31Jul

Is there a Civic Tech Community in Qatar?

The Code for All Summit is in full swing in NYC this weekend. Civic technology friends and allies are meeting to brainstorm and create. Inspiring. Since I moved to Doha, I’ve been contemplating the role of citizen engagement, open source, digital humanitarianism and civic tech within Qatar. Qatar Computing Research Institute has a mandate to support the Qatar Foundation mission of a knowledge economy. Some of the programs I am creating include fostering and investigating social computing and ‘civic tech’ within the research ecosystem. In order to do this, I spent months as a participant observer asking myself: Is there a civic tech community in Doha? What exists and what is needed? If yes, what can I do to foster it?

web speaker by Mazil (Noun project) noun_108827_cc

Participating in local technology community found allies like Qatar Living, Doha Tweetups, Qatar Mobility Innovation Center (QMIC), Mada Qatar (Qatar Assistive Technology Cente) I Love Qatar, or the Google Developer Group. We have Drupal and Creative Commons meetups. There are entrepreneur spaces like ictQatar (Digital Incubation Center), Qatar Business Innovation Center and Qatar Science and Technology Park.
Some recent examples of Civic Tech like activities include:Media in Canvas – Al Jazeera and Challenge 22 . People are creating technology that could be deemed civic tech-like. But what of a Civic Tech Community?

Qatar is a relationship-based culture. There is a wealth of civic tech items to tackle: everything from lack of decent city maps, accessibility, traffic/pedestrian navigation and environmental issues. There are the beginnings of local engagement programmes like Tamm Volunteer Network:

Tamm, which means “consider it done” in Arabic, brings together the currently existing volunteer programs and initiatives in Qatar into one comprehensive online database. Through the Tamm portal (www.tamm.qa), young people can search for the volunteer opportunities of most interest to them, understand what they can expect from their volunteer experience, and learn about the many benefits that can be gained through volunteering.

During the Eid break, I enjoyed reading some new civic tech books: A Lever and Place to Stand: How Civic Tech can Move the World and The Internet is my Religion. Plus, I finally read the seminal book Startup Rising: The Entrepreneurial Revolution Remaking the Middle East. Each of these provide some insight in how to analyze and inspire civic technology. In the coming weeks, I will write more about what I think is happening in Doha and whether it fits into the ‘civic tech’ models. Thankfully Micah Sifry’s chapter“In Search of a Common Language” has some interesting methodology for this type of analysis.

Local techies that I meet speak warmly about how these social and civic tech events inspired them to solve real citizen issues. I believe that my mandate to foster social innovation research in Qatar starts with writing these types of bright spots.

29Jul

Teaching Global Goals

Summer is in full swing in the northern hemisphere. Some of us are building lesson and program plans for the fall season. Perhaps you are starting to think about your own: “Back to School” mantra. This means priorities, activities, goals and objectives. Well, you are not alone. The United Nations will convene to review the Sustainable Development Goals(SDGs). The new goals will replace the Millennial Development Goals (MDGs) with the aim to reach more people with impact.

global goals

The UN Foundation is in Doha this week hosting a media training event for reporters from around the world. The goal is to encourage hyper-local storytelling focused on the SDGs. If the SDGs are going to really reach people, then media needs to be informed and included in the journey. It was great that Ooredoo is one of the hosts.

Aaron Sherinian and UN Foundation


So, as you plan your social good activities, take a moment to consider how you will action the SDGs? How will you activate these stories as digital humanitarians? And, how will you teach people in your communities? How will it influence your programmes? It really starts with us.

Sidenote: How did I not know about the Global Daily before? Seriously, news that matters.

http://globaldaily.com/

But the UN is leaving no teaching unturned. In fact, they also are targeting children with the great big lesson.

28Jul

Matter – A Reflection on Volunteering

Motivation and matter: topics that drive me. (I’ve written about Heart and Fractual Matter before.) At Qatar Computing Research Institute, I’m creating programs to make it easier for MENA, GCC and Qatari folks to get involved in Digital Volunteering. The World Humanitarian Youth Summit is coming to Doha, so opportunity is knocking. I’ve also been thinking more about sustainable care-taking of “matter-ness” within the digital communities.

