeAid, then it is time to dig in and build some true lightweight infrastructure to actually implement things that are needed. There are many activity streams which are truly critical with Transforming through Innovation is one small corner, but it is the corner I know well. Technology is not always the answer. But people use the internet, they create things and use their mobile phones. We need to reclaim “innovation” and “disruptive innovation“. In all the reports, bylines and marketing campaigns, it has gotten buried as a punchline rather than true grit. As Panathea Lee pointed out with User Centered Design, we need to be careful to not lose track of implementation and delivery.

Some of the research and implementation areas that I am excited about include: mobile (messaging), imagery (aerial, satellite), translation, citizen participation, edtech, citizen science, web of things, civic technology, open hardware, blockchain, and, of course, location. There are pockets of amazing innovation and technology coming from the UN and other organizations. But, we can do more with collaborative spaces. There is much to learn from the Open Source and Agile Startup models to really knock it out of the park on humtech (humanitarian technology). I am not stating that we hackathon our way to change, but the chasm between the technology communities, affected communities and humanitarians needs some strong coordinated planning and more delivering. How can we get more technology companies supporting the growth of humanitarian technology? If the humanitarian spaces and research institutes are slower, what are other ways to get things moving?

Example: Digital Technology & Digital Humanitarians (Responders)

Digital, volunteer/technology communities and civic technology communities are consistently delivering during emergencies. Some recent efforts include the Nepal earthquake, collaboration on the Ebola response and now the refugee crisis. There were many efforts that shine in this space of digital participation and response, but to name a bias few: Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team, Standby Task Force, Missing Maps, NetHope (Tableau collaboration), PeaceGeeks (Service Advisor) and Kathmandu Living Labs.

Impact examples:

There are many more articles, reports, research articles and the like on the impact of digital humanitarians. However, what is missing is the bridge between proof of concept and real concrete sustainable support.

For the past 5 years, many digital humanitarians/digital responders have worked/volunteered alongside humanitarians and the NGO machine. Truly it is a gift that all these people volunteer their time, energy and skills to assist on the information overload and citizen engagement gaps that new technology like social media opens. Reading all the World Humanitarian Summit reports on the goals, needs and suggestions, I keep asking the question around Humanitarian Innovations – What will implementation look like?

We are not looking for a free ride, but what is going to take to open this door?

Volunteer and Technical Organizations have proven their impact and considered essential to the humanitarian information workflow. Some of those organizations setup small NGOs to support the large volunteer bases with lightweight documentation, staff and servers. The collaborative spaces are organically growing. Civic technology communities globally are connecting inside the digital humanitarian communities. One of my favourite examples was the support from the Japanese civic technology community of the Nepal civic technology community after the Nepal Earthquake. The Nepal OpenStreetMap guide for identifying buildings was translated into Japanese to support remote mapping efforts.

Considering the small corner of potential that humanitarian technology can deliver for affected communities and humanitarians, it is time to rethink how we can collaborate using the best of minds, best of technology and some sheer grit. We need spaces like the Digital Humanitarian Network in many parts of the world with local language, local knowledge and local culture. While digital humanitarians is one example, there are many other humanitarian innovations that do not get the financial support they need to really succeed. The donor model is set up for traditional NGOs. Some of these digital organizations don’t completely qualify as social technology companies/social entrepreneur startups. Fortunately, there are some bright spots like the Humanitarian Innovation Fund or the various NGO supported Hubs/Labs that are supporting some local humanitarian technology. But how do we get more concentrated humtech accelerators and donors for bright innovations? If digital humanitarians are not NGOs and not social entrepreneurship businesses, what is the long term sustainability?

[Disclosure: I am on the Board for Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team and PeaceGeeks. Previously, I worked at Open Knowledge and Ushahidi. For Crisis Commons in 2010, I did a short research project about the innovation community. And, I am part of the event team at CrisisMappers. Currently I work at Qatar Computing Research Institute]

24Nov

Mapmaking for Good in Qatar

Maps are critical for logistics in humanitarian response. We are excited to invite you to the second Digital Humanitarians in Qatar event on Sunday, November 29, 2015. In this session, we will talk about the power of maps and location data using examples from various Humanitarian Emergencies. We will introduce you some basic components of mapping share how you can even add social media data to maps. Qatar Computing Research and Qatar Red Crescent are co-hosts of this event. Our special guest is Sajjad Anwar of Mapbox and the OpenStreetMap community.

To learn more and register, click here Event is Sunday, November 29, 2015.

map of qatar

Event Details

Dates and times: November 29, 2015 16:30 – 18:30pm AST
Location: Qatar Red Crescent Headquarters, 1st floor, Al Salata (Doha)
(Parking is near the old Movenpick Hotel)

Digital Humanitarians and CrisisMapping Agenda
  • How Qatar Red Crescent uses Maps – Qatar Red Crescent
  • Introduction to Map tools and Remote Mapping – Heather Leson, QCRI
  • Overview of Mapbox and OSM – Sajjad Anwar, Mapbox
  • Introduction to MicroMappers and Leaflet – Ji Lucas, QCRI
  • Map exercises (in Arabic and English)

QRC-QCRI Co Branded Logo

16Nov

Crisis Communications Shifted – How will you adapt?

Did you feel a shift in global Crisis Communications this week? How is your organization, community and country preparing for how citizens receive and use emergency messages? People will use what they know and on platforms with their trusted networks. For 1 billion people, this may very well be Facebook with their Safety Check Feature. Facebook has some policies to refine, a plan for SMS outbound messages/Messaging systems and some good will to build with responsible data. All in good time. I’m sure they are on the case now. But, in general, we need to think globally. What are the trusted platforms/communications methods in which areas of the world and what does this mean for crisis communications?

Living in Qatar has been an experience in reconsidering the “majority” world use of communications. As noted in my Report from the Qatar Red Crescent Disaster Management Camp, participants used social media but WhatsApp was their primary tool. I’m part of the Social Computing team at Qatar Computing Research Institute. We are researching to use machine learning and human computing during humanitarian emergencies. This is currently using Twitter data, but in Qatar, Twitter is the less prominent tool for interactions. The Northwestern report on MENA Media Use 2015 really highlights these differences. Emergency managers are still trying to adapt to Social Media incorporated into their workflows. How will the next stage of online communications change emergency response?

Think Again: Tech and Media Outlook 2016 (Michael Wolf)

Last week Michael Wolf shared this comprehensive analysis on the future of communications and media. Planning means seeing these changes and adapting your global and local crisis communications strategies. For example, Michael Wolf notes in his presentation, Messaging will surpass online communications by 2018. Facebook has a partial corner on this market with WhatsApp:

Activate Michael Wolf on Messaging
(Slides 16 – 17)

Perhaps this is where Digital Humanitarians can help with training in local communities to be “CERT” for online help. One idea I’ve been considering is a Digital Humanitarian programme of Online Messaging Ambassadors existed in civic technology spaces around the world (Labs, hubs, technical spaces and coworking spaces). One thing is for certain, the shift means that planning is needed. From a research point of view, we simply don’t have visibility into how people use Messaging for response. We have qualitative examples, but with a closed system (rightfully so), it is hard to make conclusions on use and effectiveness.

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