On the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team Board

For almost a year, I’ve had the honour to be a member of the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team Board. HOT is one of the most important Digital Humanitarian /Crisismapper communities. As a community advocate and organizer, I joined to support and be in service of these efforts. A Board member serves the strategic interest of the organization and her members. Today I ask the HOT membership to consider renewing my Board Membership so that I can continue to collaborate and help HOT grow.

For my fellow candidates: HOT is a young organization. Being a HOT Board Member often required more than 10 hours a week. If you are nominated to join the board, you should be prepared to contribute this level of time. I’m writing this to help outline what I think the HOT Board needs to do in the next term.

Boy and the world image

When I joined the Board, I began researching Board best practices and reviewed many other organization’s Board composition, bylaws and strategic plans. I also asked colleagues from other organizations what makes a successful board. I determined that I could contribute work on fundraising, communications, strategy and outreach. These are items that I felt were missing from HOT’s strategy.

My first board term involved more organizational development issues, which delayed my original goals. HOT is a Working Board. But, there are some differences between what a Board does and what items are for Operations. This continues to be a growth opportunity for HOT. A Board ideally should not be involved in the day-to-day operations operations of the organization. Some examples include: staffing decisions, receipt management for projects, and HOT activations. I think it is important to also distinguish the Board, Operations and what it means to be a valuable contributor/member of the community. Every organization needs these components, but each is often its own entity.

By definition, a Board Member key role is to support the strategic growth and ongoing success of an organization. The following types of skills would be needed among the composite board. Every individual on the Board brings different skills, so consider this a sketch:

  • Networks (Fundraising, Humanitarian)
  • Technical Expertise
  • Legal Knowledge
  • Financial Acumen
  • Business and Organizational Development Strategy
  • Fundraising and Communications Strategy

The HOT Board should focus on the the above noted tasks to contribute to the success of the whole project.

Some Resources:

For friends of HOT, I am collecting resources on Boards and how to help shape with examples. Please do share any resources on Board leadership or Board Best Practices. This is a journey and I am learning as fast as I can. (Thank you in advance.)

On this topic, I want to thank Aspiration Tech gifting mentorship on the Board journey.

  • Chronicle of Philanthropy
  • Plone: (an example of a “Working” Board)

    “This is a working board. Be ready to regularly take on and complete responsibilities for board business.

    The board writes no code and makes no development decisions. It is much more concerned with marketing, budgets, fund-raising, community process and intellectual property considerations.”

  • Open Stack (Board example)
    “The Board of Directors provides strategic and financial oversight of Foundation resources and staff.”

(Photo by me: San Francisco, February 2014)


Currency of Change

What is the currency of change? What can coders (consumers) do with IATI data? How can suppliers deliver the data sets? Last week I had the honour of participating in the Open Data for Development Codeathon and the International Aid Transparency Initiative – Technical Advisory Group meetings. IATI’s goal is to make information about aid spending easier to access, use and understand. It was great that these events were back-to-back to push a big picture view.

My big takeaways included similar themes that I have learned on my open source journey:

You can talk about open data [insert tech or OS project] all you want, but if you don’t have an interactive community (including mentorship programmes), an education strategy, engagement/feedback loops plan, translation/localization plan and a process for people to learn how to contribute, then you build a double-edged barrier: barrier to entry and barrier for impact/contributor outputs.

wall of currency

About the Open Data in Development Codeathon

At the Codathon close, Mark Surman, Executive Director of Mozilla Foundation, gave us a call to action to make the web. Well, in order to create a world of data makers, I think we should run aid and development processes through this mindset. What is the currency of change? I hear many people talking about theory of change and impact, but I’d like to add ‘currency’. This is not only about money, this is about using the best brainpower and best energy sources to solve real world problems in smart ways. I think if we heed Mark’s call to action with a “YES, AND”, then we can rethink how we approach complex change. Every single industry is suffering from the same issue – how to deal with the influx of supply/demand in information? We need to change how we approach the problem. Combined events like these give a window into tackling problems in a new format. It is not about the next greatest app, but more about ‘how can we learn from the Webmakers?’, and build with each other in our respective fields/networks.