Volunteer motivation reasons frequently narrow down to “Matter” or “Inspired” or “Do Something” or “Knowing I can do something“. Today I got the “matter shivers” again. Tracy Glenn of SIDRA spoke at the Humanitarians of SIDRA event. Sidra is a Doha-based Medical and Research Center.

humanitarians of sidra

Tracy volunteered as a nurse in a Post Anesthesia Care Unit (PACU) in Rwanda and Palestine. During her time, she assessed and made recommendations to improve processes in the PACU. Her talk incorporated stories and photos from her experience in Jenin (Palestine) with the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund. Helping the vulnerable and train local capacity is a gift. Her honest integrity showed in every sentence and photo. By telling little snippets of life in the medical facility, she gave us a window in the healthcare needs in Jenin and the lives of the people she served. Listening to Tracy reminded me of all the other humanitarians in my life who have shared such heartfelt inspiration to volunteer with their skills. I hope that you get hear all their stories more. Healthcare professionals truly have this hardwired in their processes and networks. What can we learn from them? I certainly learned today from Tracy. (Thank you).

********

We’re all here coz we care

Jemilah Mahmoud on WHSummit (July 28, 2015)

Returning to my desk, I started to reflect on how to sustain motivation in a healthy way. As Digital Humanitarians, we go through phases of on/off. With every large response, I am seeing the wear on digital volunteers. Some of the people who gave their digital skills during the Haiti or Christchurch response contacted me just after the Nepal Earthquake and said sorry that they took a break but were ready to do something. Warmly I told each person how happy I was to hear from them.

We are so connected but disconnected some times in how we talk about volunteering. Every interaction is a gift. The human-ness of giving and volunteering is beautiful. We need to keep walking forward in cycles of sustainable patterns. And, when I say sustainable patterns, I mean – our own pace, taking care of ourselves, those we love and those who are allies. The saturation of energy during a response often takes weeks to months to recoup the cicada rhythms of spirit. Each digital organization needs this in their fabric.

The World Humanitarian Summit tweets via #ReShapeAid are a daily read for me. I try to read all the reports. And, I have had the pleasure to review and add some comments on how digital training needs to be part of the youth engagement strategy. But as we build programs and software to really ACTION the feedback of #ReShapeAid, how can we keep that pure sense of “motivation” and “matter” without burning out people. The intense purpose needs sunshine and a hug. I’m not trying to make light of the real focus we need to have. But with joy, the spaces (online and offline) that we create need to have human check-ins and keep humanity. This means inclusive, respectful, locally driven and with a spirit of “Matter” that does not crush the spirit or the action required. I think that digital spaces need to #Reshape too.

***

Dr. Mahmoud’s comment above on the same day as Tracy’s talk got me thinking. There are videos, photos and audio clips all around the internet. Many organizations have this as part of their use case narrative. But, what if there was a massive aggregator of videos, audio and photos on Why Humanitarian Volunteering Matters? Maybe we should start creating these items in all our digital spaces to honour the upcoming
World Humanitarian Day on August 19th this year.

18Jul

Visualizing flux: Time travel, torque, and temporal maps

[Cross-posted from Opensource.com. The original article was published July 17, 2015 as part of the OSCON Interview Series.]

Mapping communities in the open source space are growing as more and more people use maps for business and social change. Leaders like Aure Moser are providing spaces for people to learn and be inspired. Prior to her OSCON session and in the middle of a busy travel schedule, she shared some insights into the communities and her experiences.Aure Moser

Aure is a developer and curious cartographer building communities around code at CartoDB. Her background blends science and scripting, and includes a cocktail of conservation chemistry, eco-enthusiasm, education, and egalitarian tech activism.

Previously of Ushahidi and Internews Kenya, she’s been working in the open tech and nonprofit journalism space for a few years, and recent projects have had her working with mapping sensor data to support agricultural security and sustainable apis ecosystems in the Global South.

Q & A


You’re an active member of the OpenStreetMap Community, most recently volunteering at the State of the Map US 2015. What inspires you about this project?

I love OpenStreetMap, and am a happy recipient of a scholarship to speak at State of the Map in Buenos Aires (2014). It is the democratization of information that the OSM community embodies, and as a former librarian I have always loved the idea of open source web architects as intellectual social workers. We have such a beautiful opportunity as software engineers to learn from the iterative requirements and pace of open source and open data initiatives, and crowdsourced efforts to break from the exclusivity of proprietary platforms have a special place in my heart.

