Open Source Software Challenge Winner!

Qatar Computing Research Institute‘s humanitarian technology, AIDR (Artificial Intelligence for Disaster Response), has been awarded the Grand Prize for the 2015 Open Source Software System Challenge!

OSS World Challenge 2015

I’m super proud to be part of a team scientists, researchers and engineers behind AIDR. We are also thankful for all our partners for their input to help us keep growing. Partners for deployments included: United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and the Standby Task Force. Our mobile software development partner was GeoThings.

Learn more about our work:


Hungry to Learn

Education. The drive to change the economy with education is everywhere. It is a bit overwhelming and exhilarating. I’ll admit that I am a bit bias since I work at Qatar Computing Research Institute, part of Hamad bin Khalifa University, Qatar Foundation. These institutions were set up to inspire high level research and new science. Today is my one year anniversary of working within this huge organization and my 10th month of living in Doha. Time Flies.

Next week I will be co-hosting a number of technical workshops as part of Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW) with Qatar Science & Technology Park. These were sold out over a week ago. As I have a small room for the class, I can’t expand it. Plus, delivering heavy topics in a room larger than 40 is not really productive for the teachers and students.


Free ideas, go build them

In the past months, I have observed such a hunger to learn in many of the residents of Qatar. Building a strong local entrepreneur ecosystem needs a step ladder and a hand. My mandate is Social Innovation with a personal goal to get people involved in technology to help humanitarian response. There are only so many hours in the week and focus means delivery.

If I had one million dollars and large facilities/networks to focus on the entrepreneurship community, I would hire someone to build these free ideas. Though, with all the super smart people around, I am sure these might already be on the roadmap:

  • More Free Technical classes (all levels) Every day, every night: The classes for GEW filled up in no time at all and with low advertising effort. The entrepreneurs keep telling me that there is a local technical gap. If the economy needs more technical entrepreneurship and people have a hunger to learn, then it follows that this type of programme will help seed the future.
  • QNCC for large technical event: If Qatar can bring universities here, what about making Doha a tech destination for a large technical event? The ideal event would have many hands-on workshops, a trade fair, and large company demos (Docker I am looking at you). Most years I attend OCSCON with 5000 of my tribe. There is nothing like an influx of talent to learn and inspire.
  • Tech Hubs, Labs and Coworking spaces: Everywhere I have traveled these casual spaces make for interchange of ideas and brillant outcomes. Truly, I have no place that I can go on a Saturday, geek out with other geeks and flop on a couch debating the latest tech thing. While it might sound fluffy, it works. Just make sure there is excellent coffee and snacks.

Now, I’m going back to work on my proposal for encouraging Humanitarian Technology in MENA. We all have our passions. And, I can only hope that our thirst to learn and create helps a people build something useful for their community and neighours.


Map the Difference: Calling Global Supporters

Every edit, every contribution maps the difference. Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT) launched our largest ever fundraising effort and we ask for your help. HOT uses principles of open source and open data sharing for humanitarian response and economic development. We create spaces, support and tools to assist people to map.

Thousands of people map during emergencies. Many of you are supporters of HOT, but we have never asked you for help outside outreach. Some of you use the results of HOT’s and OSM’s contributions, maps and tools for your communities and projects. Believe me, we are so very thankful for all your support. HOT has always been very understated in our requests for donation. We are set to change this: Help HOT become a community and supporter funded project.

HOT logo

I want to support HOT: Click Here!

Why HOT matters

What can a Map do? What can you with a map? Learn about HOT’s impact around the world:

Business Supporters and Sponsors

Mapbox has agreed to match up to $10, 000.00 for this campaign. Thanks!

HOT has proven that technical skills and tools can make a difference around the world. We call on business friends and allies to help HOT continue to flourish. Often, when I talk with funders I find that HOT is really a hybrid – we are not only an NGO, we are a social tech organization. How can other companies help in the short or long term? Do you run a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programme? Perhaps you and your team are keen to support an NGO in your next year’s budget?