Ease of Delivery

The IATI community / network is very passionate about moving the ball forward on releasing data. During the sessions, it was clear that the attendees see some gaps and are already working to fill them. The new IATI website is setup to grow with a Community component. The feedback from each of the sessions was distilled by the IATI – TAG and Civil Society Guidance groups to share with the IATI Secretariat.

In the Open Data in Development, Impact of Open Data in Developing Countries and CSO Guidance sessions, we discussed some key items about sharing, learning and using IATI data. Farai Matsika, with International HIV/Aids Alliance, was particularly poignant reminding #IATI CSO purpose – we need to share data with those we serve.

Country edits IATI

One of the biggest themes was data ethics. As we rush to ask NGOs and CSOs to release data, what are some of the data pitfalls? Anahi Ayala Iaccuci, Internews, and Linda Raftree, Plan International USA, both reminded participants that data needs to be anonymized and protect those at risk. Ms. Iaccuci asked that we consider the complex nature of sharing both sides of the open data story – successes and failures. As well, she advised: don’t create trust, but think about who are people trusting. Turning this model around is key to rethinking assumptions. I would add to her point: Trust and sharing are currency and will to add to the success measures of IATI. If people don’t trust the IATI data, they won’t share and use it.

Anne Crowe of Privacy International frequently asked attendees to consider the ramifications of opening data. It is clear that the IATI Tag does not curate the data that NGOS and CSOs share. Thus, it falls on each of these organizations to learn how to be data makers in order to contribute data to IATI. Perhaps organizations need a lead educator and curator to ensure that the future success of the IATI process, including quality data.

I think that the School of Data and the Partnership for Open Data have a huge part to play in with IATI. My colleague, Zara Rahman is collecting user feedback for the Open Development Toolkit and Katelyn Rogers is leading the Open Development mailing list. We collectively want to help people become datamakers and consumers to effectively achieve their development goals using open data. This also means also tackling the ongoing questions about data quality and data ethics.

Here are some additional resources shared during the IATI meetings.


Sticky Ideas

ushahidi teamwork

….And then we broke out the sticky notes to make ideas dance. We all have been there. You are in a room, your feet itch, and your mind is waiting: If only we could just break out the sticky notes to collect, flush and organize our thoughts. It is so second nature to any event I run and any event I participate. My mind goes to the technique. How can we make a world of bright people across disciplines sing like a choir on mission? Well, for those of us who have participated in Aspiration Tech events, we are in the “sticky way“. I like to call us Gunnerites. We are the converted who use this methodology to help each other move forward.

Gunner Listening

Gunner is a friend and mentor. I’ve had the awesome honour to participate and learn in his events for over 4 years. Each time I glean another strategy or technique to add to my toolkit. When I think about the rooms I’ve been in from Mark Surman’s house to the World Bank to a Fort on the coast of Lamu (Kenya), I reflect on how Gunner helped large and small rooms of people get to the heart of conversations and ideas. He does it modestly and with such adept skill that you often don’t realize the hand of excellent execution. The results truly highlight the value of participatory sharing for learning and events.

wall of ideas

Yesterday I had the honour of participating in an idea charrette at Stanford University. My role as a Board Member of Humanitarian OpenStreetMap was to provide insight into real world data ethics challenges that Crisismappers face. We used this methodology to help a very diverse room get cracking on great ideas. Thanks Lucy and Gunner.

Aspiration Tech and the engine room are hosting a Responsible Data Forum. You should go if you are in the SF area. And, if you are looking to join a great team of folks who make a huge difference in many non-profits, do apply for a Communications role at Aspiration.

(Photos from events: Ushahidi team meeting, Lamu (Kenya) (January 2013) and Data Charrette, Stanford University (January 2014))


Every interaction is a gift

When I think of value in Tech 4 good communities or any other community / network, the core value I rest my mind on is: every interaction is a gift. This means every map edit on OpenStreetMap, every commit on github repo, every edit to translation set, every event organized/attended and every voice on a community hangout or mailing list. As community and programme managers, we aim to help people get involved. This is a one by one – very personal connection. This is especially true for those of in the Digital Humanitarian Network (umbrella of communities) or Crisismappers Network and more. These communities exist by the hub and spoke model. Each of us believes (to some degree) that we are incrementally changing the pace of humanitarian aid by connecting and sharing.