CartoDB has been a great support of open source, open data and open mapping. Can you share some examples about how you and your team incorporate this into your work?

Open source is so important to our mission to make maps more accessible, and it’s been essential for our stack development as we progressively learn from community requests and contributions. Our software is engineered for ease-of-use, and our GUI Editor interface is an effort to make mapping projects more accessible to non-GIS experts. Everyone should be able to map found, open, and personal data, easily. At the same time, we have almost all of the functionality accessibility in our editor, available via our open source libraries and APIs. We have Carto.js for making maps, Torque.js for time-series data mapping, Odyssey.js for building chapterized narratives on maps, Vecnik.js for vector rendering, as well as our Import, Map, and SQL APIs to facilitate easy and open map-building in code.

As part of the Community Team at CartoDB, I’m also pretty passionate about our education and outreach initiatives beyond just the open libraries and APIs. Giving talks and workshops on our software has encouraged us to build remote learning opportunities for our users, so we host webinars and themed workshops to support our community. The Map Academy is a series of online lessons in all aspects of mapping (not restricted solely to the use of our software) that we maintain to help mapmakers learn about Javascript, PostgreSQL, PostGIS functions, and the mechanics of map design. Likewise, we document and publish our workshops and talks on a public mini-site that we invite our community of educators and active users to contribute to in the course of their curriculum development.

When you were with Ushahidi, you spent time in Kenya. Building map projects and training in the Global South has some incredible stories and insights. It would be great to hear what you learned about the open source communities working there. And if you can, provide some examples of mapping projects in the Global South.

The level of creativity and resourcefulness in developing technology with profound infrastructural challenges was incredibly impressive and inspiring throughout iHub (Kenya) and in other locations. There can be a general insensitivity to the persistent challenges that people face when technologists provide open source products that only operate under optimal conditions and high-bandwidth communities. Working within other cultures and under the creative constraints of poor connectivity or strained infrastructure makes you think about how limited the value of your product is when it fails in the face of easy deployment and reuse globally. Those experiences were valuable to challenging my assumptions of digital literacy, and my flexibility in designing products of greater utility. I really benefited from exposure to Ushahidi’s team, and the network of subcommunities that their products have engendered. I’ve always been impressed by what Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team and humanitarian teams globally were able to accomplish via crowdsourced efforts.

Having left Ushahidi, I’m still pretty involved with similar groups and had the opportunity to work with many journalists, especially at Internews-Kenya, on developing independent mapping projects. At Internews, I had the chance to collaborate on a map-interactive piece with Eva Constantaras and InfoAmazonia to explore narratives around mapping extractive industry in Kenya, called LandQuest. The project uses Jeo, a WordPress theme developed by InfoAmazonia out of Brazil, to make map mashups with blog-style publishing platforms, and the theming flexibility is pretty sweet. I’m also on the advisory board for an amazing group of technologists building toolkits for activists in the Global South called Beautiful Rising; among other resources, we support civic hacking and mapping projects to empower community builders and journalists.


How do you see the industry evolving over the next few years?

I think it’s safe to say that we will progressively collapse the distance between ourselves and our devices so “wearable” and “Internet of Things” futures are possible. I would say that we’re in a strange intermediary technology period now, where we’re pretty persistently developing products as an industry that provide a liaison to the future with a foothold in the past. In the same way that DVD/VCR combos were a short-lived intermediary before the obsolescence of the VHS player, we’re prototyping a lot of digital prosthetics that do things like put glasses on people who don’t need them or provide technical crutches to people otherwise unimpaired. I think there’s a great future in wearables and more fusion of physical technologies with software projects and dynamic mapping, and I’m pretty excited about it.

Since your talk is about time travel, where and when in time would you travel if you could?

Oh wow, such a great yet impossible question. There are a lot of historical events that I would naturally love to have witnessed if only for the Doctor Who/Quantum Leap opportunity to define what actually happened. I guess the less inventive and more egoistic part of me would love to have a Christmas Carol experience where I revisit or project potential outcomes in the Many Worlds possibilities of my future. So I’m pretty happy where I am, way beyond where I could be.

5Jul

Henna, Crafts and Art @ ECUnited Bazaar (Doha)

Imagine this world if we all lent a hand. EC United, a student collective from a number of the Education City (Qatar), is hosting a Bazaar on July 10th in Katara. All proceeds will go to the Qatar Red Crescent’s Nepal Response.