If you are interested in discussing, please contact me: Heather.Leson AT hotosm DOT org.


Mozfest Report Back: Community Toolkit

What happened to the Community Toolkit project? Last year many community leaders at Mozfest hacked the table of contents for a Community Handbook. Our goal was to take all the content, divide up the chapters and start writing on Github.

Web speaker by Mazil (Noun Project)

About the project:

Open wins when we share tools, tips and cheats to build community. This remixable toolkit aims to help communities and community builders learn best practises and remix tools, guidelines and resources. The emphasis is on practical, “grab-and-go” templates, worksheets and modules anyone can use quickly! :)

  • Remixable toolkits
  • Best practises, use cases and examples
  • Cheatsheets, recipes and templates

The team set up a trello board, Hackpad and a github account. Then, while it would be simple to say life and work happened for the leaders, there is much more to this story for me.

The Missing Chapters

Perhaps this Toolkit needed some missing chapters:

  • Hiring a new Executive Director
  • Onboarding your Executive Director
  • Guiding your community through a the largest event they have done (7500 mappers for Nepal)
  • Negotiating, navigating and transitioning the community and organization through big changes
  • Crowdfunding must be your friend
  • Board management and call a friend/Advisor

As volunteer who started a job in a new country, I only had 10-20 hours a week to contribute to a project this year. I really did not anticipate that I would be working countless extra hours to help on the above big items. But, as the president of Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team‘s Board it was absolutely what had to be the priority. While every community leader is a master of all trades, these were some big lessons for me and for our community. One thing I will be doing soon is open sourcing all the templates for how we handled the transitions, search/outreach, evaluation, and hiring. We had some excellent help from Allen Gunn (Gunner of Aspiration Tech). I looked long and hard for guides and resources on how to do this. There were just few documents for open source communities, so we created them. We will share these back with you because at some point your community will need to do this. (All the personal info will be removed.)

What’s next

This project needs to live, but we need a few more hands and someone else to be lead dancer for awhile.

If you and your team ever have these types of big items happen in your community, contact me. We are in this together to build open. I am your resource and support.

Ode to Mozfest

For my Mozfest allies: This year for the first time ever I am missing Mozfest. I was there at Drumbeat and then all the next iterations. Living in Doha makes for a long trip and work has me head down on tasks. I miss the creative interactions and wonderment of hanging out with my open soulsisters and brothers. Truly, I can’t wait to see what you create. Happy Mozfest!


Global Enterpreneurship Week: Free Technical Courses

Time to dig into learning! Global Entrepreneurship Week is November 16 – 22, 2015. Qatar will join over 125 other countries in this week long event. Qatar Computing Research Institute (HBKU) and Qatar Science and Technology Park are pleased to invite you to two workshops on Tuesday, November 17, 2015: Introduction to Big Data and Introduction to Machine Learning. Our goal is to help you learn some basics to help your startup or business.

Global Entrepreneurship Week logo

Register for the Workshops

These workshops will be held on Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at the Qatar Science and Technology Park. Registration is now open for two separate free technical training courses. QCRI has a mandate to share with the local entrepreneurship community. Research scientists have tailored the workshops for you. Keep in mind that you will need some technical skill to make the most out of the content.

REGISTER: Introduction to Big Data (16:30 – 18:30 AST)

REGISTER: Introduction to Machine Learning (19:00 – 21:00 AST)

Other Global Entrepreneurship Week Events:

Qatar Development Bank will be hosting events on November 15- 16, 2015. Register here for these activities. There will be other events listed leading up to the events.

This amounts to a very busy week of learning and networking! Let’s do this.


How will Qatar prepare for Information Overload?

We are neighbours, no matter where we live. Being a new resident to Doha, I am grappling with a number of questions. These stem from working with humanitarian and crisis information for a number of years. Plus, it is part of my mandate at Qatar Computing Research Institute to help apply research and software to support local needs. We have learned much globally about emergencies. I’d like to learn more about how to help locally and who is keen to collaborate.