A few years ago (way before I changed up my career and volunteer paths to Tech 4 Good), I became an avid reader of Chris Brogan and his frequent co-writer, Julien Smith. At first it was to learn better marketing skills for my tech job at Tucows Inc., but soon I realized that I had virtually met people who understood the qualities and growth paths of people like us. Trust Agents really highlighted this for me.

Anyone who has ever gotten a “here’s a link I thought you might like” or “I’d Like to introduce you to x” email from me knows that I live by Chris’s network simple formula:

Be helpful + meet helpful people + connect really helpful people = potential for future amazingness.

Chris has a weekly newsletter (selly sell: subscribe for it). It is my Sunday cup of coffee to really consider our craft. This week his post really resonated with me. With his permission, I am quoting the simple formula and some key guidelines. Happy building.


(Chris Brogan)

1.) Be open to connecting with anyone. You never know.

2.) When introducing others, ask first privately if you can make the introduction (lots of times, people introduce me to others that I can’t much help, for instance).

3.) Upon meeting someone new, think of ways you can help them. I promise this is MUCH more useful than thinking of ways they can help you.

4.) Set calendar reminders or ANY other method to keep in touch with people on a semi regular basis. Cold networks don’t help.

5.) Connect great people in your network together. It’s always greater than the sum of the separate parts.


(Photo taken in Venice, Italy by moi)

Thanks for Sharing, Chris.


Open Badges in a Crisis

Recruit, Track, Assign, and Give thanks. These are volunteer management steps in the digital age. Many organizations are looking at ways to train, incorporate and support digital skilled people in their workflows. The Crisismappers Community and the Digital Humanitarian Network (DHN) highlight the convergence of new technology/smart design like open badges, digital community networks and making. How do we get the next 10, 000 participants in a community? How do we manage the surge of new digital humanitarians and make it a valuable experience?

At Mozilla Drumbeat in 2010 (precursor to Mozfest), I joined the first ever Open Badges hackteam. We spent the weekend talking and building around the idea of credentials. Fast forward 4 years, I joined a Mozfest team in the Emergency Hack Lab. We brainstormed on a technical workflow for badging using the scenario of Hurricane Sandy.

Uchaguzi community badge 3

Cracking crowdsource or brainsourcing has been a mighty task that many are working on. We as organizers know that anyone who wishes to get involved is a gift for community. We know that there are small asks and big tasks for engagement. Tackling digital knowledge skills with surge support can be a full-time job during an emergency. We all have networks and there are a number of strong community groups or NGOs that are building better methods to train and support digital humanitarians. Last year I lead a digital community mapping effort called Uchaguzi for the Kenya Elections. The Ushahidi designer, Jepchumba, created badges for all the participants to use. This was to build solidarity and give thanks. Crowdcrafting (micromappers) was used during the Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda). I wrote a bit about ‘hacking’ during the Typhoon response mainly due to the sheer volume of emails and conversations.

Building Use Cases

We could use Open Badges for UN OCHA/Noun Project icons (emergency standard) Digital Humanitarians and emergency wayfinding. Earlier this week I pitched it on our Emergency Hack Lab call, including our partners at Geeks without Bounds.

Humanitarian OpenStreetMap and Open Badges

Digital humanitarians need to build trust and get thanks. Open Badges across the various communities enables standards but also gives recognition and thanks. The DHN really helps digital volunteers join specific skillset groups. The ideal is that the volunteer engagement occurs via these individual organizations. DHN exists to connect people to real actionable tasks to solve real world problems.

The Humanitarian OpenStreetMap had over 1600 mappers do over 3 million edits for the Typhoon Response. We are part of DHN. With the help of Imagery to the Crowd and many other partners, the community received imagery which was added to the Task Manager. The task manager organizes the imagery into tiles and helps digital mappers coordinate. They sign in with their OSM account.

How easy would it be to add an HOT OSM Badge into this process?
There are two core goals with this concept: credentials and thanks. HOT participants could use these for their social media or linked in profiles. Or, Open Badges could be used on the Task Manager or OSM Wiki. As a HOT board member, I continue to think about how to help thank the virtual, global community. Open Badges allows us potentially solve a gap.