EC United hosts a number of fundraisers and events in support of humanitarian efforts. They started after the Haiti earthquake and tend to focus on sustainability and recovery efforts. It is great to see university students engaged in their world. They are our future of aid. With the World Humanitarian Youth Summit coming to Doha in September, Doha residents will be hearing more about how young people really make a difference.

EC United CharityBazaar_Ad

As a Digital Humanitarian, it is always heartwarming to meet other volunteers in person. The spirit and drive to make a difference in the lives of those around us is a gift. I hope that you will join me in supporting their initiative for a good cause.

2Jul

Your Next Job could be with QCRI’s Social Computing team

Feeding curiosity and delivering excellence is of utmost importance at Qatar Computing Research Institute. With top research scientists, software engineers and program technologists, QCRI has the pulse of an entrepreneurship environment with the heart of scientific rigor. Computer vision, UAV image processing, social media analysis, wearables, big data and cybersecurity are just some of the topics that teams tackle.

2015 LOGO QF-QCRI

We’re hiring for multiple positions across: Social Computing, Data Analytics, CyberSecurity, Arabic Language Technologies, Distributed Systems, and Computational Science and Engineering.

Start your future here.

Definitely Social

In November 2014, I joined the Social Computing team. It has been a fast paced adventure to learn about all the research projects and formulate programs to foster Social Innovation in Qatar. Often I joke that my role is to add baking soda to research. The opportunity to connect research, entrepreneurship and technology for social good feeds my mind and soul. We are seeking research scientists, software engineers and even post-doctoral students to maintain our momentum. I’ve added two active descriptions. Won’t you join us? Please do ask me questions. And, share with your networks.


Social Computing group researches and builds programmes for: (1) mining social media for sociopolitical, cultural, and behavioral patterns, (2) social media intelligence for news and (3) extracting timely and credible information from social media for crisis response. We incorporate the cross-cutting Social Innovation initiatives which includes research and programmes on resilient cities, humanitarian software, digital humanitarians and youth engagement.

Active Social Computing Roles

Research Scientist

The Principal Scientist is a senior departmental leader within QCRI who is responsible for leading and conducting scientific research work. The Principal Scientist will have primary responsibility for defining the methodology for conducting research and for evaluating research results in order to ensure the highest standards of practice and research quality, while aligning research activities with QCRI’s mission and vision. The Principal Scientist will also possess a strong background in computational social science, behavior mining, visualization, text mining, data mining, machine learning, data management, or information retrieval.

Software Engineer

Experience in the development of data-intensive applications involving the processing of large datasets is required.

Experience dealing with blogs/micro-blogs and other user generated contents is required.
Fluency in Java and at least one scripting language (e.g. Perl, PHP, Ruby or Python) is required.
Familiarity with data mining and/or data warehousing, technologies, a plus.
Relational database experience required, MySQL a plus.
NoSQL database experience required, Redis or Cassandra, a plus.
Experience applying Machine Learning or Natural Language Processing methods, a plus.
Strong communication and collaboration skills; must be fluent in English.

Rank and compensation will be commensurate with experience. Please apply via the QCRI website.

27May

Your Neighbour is Mapping

It has been a month since the Nepal Earthquake occurred and the digital humanitarian response has somewhat slowed. We remain mindful of the lives lost and potential long recovery period. As with every emergency now, global civic tech and mapper communities connect. In this case, our friends and colleagues at Kathmandu Living Labs were at the centre. This was the largest collective response as of yet. Time and analysis will tell us how effective we were and inform the next stages. The number of contributors across organizations with diverse skillsets/offerings ranged from 40,000 with Tomnod, 2800 with MicroMappers with leaders Standby Task Force (Over 170) and over 6000 with Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team. We were inspired by the tremendous leadership of Kathmandu Living Labs(KLL) who together with partners like Humanity Road deployed of the most successful Ushahidi deployments for crisis response. KLL also co-lead the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team activation.

It is increasingly evident that the response changed Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team’s (HOT) community. Now that some of us have had some time to rest and reflect, it is only fitting to host a session at State of the Map US on “Your Neighbour is Mapping“. How can we learn and foster civic tech like OpenStreetMap around the world, especially building on the lessons from the Nepal response? And, while we think big, consider neighbourhoods and regions that could be foster the civic tech spirit of OpenStreetMap in their own language, culture and traditions. Add to a discussion how to diminish the mapper gender divide.