How will Doha and Qatar prepare for the upcoming information overload? What are the communications plans during an emergency? How will the public use or not use social media or new technology during an emergency? What are the information and technology needs in the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council)? How does preparedness compare to other regions? How can citizens and communities prepare? How can Digital Humanitarians be of service? How would Digital Humanitarian community in Qatar differ? What are the training and technology needs of digital humanitarians locally? How can the local Digital Humanitarian community get more involved in the global community? How would Qatar Computing Research Institute’s work apply or not apply for emergencies in the region? What other types of research and/or software would serve the local responders and communities?

Gcc Government Social Media Summit

In September I attended the GCC Government Social Media Summit in Dubai. There were a number of presentations about preparedness and communications. I was interested to learn that in Dubai, every neighbourhood has a #hashtag. It is used for community activities but my colleague Ali Rebaie advised that this practice is also used for emergencies or resilience. This is something that happens around the world. Neighbours online are networks and information ambassadors locally (offline). This is invaluable. How can we apply this to Doha? Maybe because we are a smaller city and country, we organize primarily around #Doha or #Qatar. There should be tags for all social media platforms in multiple languages by districts and cities. By doing this, we can plan and share for communications.

The Qatar Red Crescent Disaster Management Camp in April 2015 provided great insights into how communication flows among responders. My observations found that people use WhatsApp to organize but are keen to investigate how social media might also be a communications channel. This participation has provided an impetus and goal to host a local social media and emergency meetups. Bringing responders and local enterpreneurs into the same space has started with the joint QCRI and Qatar Red Crescent Digital Humanitarian workshops. But, we do need to talk more about how social media will or won’t be a factor in Doha. How will people communicate during an emergency? How will responders work with them? At minimum, there needs to be local ‘information ambassador’ programme setup on WhatsApp. The more training the more ready we are for emergencies. The Qatar Red Crescent has been doing preparedness and resilience training in communities and with schools. Businesses may be thinking about text messages (SMS) during emergencies. But as a new resident working in these spaces, I do see opportunities to help.

CIvil Defense Exhibition and Conference

Civil Defense Exhibition and Conference
is hosting preworkshops on preparedness, community risk reduction, evacuation and infrastructure planning. All week for 5 hours a night I have joined about 60 people to learn from experts in the field. Participants are from across emergency response, civil defense, business and research. Questions have been fascinating. The earnestness to plan for all the stakeholders is very evident. While the mandate was not about ‘how communities will communicate’, it is very much on the minds of organizers and participants. All of this highlights the need for a more research on how will responders and communities work together.

IIEES (iran earthquake data)

(Map presented by the Professor Zare of the International Institute of Earthquake Engineering and Seismology, IIEES (Tehran, Iran))

There is a large multilingual and high-volume mobile telephone penetration. I’ve found some success in building informal alliances and finding allies. In talking with many stakeholders, there is an enthusiasm to build more plans around communications and citizen engagement for preparedness. Who should I talk with who is interested in communications and emergencies in Doha, Qatar or the GCC?


Why Youth are core to #ReShapeAid

Dear Digital Humanitarian allies, the United Nations Children and Youth Major Group have big ideas. Let’s help them make these happen. They embedded the need for digital skills into the Doha Declaration which then informed the World Humanitarian Summit Synthesis Report. Over the past months, I have closely followed and met these amazing leaders. Their sessions in Doha for the World Humanitarian Youth Summit followed by their participation in the World Humanitarian Global Consultation in Geneva, has shown the true power of youth. And, frankly, they have written Digital Humanitarian strategic plan that we should help them implement. Roll up your sleeves, while the talking continues leading up to the Summit, there is no need for any of us to wait.

Read the whole Doha Declaration report.

WHS Synthesis - Youth Priorities 2015


These are just some examples of statements. I find the whole report really inspiring. While many of the topics discussed, here are some key statements that resonated with me:

“Develop specific data collection tools and train young volunteers in affected communities to collect, monitor, and report data that will inform country-­‐level preparedness and response standards. Disaggregate data in conflict or
crisis stricken areas by sex, age, and socio-­‐economic, as well as other status so that the situations of youth can be

“Innovative Tools for Local Capacity and Participation Foster communication via robust and portable technologies at the local level to facilitate collaboration and engagement of different humanitarian actors (e.g. telemedicine, e-­‐learning, phone applications).”