Learn more Haiyan response from my fellow HOT OSM Board member, Harry Wood. (podcast)

Murmur + Wayfinding:(SMS solutions)

Ever since Hurricane Sandy I have been thinking about the power of Wayfinding during an emergency and how to connect and map community responders. Jess Klein, Creative lead of Open Badges has been a big inspiration on this journey. As well, Daniel Latorre of Wise City worked with Occupy Sandy communities to design and sign.

It struck me that Murmur plus Wayfinding plus Open Badges might be a way to connect those amazing ‘first responders’. While they may not be associated with formal organizations or NGOs, there are some community responders who make a huge difference in the field. Jess has written about this importance in response to Hurricane Sandy.

[murmur] is a documentary oral history project that records stories and memories told about specific geographic locations. We collect and make accessible people’s personal histories and anecdotes about the places in their neighborhoods that are important to them.

Around Toronto there are Murmur signs. You call the number on the sign and you get a poem or story about the space or area. It is sheer magic in community and public spaces. Well, if Wayfinding is amazing to help people design and coordinate and Open Badges assigns and gives thanks, why not add an SMS number to sign up to volunteer, get SMS tasks and plus, a Badge. This idea about SMS task management is not new, but is missing is the pieces of thanks with Open badges.

Example: A Wayfinding sign is designed using the UN OCHA/Noun Project Label, but also includes and SMS number. This SMS number ties to the volunteer management choice of the community plus Open Badges. The NGO could use any number of SMS apps to help manage the volunteers and link them to an Open Badge process. Some examples include Frontline SMS, Medic (sim apps), Swara (Interactive Voice Response tool) or many others. The goal here would be to recognize mobile plus open badges as the way forward, especially in the majority of the world.

This idea needs more work, but you get the picture. The power of Open Badges during a Crisis is full of thanks.


There is much more thinking and hacking to happen, but it is an exciting journey.

Join the next Open Badges call


Powering up a global community

Global communities and collaboration are often duck-taped together. There is no one set way to do real-time collaboration for community development. Add to the often cited request of some open source communities to only use open source tools.

As a community leader, I have a few priorities:

  • Share
  • Connect: build community, often with a human touch (Video, picture)
  • Reach: activate the curious, invite new participants
  • Document
  • Remix

Add to this: we want to morph time and space which means content/events that can be translated and recorded across timezones and potentially in multiple formats. Tall order.

What’s in the toolkit?

Rings (Lamu 2013)

Rings (Lamu 2013)

Over the last few years, I’ve been a toolkit consumer, user and creator. At Ushahidi, we wrote and remixed the Ushahidi toolkits. These were shared almost every day via PDF/slideshare. A few months of that and I decided to make wiki pages of each of the key pages of the original toolkits. This was followed by creating new advanced toolkit pages: Data Cleaning Guidelines or the whole Ushahidi Kenya Elections Toolkits. We made the toolkits active and remixable for the community. Anyone with an account can edit the community wiki.

There are many toolkits examples in the ICT4D ether. Recently, I had the pleasure to review an upcoming Nesta Toolkit. They will be announcing the updated toolkits in the spring. See a previous version of this: Nesta’s Open Workshop.

More and more, we are looking for templates and best practices. Often tookits are just kludges for ideas. I think we need to look at them in a lean kanban sort of way. What can we keep? What do we remix? What assumptions or biases do toolkits make?

Will it ring?

After a number of notes on the OKF Mailing lists about which tools people should use for tasks, I promised to think about tools and workflow. The tool suggestion lists provided are fairly generic for many different types of jobs. There was talk about not using Google Forms for community surveys but to use: LimeSurvey or Libresoft. References were given to this stunning list of Open Source Alternatives. Another comment mentioned the Tactical Tech guide for alternatives.