State of the Map – US Tickets are going fast (Get yours by June 1st, 2015).

State of the Map – United States – Join us!

State of the Map – US, organized by the OpenStreetMap US team, will be held at the United Nations. There are many sessions about the wider OpenStreetMap community, technology and use cases. HOT members and community contributors will also be leading a number of conversations. Leaders include Dale Kunce, Kate Chapman, Mikel Maron and John Crowley to name a few. We are also planning on hosting a Birds of a Feather (informal chat) about HOT and the community.

Map icon

Together with Ivan Gayton of Medicine Sans Frontieres (MSF) I will be co-hosting a session. We want to spark a conversation on how we think OpenStreetMap’s community can get to the next 1 Million people. Both of us will ask: “what does implementation look like?” (even with the hard questions) There are many OSM and HOT projects around the world each with their own networks and activities. Drawing on his Missing Maps experience, Ivan will cite his lessons from hosting Missing Mapathons and field work in the Democratic Republic of Congo. (Missing Maps is a partnership between HOT, MSF and American Red Cross). As a HOT Board member for the past 3 years, I’ve been engaged in many community maturity and community growth conversations. We need to keep building on this. With some many contributors, how can we improve their experience and keep them engaged? To me, OpenStreetMap changed with the Nepal response. HOT changed. This a great thing. Now, how do we learn and pivot?

Elasticity means Local leads Global

Mapathons from Japan, Brazil, US, to Germany, local leaders in Nepal, and over 6000 contributors globally mapping using pre- and post-disaster imagery were just some of the community highlights from the Nepal response. Add to that all the guides on how to map everything from heliopads to Displaced Persons Camps and very detailed discussions about process, validation, imagery analysis and best practices for onboarding new mappers. HOT has always been an accordion growing for large activations and staying the course for longer term projects. We have learned so much about what we need to be more sustainable. This means everything from better training, software improvements, community microgrants, mentorship, and community development. But the biggest reminder is what makes HOT so special: yet again the local community, in this case, Nepal truly lead and taught the global ‘surge’ support what was needed while collaborating with official humanitarians.

We need to foster local OSM communities and civic tech hubs like Kathmandu Living Labs or HOT Indonesia. And, in doing so, recognize that we have so much to learn and share about global collaboration. It is my theory that much like the open data movement, these large pockets of OSM will alter the fabric to make it truly global. There were some moments during the Nepal Response when I would open my email and gasp with pride at the sheer collaborative generousity of people trying to map for good. The earnest spirit and drive to deliver the best maps to support humanitarians is what drives me to support HOT as their President. So, funders, (warmly) get ready for some phone calls. We need help to keep the momentum. And that we see how the lists of items that the new and long-standing contributors provided deserves consideration.

*******

OpenStreetMap in Qatar

I live in Doha, Qatar. When I moved here I researched the state of “open communities” and made some contacts. Some allies include QMIC, AL Jazeera, IctQatar, Qatar Living and Mada Qatar. At Qatar Computing Research Institute, we also use and create open source software, including OSM. The crux of the issue is that Doha is changing everyday and maps are quickly out of date. But, if there was a strong OSM community then this could be tackled. Countless times trying to explain location with faulty GPS or building names teaches me daily on the true need for OSM to grow here. There are people who want to build businesses on top of the base layer. They want the skills. Some immediate goals are to translate LearnOSM.org needs to be in arabic and begin hosting mapping parties. The good news is that I have located a small map cohort. Come September, we will host Maptime Meetings. Now, Doha does not need HOT for ‘economic development’ like other regions of the world, but Doha’s OSM mapping community will benefit from HOT tools and best practices.

(Map icon: by Mister-Pixel from Noun-Project)

27May

Doha brewing Smart City activities

Driving into the Qatar Science and Technology Park (QSTP), one is struck with the sweeping architecture reflecting a fast-paced ambition to evolve. There are moments in Doha where you can see the future. Places like QSTP very much demonstrate the active efforts of many to change a city and country. It is only fitting that such a place would host the Smart Cities: Dreams to Reality Tech Talk.