“Enable safe learning spaces to raise awareness on preventative safeguards and measures to disaster response, strengthen resilience, and promote participatory action (e.g. virtual disaster simulation, meetups).”

“Encourage online and offline peer-­‐to-­‐peer exchange to share knowledge, skills, culture and trade to collectively build resilience through interactive media and art.”

Make use of technologies such as mapping, web-­‐-­‐based platforms, social networking, and others to build partnerships,engage youth in early-­‐warning, promote reciprocal action, and coordinate efforts of different humanitarian actors.”


Many of us have youth engagement plans for NGOs and Digital Responders, but just take a look at some of their additional core priorities. Let’s spend the next months helping draft plans to make these items happen. How can each Digital community consider these items as part of their plans? How can funders/donors plan for this? What role can companies play? I’m hosting Digital Humanitarian training classes in Doha because we need local knowledge for local action.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts on how groups and organizations can help build plans. And, for the members of the Children and Youth Major group = please keep up the great work. Policy negotiation is hard, but you have a voice and a plan that can thrive with passion and action.


Sold out – Digital Responders in Qatar

On October 7th, Qatar Computing Research Institute and Qatar Red Crescent Society will co-host the first ever Digital Humanitarian meetup in Doha, Qatar. We are sold out! The room holds 100 people and that is how many free tickets we made available. If you reserved a ticket and can no longer attend please email me asap so that I can open up a ticket for the waiting list. IF you are looking for a ticket, please do contact me.

The Digital Humanitarians in Qatar registration page

Digital Humanitarians
are people who use their technical, social, community and storytelling power to help support humanitarians in their work. We aim to use maps, data, and social media to provide information and insights. While this is the first event of its kind in Doha, we join a growing global civic technology community.

Digital Humanitarians in Qatar(updated).

About the Digital Humanitarians in Qatar event

Technical preparedness supports a resilient city and country. Qatar has a highly technical and young population. Digital Humanitarians use their social media savvy, create maps, conduct data analysis and use new media tools to provide insights to support humanitarians and affected communities. How can we get young people more engaged in their world, region and country? This is an opportunity to be globally responsible while potentially using the acquired digital skills for your work. We will work in partnership with humanitarians locally and globally to help you contribute.

What will you learn in this session?
In this session, we will provide an overview of the basic digital skills for humanitarian response online. Our guests will share real humanitarian scenarios for us to do some hands on learning.

Topics include:
  • Overview of Humanitarian response – context for emergencies
  • Introduction to Crisismapping and Digital Humanitarians
  • Social media curation, analysis and verification
  • Hands on exercises

We will provide more details on how you can learn between sessions and answer questions based on real world experiences. 

Who should attend:

Digital Humanitarians come from all walks of life. All you need is a willingness to learn and a technical device (mobile, tablet or laptop). There are many different types of contributions that people can make – large and small in terms of time and activities. In the global community, there are teachers, students, business people, creative people, humanitarians, researchers, analysts, data science, GIS experts and more. We will provide introductions to each of the various communities and skillsets to help your learning journey. It starts with us. 


How to: A Digital Humanitarian Handbook

The Digital Humanitarian community is growing. In the Digital Humanitarian Network, there are many communities and organizations. Each of them have a specific set of skills to offer. While there are some guides for each of the groups, there is no free, online and translated course or introduction guide to help people get involved.