Global Community Toolkit – a draft

I think we need to be very realistic about which tools a community manager needs to use in the global space. Some of the open source tools are excellent, some of them are missing key components such as reach. How can we get the next 1000 or 1 million people engaged in open source projects. If your community doesn’t use it, will they if you do? This is a juggle. We, those who work in technology, assume that our favourite tools have a low barrier to entry. If our goal is to use the best open source technology to connect the global community, then I think there are a few core tools missing. It is a tradeoff. Use the best tools to reach your current community while building a new community network or test new tools. Sometimes testing with community is a great idea. But this assumes that people want to learn yet another new tool just to learn or do stuff. My list:

Tool /Task Type Example
Blogs WordPress*, Drupal*, Joomla*, tumblr, medium
Video Vimeo, Youtube, Miro*
Social Media Twitter, Facebook, G+
Collaborative storytelling cover it live, storify, scribble live
Video Editing/Translation Webmaker*, Amara*
Hangouts G+ Hangout
Audio Mumble*, skype
Document sharing Google Documents, Dropbox, Slideshare, Scribd
Collaborative Writing Hackpad, Etherpad*
Wiki Mediawiki*, Atlassian*

KEY: * = OS software

This makes my Community Manager toolkit a little over half OS software. I did not include browser (always Firefox), project management (Basecamp) or mail (which is gmail), but you get the picture. What will ring with the community but incorporate global community engagement and open source tools?

Google Hangouts is one of the best community tools to connect global folks to ideas and each other. Last year I hosted a BRCK G+ hangout which now has over 2000 views. This is small potatoes for some communities. Ubuntu and Mozilla are both great open source communities with great G+ Hangout engagement.

I find Hackpad much easier to use because you can connect a series of collaborative documents. I’ve used versions of etherpad since 2010 and am a fan (especially considering the OS piece.) But with Google Apps for Business and the ability to easily collaborate on massive documentation, I remain at a loss on how to use other options.

Now, I realize that some folks don’t approve of using Google products. I understand and have read many of the articles on NSA. I juggle this with “tools that are easy to use with the global community” and the fact that Google is open of the biggest contributors and supporters of Open Source. Google Summer of Code has infused many a small tech for good project.

Wish list

Top on my open source tools for Community Management wish list are: Video Hangouts and Document sharing. If you can make these tools usable and open source, I will happily try it out.

(Footnote: Last month on the Open Knowledge Foundation Community Hangout we started a list of tools for community building. Feel free to remix and add: OKFN Community Building Tool Directory)


Canada: Open Data for Development Challenge

The day is finally here! After years of building open community connections with governments, each one of us can look to this a turning point. The Canadian government, Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development, is officially hosting an event inviting the open communities to join them in a 2-day hackathon, er, Open Data for Development Challenge. There have been many hands and minds to make this possible. The government has been very keen on listening and observing Open style events globally. This is likely the first of many Challenges for Open Data in Canada. They are taking idea submissions until January 8, 2014.

Crisismapping background with DFATD (DFAIT)

Heather @ DFAIT

Since the Haiti earthquake, I’ve participated in a number of informal discussions with the government. They were keen to learn more about how open communities map during emergencies. In September and December of 2011, we had two meetings to learn more about each other’s work to build a common language. In February 2012, DFATD (formerly DFAIT) hosted an Open Policy day. Along with Melissa Elliot of the Standby Task Force, we pitched a Crisismapping simulation using OpenStreetMap and open data sets. This lead to the first ever Canadian government sanctioned CrisisMapping simulation in March 2013 with Humanitarian OpenStreetMap (Pierre Beland), Ushahidi (myself), and the Standby Task Force (Melissa Elliot and virtual SBTF teams). The sessions invited various levels of governments from different departments to observe our work.

This is a small window into bringing open communities closer to government data and cooperation for humanitarian purposes. I am more than certain that others have great stories about the road to opening up Canada.

The Open Data for Development Challenge idea that I am working on stems from the School of Data Expedition into Nigerian Extractive mining. I’m keen to learn more about Canadian company transparency for their work. This is the document I’m using to track datasets.

Hope to see you at the Open Data for Development Challenge!

Open Data for Development Challenge – January 27,28, 2014 (Montreal, QC)

You can register for the event (by January 10, 2014) http://www.open-dev-ouvert.ca/ (updated link)
(challenge submissions are due on January 8, 2014 via the same website)

Questions about the event should be directed to: opendata.donneesouvertes AT international.gc.ca

From the Announcement:

Do you want to share your creative ideas and cutting-edge expertise, and make a difference in the world?
Do you want to help Canadians and the world understand how development aid is spent and what its impact is?
Do you want to be challenged and have fun at the same time?
If so, take the Open Data for Development Challenge!