Smart Cities TechTalk panel May252015

(Photo: Dr.Thomas Groegler, Waleed Al Saadi, Mansoor Al-Khater and Abdulaziz Ahmed Al-Khal)

The event opened with Mansoor Al-Khater: Chief Strategy Officer of Ooredoo Qatar (a national telco) asking: How can use the huge amount of data to push economic development? Building on his wide-angle lens vision of Smart Cities, he set that tone outlining the potential of smart city technologies. Examples included using smart city technology to change traffic flows to divert from accidents/volume or notify citizens in case of emergencies. But, he emphasized that Smart cities are not just about the technology. It is a shift in culture and how we interact with our cities.

Mr. Abdulaziz Ahmed Al-Khal, Chief Commercial Officer at Qatar Mobility Innovations Center (QMIC) highlighted some points about why smart cities will matter to the citizens. He asked us how startups can spark from organic ideas to full technical platforms. QMIC is a partner of Qatar Computing Research Institute. In my time at QCRI, I’ve had a chance to meet a number of the staff and review their platforms. There are over 300 sensors on the various streets and roads around Doha. These sensors stream to real-time maps and provide large data insights into traffic flow. This is one of the growing issues as the city population expands faster than the infrastructure build. While QMIC is seeking to build businesses and foster data-driven startups, QCRI is along on this journey to use our data analytics brainpower and ponder how social computing (how humans interact and provide data via social media.).

Doha is a mix of old city and new city, but Qatar is building Lusail from scratch as a Smart City. This is really a long tail plan. You can read about it on the Lusail website. Having driven by this city, I really am more curious now the city in the making will evolve. Engineer Waleed Al Saadi invited people to explore the Lusail progress. I’ll add it to the list right after visiting the Msherieb enrichment centre. This part of Doha is set to be the most wired and sustainable area.

Lastly Dr. Thomas Groegler, Head of the Innovation Center of Siemens, reminded us that with all this technology and dreaming, we need to deeply consider and address how the smart city work will increase the digital divide, improve or decrease accessibility and, most importantly, effect all parts of physical and digital security. Points taken. Truly, it is with these realities that we must be mindful of our decisions and engage citizens.

How does this relate to our work at QCRI?

At QCRI Social Computing, we have two research and development streams that directly intersect with smart city activities: Social Media in Disaster and Resilient Cities. It is exciting to consider how our work can support and measure the national goals. As a digital humanitarian, I see how a network of Digital Qatar could support this emergency chart. While the formal organizations will use sensors and SMS, there is still a need to consider how social media in Qatar would be used during an emergency. This is about preparedness and an engaged citizenery.
Ooredoo on Smart City Emergency Response

Doha has a way to go to improve as we journey down the Smart City Path. Listed as #41 on the Sustainable City Index, there are standards and programmes to build to engage citizens in what they need from their city as well to foster the brightest entrepreneurs to use data to grow businesses to support the needs of various communities. Smart City Doha needs to keep building a civic tech community. There are pockets of amazing social entrepreneurship and technology groups. These just need to be activated more.

20May

Advanced Research and Technology from WGET: ICT Humanitarian Innovation Forum

What are some of the research opportunities in Humanitarian Innovation? What are some of the “bright spots” to advance technology (new or existing)? The Working Group for Emergency Telecommunications (WGET) – ICT Humanitarian Innovation Forum was held in Dubai on April 29 – 30, 2015. While I curated the session, I was unable to attend at the last minute. Colleagues Larissa Fast and Rakesh Bharania kindly lead the interactive workshop about Communicating with Affected Communities. The WGET audience is a mix of technology companies, humanitarians, researchers and governmental (INGO, NGO, national and international) experts. This unique forum provided a chance to really drive conversations across disciplines.

WGET Session Description

Disaster-affected communities are increasingly the source of the “Big Data” that gets generated during disasters. Making sense of this flash flood of information is proving an impossible challenge for traditional humanitarian organizations. What are the next generation needs for actionable research and software in the fields of Social Data, Predictives and New Technology for Humanitarian response, especially focused on communicating with communities? This session will highlight the lessons learned from the Field while engaging participants in small group feedback sessions. Participants will be asked to discuss key topics such as research needs, opportunities and barriers. Suggestions will be documented and serve as an output from the workshop.