The purpose of this community driven project is to create a community sourced guide on github to help people learn from each other. This online handbook builds on the work of 1000s of community members who use their technical skills for good. Earlier this year, my colleague, Patrick Meier published his book about Digital Humanitarians. How can we widen the circle of participation and reach new areas to support resilience. For example, during the Nepal Earthquake response, the Japanese community created a translated version of the Nepal building guide for how to map in OpenStreetMap with Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team. The Qatar Computing Research Institute and Standby Task Force response to the Nepal Earthquake had over 2800 participants from around the world. Our IP address report highlighted a participation gap in some regions of the world. At the recent World Humanitarian Youth Summit, I presented on why I think these digital skills are essential for the youth communities. Participants expressed an interest in learning and evolving this for their regions of the world.

During my time with the Qatar Red Crescent team at their annual Disaster Management Camp, we determined that core materials need to be translated into Arabic. I’ll be hosting local Digital Humanitarian training in Doha starting on October 1st. But what about the rest of the global community of civic tech and technical savvy communities. We hope that this will support our collective mission to encourage resilience and preparedness. And, while we are focused on crisis and emergencies, we think these core skills are very transferable to all the Sustainable Development Goals.

How to get involved

Or contact @heatherleson or @willowbl00 for help.

Draft Table of Contents

In the upcoming Digital Responders call in, we will review this draft table of contents. This will then be added to github to begin the curation process. Stay tuned for more details soon.

  • SECTION: Digital Humanitarianism Introduction
  • History of Crisismapping and Digital Humanitarians
  • Lessons and best practices
  • Code of conducts
  • Ecosystem: Working with Humanitarians and Contributors
  • Tools and Techniques overview
  • Examples by various topics – environmental, crisismapping
  • SECTION: SMS, social media and messaging (Whatsapp)
  • Digital Storytelling
  • Storify, Storiful,Blogging
  • Social media storytelling
  • SECTION: Community work
  • big tasks, small tasks
  • Microtasking 101
  • Software development in HFOSS
  • managing community lists
  • managing language and culture
  • SECTION: Data collection and analysis
  • Data Collection 101
  • sensors, social media, sms
  • Data Analysis
  • basic tools and techniques
  • SECTION: Verification
  • Overview and the Verification handbook
  • Verily and other tools
  • Visualization
  • charts, graphs
  • SECTION: maps
  • basic network maps
  • Geo for Good
  • Mapping 101
  • Mapping Google
  • Mapping OSM
  • Mapbox and Cartodb intro
  • Mapping ESRI
  • SECTION: Simulation 1: Teamwork and Roles (Global scenario)
  • How does coordination work during emergencies?
  • Coordination and community guidance
  • after action review
  • Simulation 2: Technique and mentoring (GCC scenario)
  • Technique testing
  • after action review
  • What to do with data after a project is done
  • How having a pre-existing community matters (KLL and Public Labs as examples)
  • Adversaries in digital space? InfoSec but also GamerGate
  • Digital colonialism
  • Sample curriculums
  • Sample simulation templates and checklists

I envision that the manual will have chapters by country and region. The Taiwanese OpenStreetMap community, for example, might have specific examples and scenario templates for their region of the world. Plus, it is our hope that the manual will help people find best practices across the very topics and civic tech communities. We need to learn from each other. This Digital Humanitarian Handbook is for all of us to evolve and fork.


The Next Stage of Digital Humanitarians

The World Humanitarian Youth Summit is in Doha, Qatar this week (September 1 – 2, 2015). Students and young people under the age of 30 joined from over 80 countries around the world. They are here to consult on a number of key issues creating an outcome document with key recommendations. Last night the drafting team was up until 5am AST working to compile all the brilliant ideas. This work will be submitted as part of the larger global consultations to Reshape Aid.

It was my honour to join the Transformation through Innovation panel to share some thoughts on how people could get involved as Digital Humanitarians and how they could learn and lead with these skills. During my talk, I share some thoughts on how we could challenge the future to get young people more involved all around the world. See my slides and detailed notes for more information.


Thank you to Reach out to Asia, the World Humanitarian Youth Summit, and the Children and Youth Major group for welcoming me in their conversations. Also thank you to Chad Bevins, Mark Iliffe, Kathmandu Living Labs, Yantisa Akhadi, and Stace Maples for their photos about Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team and OpenStreetMap activities around the world.

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