This unique 36-hour ”codathon” organized by Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada will bring together Canadian and international technical experts and policy makers to generate new tools and ideas in the fields of open data and aid transparency and contribute to innovative solutions to the world’s pressing development challenges.

The event will feature keynote speakers Aleem Walji, Director of the World Bank’s Innovation Labs, and Mark Surman, Executive Director of the Mozilla Foundation. It will have two related dimensions:

  • Technical challenges that involve building applications to make existing open aid and development-related data more useful. Proposed topics include building a data viewer compatible with multilingual data, creating a publishing tool suitable for use by mid-sized Canadian non-profit organizations, developing and testing applications for open contracting, and taking a deep dive into the procurement data of the World Bank Group.
  • There is room for challenges proposed by the community. Proposals should be submitted through the event website no later than January 8th. Challenges will be published prior to the event, along with key datasets and other related information, to enable participants to prepare for the event.
  • Policy discussions on how open data and open government can enable development results. This would include the use of big data in development programming, the innovative ways in which data can be mapped and visualized for development, and the impact of open data on developing countries.

The international aid transparency community will be encouraged to take promising tools and ideas from the event forward for further research and development.

We invite you to register, at no cost, at: https://www.accreditationcanada.gc.ca/ODDC/accreditation.aspx as soon as possible and no later than January 10. A message confirming your registration and providing additional information about the venue and accommodation will be sent to confirmed participants. Please wait for this confirmation before making any travel arrangements. Participants are asked to make their own accommodation arrangements. A limited number of guest rooms will be available to event participants at a preferential rate.

To find out more about the Open Data for Development Challenge, please go to DFATD’s website.

(Note: content snipped from the civicaccess discuss mailing list)


Vikhovnia and Community

My cousin died after a long illness. It has sent me into a small tailspin. Love. Family. RIP Lawrence. You are all in my thoughts. I miss you.

There is this beautiful Ukrainian word:“Vikhovnia.” It means : all of the teaching/teachers/upbringing. Or as it means to me: all my heartfelt teachers.

Yesterday I managed to stay at work simply because it meant that I could attend a team lunch in London (UK). Truly, I am so incredibly far from my small Saskatchewan town in Canada. Sometimes I realize that I am so focused on “global community” because of my upbringing. We all want to be connected and part of a community, and, we have had many teachers. I’ve always mourned in large groups, because I come from a large small town family. I’m thankful for my temporary ‘city’ /’community’ family, but I’ m homesick and in culture shock.

About Lawrence:
he was my cousin and potentially my ‘uncle’ based on our lives. My Dad had 11 siblings, so age differences means that family lines are simply blurred. Lawrence married my older vibrant cousin Laurie, but I’ve known him as my cousin and felt him to be like an ‘ uncle’. One of my favourite memories of him was the ‘short pants Ukrainian dance’ that he and the Uncles did at my cousins’ (Rhonda and Ron) wedding. This is a modified Ukrainian country dance. Imagine your uncles and cousins rolling up their suit pants to dance old style : kicking and etc. Actually, all my favourite memories are of Lawrence dancing, including his spins on the various floors with cousin Laurie. All day I have various flashbacks of years of happy dancing of Lawrence and Laurie. What a great way to be remembered! May we all dance through life with joy.

Last year my Auntie Elsie passed away. She was the most incredible happy storyteller and event planner. Seriously, she taught me to live in joy and make people smile- focus on making a great experience from food to mood to hosting. Every event I run, I channel my all my teachers, including Auntie Eva and Auntie Elsie.

I feel incredibly rich to have known such great people. So, I ask you: who are your teachers? Vikhovnia.


Data Soup Ingredients (feelings, methods and next steps)

I’m a big fan of soup. Really, it is magic, you add all kinds of ingredients into a pot and hopefully get a “worthy soup”. Sometimes I think we should take the cooking smarts and apply it to our work. What are the key ingredients and tactics to activate Open Data? Surely, you’ve had a sad pot of soup before (eg. too much salt, not enough spice, etc.) It is really some new ground, but I think there are some common sense practices that need to be discussed. So, instead of ‘nuts and bolts’, let’s talk about how we get to the ingredients to make a decent plan (a pot of great soup) to feed our brains and guide our decisions.