ABOUT WGET

UN OCHA created this Storify: Unveiling Digital Aid at the 2015 WGET
Find the WGETForum on Twitter
See the WGET website

WGET  Session

What are some of the opportunities, barriers and research needs to advance technology use for Humanitarian response?

Many of these answers are fairly common for any project: development and humanitarian. I am struck by the missing ‘step ladder’ to solutions. With the World Humanitarian Summit coming, will there be some technical meetings to brainstorm on ‘what does success look like’? Some of the work at Qatar Computing Research Institute, School of Data, Responsible Data Forum, Brck and various social entrepreneurs are tackling these issues. Are these tools and techniques reaching the right people?

I’ve taken the liberty to highlight the key points. The session format provided ‘headline’ topics. While these lists are missing some of the conversational context, it is our hope that it gives you a window into some of the knowledge shared. The next steps are truly up to all of us.

Some of the barriers cited for advancing use of technology include:
  • How they can operate best where countries declare an emergency. When a country says it does not have an emergency, it prevents from responding.
  • Lack of clear problem statement—lack of social data but we don’t know how more of it would solve a problem.
  • Predictive models need to be adaptive to be effective, which increases complexity
  • Funding, Costs
  • Restrictive government policies
  • Regulation/policy
  • No coordination of efforts
  • Trust (between organizations and people to organizations)
  • Decision-making triggers/timelines
  • Variety of platforms – trusted?
  • Connectivity
  • Disrupted networks in disasters, lack of real-time data
  • Energy infrastructure, energy resources, energy/electricity competencies
  • Duplication of efforts
  • Veracity of information
  • Risk of information to the organization
  • Reliability of data
  • Data protection,Data expiration
  • Do we want to use social data? What’s the point?
  • High noise-to-signal ratio
  • No one person(s) who across all organizations is collecting data and knowledge of all going on
  • Knowing information gaps and what is being collected and not
Opportunities in research and advancing technology:
  • Everyone is trying to solve this problem… need a forum where we can share
  • Financing mechanisms based on predictive data/forecast
  • Social media; good platform if we are able to use it properly.
  • Provide insight into an issue
  • Create awareness
  • Feedback mechanisms to better adapt humanitarian response to needs
  • Integration of public social media awareness for self-filtering (?) into preparedness campaigns
  • Move towards demand-driven assistance, especially in acute phase of relief
  • How can we evaluate effectiveness of our interventions.
  • Enhance decision-making
  • Mechanism/triggers for decisions
  • Common tools, analysis to collect intelligence from a variety of platforms
  • Base applications on HXL so that they can be aggregated (?), exchanged, consolidated
  • Share initiatives – communicate to all others so no duplication and extra effort
  • Crisis signal – see areas with coverage of phones etc. Provides useful info
  • To use the new social related applications which we are well known to send live videos of cases that required immediate action (e.g., Snapchat)
  • Using the UAVs to send live videos to people in charge of the humanitarian response
  • Pooling/sharing resources, risk, skills/analysis
  • Provide through experiments
  • Narrative to show need/value, lives saved/lost (feedback (positive/negative)
  • Provision better programmes by reacting to real time data
  • Evaluating effectiveness of our interventions real time
Some Brainstormed ideas:
  • Research: study on impact of tech on community resilience (net effect)
  • Create a humanitarian open-source community to develop tools based on social data
  • Accountability of quality
  • Insecurity of shared information
  • Escalation of information
  • Adaptive, real-time predictive models
  • Integrated social media filters for preparedness programs
  • ICT tech: problem statement, expertise in house (analysis, security), + tools
  • Data transfer agreement
  • Clearing and monitoring mechanisms for social data to make it trustworthy
  • Keep in mind the ethical considerations of ICT use in humanitarian
  • To allow models/analysis and define the way data can be used across agencies or specifically across the cluster

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Thanks to UN OCHA (Patrick and Amanda) for supporting this session, Larissa and Rakesh for hosting in my stead, and Olly Parsons of GSMA for some great notes. And, thanks to all the participants for driving the conversations.