Tonight I’m participating in the ICT4D London Panel:
Eliza Anyangwe of ICT4D London Meetup/Guardian Development asked that we prepare the following:

…go beyond gushing about how great open data is and stimulate thought about areas in need of improvement and strategies to get us there. The topic: what would happen if data quality is not addressed?

What do you see as the challenges of open data for development? How can we as a community get around them?

I decided to focus on challenges and things that we can do to build community:


It might seem really ‘off’ to talk about ‘Feelings’ when we talk about open data, but we should. Do we Trust the data? Do we trust the sources/collection methods? Do the consumers/users understand the data and, most of all, can we ‘believe’ that we can base our decisions on big issues like nutrition planning or humanitarian responses? If we don’t talk about assumptions or talk about ‘data corrupts humans and humans corrupt data’ feelings, then we might be setting ourselves up for data fail. How do we build ‘trust’?

At the Open Government Partnership Summit, I had the chance to meet Chuks Ojidoh of ReclaimNaija project from Nigeria. He challenged assumptions about data collection and how communities ‘on the ground’ who were supposed to be served by ‘data’ felt about it. To sum: people don’t trust the data and won’t trust it unless they are involved in the data collection. And, the concept of central ‘firm’ datasets on, for example, budgets, needs to be community sourced council by council. Plus, people want to give feedback on the data and interact with it. This is a good reason to share, whenever possible, the datasets in an open fashion. It helps us be accountable and transparent plus gives us the ability to remix and use data.

So, there we have it: feelings! Until we talk more about how we will help people collect basic datasets and involve citizens (including digital literacy), then we won’t really get an accurate open data picture. I firmly believe that the ‘open data movement’ as it stands today will be greatly reshaped by folks like BudgIT from Nigeria and ReclaimNaija.

(Chuks shared this research with me this great article from Dr. Steven Livingston on Africa’s Information Revolution.)

Method to Madness

From data collection methods (sms, maps, spreadsheets, analog paper) to data ethics, privacy/security and protection, we need to grapple more with “methods to our madness’. This also includes the heavy topic: How can we have feedback loops and iterate/improve data. Of course, I fall into the category of “open data” allows people to use and remix data, but this does not come without a heavy filter of common sense.


What is a clean dataset?

After working on the Uchaguzi Kenyan Election project, I was on a mission to find a way to open up the Ushahidi datasets, I started to research how to create a Clean DataSet Guidelines list (created with help from Okfn, Datakind and Groundtruth Initiative). I think that there are many people trying to figure this out. If we had some standards and means to clean data, then people may be more comfortable sharing it. This does not minimize the risk of human error. A quick summary of how to get to a cleaner dataset: remove names, phone numbers, geolocation, and sensitive information. Challenging isn’t it? What happens when you remove this and it affects a decision negatively? (See some resources on this topic.)

One important thing that we did during the election project was to have a Data quality team reviewing the data in real-time. This team involved researchers, software developers and subject matter experts. Most of these people were community participants. While this might not be possible for all projects, it is a road forward on short sprint ones until organizations reorganize to do it themselves.

To the machines

Along with the Data Science for Social Good Fellows and my (then) Ushahidi colleagues, I spent the summer assisting a Data cleaning project. How can we use machine learning to help us build clean data sets? How can we clean datasets to know include personally identifiable information? What are some of the data ethics that we can infuse in our methods?

Details on that project:

Project background

While machines cannot replace the Human API (your eyes), it is a start. There is much improvement to be done on this.


Improving the Recipe

The biggest ingredient that I think needs to be addressed is the “how’. A widespread group of people from various disciplines and regions need to have the capacity to be data makers. This means that we have digital literacy barriers combined with data literacy. At OKFN, we have the School of Data to help with this.

Last week, together with my colleague, Michael Bauer, and a few community members, we held an experimental training workshop. Our goal was to give people of menu of data skills from data cleaning, how to use spreadsheets, data visualization 101 and how to geo-code. These are really tough skills to integrate into all our workflows. For early adopters, I am sure that these are easy, but how to we get the next 1000 datamakers in civil society and governments? I was actually approached by someone thanking us for giving them a safe and equal space to learn these important things. Datamaking should not be some magical thing that is inaccessible to average people doing great work. It should be every day soup making: given the ingredients, some basic skills, and time to learn/test/iterate, there is a chance that we can fill this gap.

Steve and SCODA
(Steve of Devint training folks at the International Crisismappers Conference)

When we talk about challenges and opportunities, there are some important next steps to consider: Spaces to learn for free, mentors to help us on our data journey and checks/balances on data curation/quality.


Community brainstorming: The world needs more Crisis Mappers

Every organizer dreams of that perfect mix of location and glue for their work. There is this moment that an event gells and you can breath. Running the International Conference of Crisis Mappers pre-conference training was a true pleasure. I curated 4 tracks: mobile/security, maps, data and knowledge. Then, I recruited some of the best talent both already in the CrisisMappers community and groups/areas that there were gaps. Thanks to all my fellow presenters, trainers, ICCM organizers, sponsors (Ihub and Ushahidi) as well as all the participants.

We did not take full notes for all the amazing sessions. There were 105 participants split across all the various areas. It was an honour to have long time community members and new folks blend to build. The closing session was a group brainstorm. (See the ideas captured below.) To be honest, we were super exhausted from jetlag and learning. Here are some of the key questions or statements that everyone had at the event – in analog form. While is it a stream of conscious list, I think it speaks volumes about some of the other gaps / opportunities that we need to discuss. It is a window into a time and place.

On a more personal note, Ihub and Ushahidi gave us an amazing space and food sponsorship to help make this day a success. It was great to have the community together in the place that really ignited the movement. ihub is also one of my favourite event venues. It has this pulse that brings people closer together in a casual way. It was perfect for a very mixed crowd to really bond.

What questions do you think we should be discussing? What are some of the conversations you want to be having?



  • Create a forum for humanitarian innovation forum
  • How do we reduce duplication of the same work by different organizations?
  • How do we collaborate with each other more?
  • How do we open up the crisis mappers community in Africa
  • Design challenges to make GIS Ouputs look good
  • How do we make innovation and its disruptive power more palatible to actors and governments in more politically/confict-affected settings
  • How do we involve community in mapping?
  • Find common projects so that we can collaborate
  • how do we connect crisis mappers to response organizations
  • Can we have a community code of conduct?
  • Capacity building team
  • Tech in itself does not solve any problems. We need to plug it in to existing processes
  • The world needs more crisis mappers
  • how do we make good community projects like the Sms in the neighbourhood yesterday work for larger areas?
    voice to the little community projects
  • post disaster anti-corruption management of funding and relief / rebuild “citizen” reporting
  • Cowboys : Humanitarians and Technologists

  • How do we involve community in mapping?
  • how do you build capacity of local community for learning how to read maps?
  • Humanitarians ethics in the information age

Data Ethics

  • What data ethics?
  • Privacy
  • Managing data security in a security-sensitive environment


  • Data analysts needed
  • Crisis mapping (is a social media)
  • When does geodata need data models? When can they be adhoc?
  • Best url for 101 on regular expressions?
  • Support mapping through satellite communication systems
  • How do we use the info we collect/ what is the purpose and impact?
  • Big data – identification and analysis
  • What is relevant data?
  • Why is there such a gap between web mapping and GIS on the desktop?
  • Data sharing and coordination
  • SMS or IVR for monitoring for education services (Primary) – eg. teacher attendance
  • Mobile delivery
  • How do you get structured data from a large illiterate user base speaking local dialects
  • How do we avoid stovepipes of innovation?
  • How do we leverage donor funding without competing for the same funds?
  • How can we use sensors?


  • Will anyone their passport tomorrow
  • How to remember all the stuff we heard today?
  • Follow-up forums
  • Online training for this group
  • Psychological Crisis
  • Evaluate the context
  • how do you manage expectation of people who provide data on maps? (response capacity)
  • 1 kill = or does not equal 20 000 kills
  • How can crisis mapping contribute to reach out and help urban refugees?

Thanks everyone!

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