18May

Socioscope, like a telescope

We observe all the rapid fire social media content, but really don’t get much of a chance to see the big picture. All observational sciences need tools to, well, observe. As an example, breakthroughs in astronomy depend on ever bigger and better telescopes. Studying cell biology was impossible before the development of microscopes. The social sciences have, however, so far lacked similar instruments and were limited to smaller scale behavioral studies, often in artificial laboratory settings. Recently, through the advent of social media in general and Twitter in particular this has changed. Now social scientists finally have their “socioscope” and can study the behavior of millions of people at the click of a button.

Twitter a socialscope

Yelena Mejova and Ingmar Weber, Qatar Computing Research Institute colleagues, are co-editors of the new book with Michael Macy: Twitter: A Digital Socioscope. I asked them a few questions to learn more about their observations and research:

What inspires you about researching Twitter and social media data?

Ingmar: I’m always amazed by how rich a data source Twitter is. Though social media definitely does not represent the whole population and though there are definitely data quality issues, numerous studies have found robust and consistent links between chatter on Twitter and quantitative real world indicators. Studying this link between the physical world and the online world lies at the heart of my research and is also at the core of our book.

Yelena: The combination of mundane and sophisticated content on Twitter allows for a great variety in possible studies. On one side it is a space for discussion of political and community issues, while on the other the everyday life updates allow us to glimpse the diets, health, and mood of populations at scales unprecedented in social studies.

Can you share some of your core observations regarding the themes of your new book?

Ingmar: The overarching observation is that Twitter data can indeed provide meaningful insights about the real world. Applications range from tracking disease outbreaks to predicting the stock price. Each chapter provides a number of cases to demonstrate the feasibility, but also to question how reliable the derived information really is. For example, when it comes to tracking public opinion, caution is advised and Twitter might not be the preferred medium to analyze. Generally, in areas where one would expect the discussion to be dominated by pundits, commercial entities or by spammers extra care is needed before jumping to any conclusions because of certain trends on Twitter.

Yelena: Indeed, the chapters are written by the experts in their area, who describe the best tools for their aims, but also outline the shortcomings of the data and potential ways to overcome them. The most important observation for me is, despite the new tools and techie jargon, the methods of proper sampling, statistical analysis, and data quality checks developed throughout the social sciences are what make big data analysis a science.

What are you currently researching?

Ingmar & Yelena: We are currently looking at how to use social media data to study both public and individual health. More specifically, we are looking at how to combine data from social media with data obtained through mobile sensors, such as pedometers, to develop personalized and culturally aware interventions. Here in Qatar, changes in lifestyle have led to an explosion in obesity rates. At the same time, most of the research that looks at how to motivate people to live a healthier life considers only Western countries. We believe that the widespread use of social media such as Instagram could provide us with a tool to both gather data and advocate behavioral changes.

What can you recommend for students and data scientists to get started in this field?

Yelena: Because of the availability of both open-source tools and public data APIs, one really learns data science by “doing it”. Start with a simple question, gather data, apply algorithm, examine output, iterate. Every step helps you learn the tools of the trade, spurs more questions, and provides ground for further conversation with collaborators.

Ingmar: I think strong quantitative skills are a good foundation. This includes hands-on experience in data collection and analysis, but also in statistics and machine learning. At the same time, research in Computational Social Science is of a very interdisciplinary nature. So I’d encourage anybody to try and attend talks from other domains and to talk to experts in the humanities. Without having domain expertise on the research team it is less likely to provide new insights and it will be very hard to have actual impact.

Buy their book here to learn more! (This is my upcoming weekend read.)

About Yelena and Ingmar

Yelena Mejova (@yelenamm) is a scientist in the Social Computing Group at Qatar Computing Research Institute. Specializing in text retrieval and mining, Yelena is interested in building tools for tracking real-life social phenomena in social media. Her work on sentiment classification and evaluation, as well as political opinion tracking and poll now-casting has appeared in international computer and web science conferences such as ICWSM, WebSci and WSDM, and she is a co-editor of a Social Science Computing Review special issue on “Quantifying Politics Using Online Data”.

Ingmar Weber (@ingmarweber) is a senior scientist in the Social Computing group at Qatar Computing Research Institute. In his research, he uses large amounts of online data from Twitter and other sources to study phenomena that affect society at large. Recent work has looked at political polarization in Egypt, at global gender inequality in online social networks, at international migration, at relationship breakups, and at food consumption and obesity seen through social media. His research is frequently featured in popular press such as the Washington Post, Forbes, NewScientist, Financial Times, or Foreign Policy.

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