Tag: #humtech


Data Driven Summer Schools

Summer is here in the northern hemisphere. My office is a ghost town with people on annual leave. Living in the Middle East means that I consider summer a time for major learning endeavors. Fortunately, many universities also see this opportunity.

The 2016 Big Data Peace and Justice Summer School has a great lineup of data leaders. Their aim is to connect researchers and practioners on how the data revolution is infusing peace and justice work. The application deadline is July 15th, 2016. The Peace Informatics Lab invites people to join for the Summer School on August 15 – 9, 2016. (Register here)

In a few weeks, I am off to teach at the ESA Earth Observation Summer School. I am excited about the topics and potential to co-create with students, fellow teachers and ESA leaders. (applications for this are closed)

Earth Observation summer school

What are you learning this summer? Taking any courses? Reading any ground-breaking books in your respective field?


Big Organizing for (Local to Global) Impact

“Volunteers are running complex teams, filling specialized work roles, just like professional organizers.”

Sound familiar? Micah Sifry’s interview of the core team of the Bernie Sander’s US election campaign truly resonated with me. The contributions to the campaign have already surpassed 2.5 million small and large volunteer activities. This includes Slack channels, special events, phone calls and online engagement. For years, many of us in the Digital Humanitarian/Digital Responder networks are at the cusp of growing from smaller boutique communities to wide spread growth. There were 1000s of us after the Haiti Earthquake growing to over 10, 000 after the Nepal Earthquake[1]. For those of us focused on big global change, the numbers of supporters and the volume of activities is massive. Yet, our collective digital activities can be even larger, more coordinated and more effective as we aim to focus and create solutions that matter.

Road by BraveBros. from the Noun Project noun_106568_cc

Each of the Digital Humanitarian communities are considering how to sustain growth, widen the circle to the next million, increase quality of activities, and be more inclusive (language, culture, region, and knowledge). Missing Maps is certainly a recipe for success with their regular mapathons, shared resources, partnerships, impact focus and large outreach networks. Since 2014, there have been 6,949 global-wide contributors to the OpenStreetMap based project. We also need to consider how to expand to meet all the global goals.

My primary career goal is to help people get involved in their world on things that matter. While there is not one formula or recipe, as an organizer and leader, I am super inspired by the Sander’s campaign playbook for how we can learn and grow the digital responder communities. As we consider the sustainable development goals and the outcomes of the World Humanitarian Summit, these examples can help us shape useful implementation plans for a network of networks.

We need the World’s Largest Lesson for how to get involved and create within digital responder networks. We need many great big implementation plans. But, this is only after we consider how address the right issues in a directed formulated plan. The Sanders US election campaign has a clear goal and the implementation pathway seems somewhat straightforward. The tactics they use are collaborative, detailed and powerful. They have activities for small interventions/actions up to very large participatory volunteer roles. Brilliant. How can we look at our goals in the digital responder space and really work with all the stakeholders to localize and have impact? Well, the humanitarians are organizing to innovate.

Guide to Developing a local DRN

The complimentary activity is happening in the Digital Responder space. The recently published Guidance for Developing a Local Digital Response Network [DRN][2] provides pathways for local communities to learn from others then remix. Andrej Verity’s blog post announcement on this launch highlights the opportunities. Now, we need are workshops around the world, curriculum in many languages and a grand implementation plan.

Big organizing and small incremental interventions are needed to make substantial change. An intersection of time, will and skill exists. Now it needs to be nurtured with big organizing for local to global impact.

[1] There was not an exact census after the Nepal Earthquake across the Digital Humanitarian Network. I did an informal survey of Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (over 8000), MicroMappers (about 2300) (QCRI), Standby Task Force (500) and then add all the other digital and local communities, including Kathmandu Living Labs.

[2] It was a pleasure to contribute input for the DRN guidance document. Congratulations to Jennie Phillips and Andrej Verity for this work.

[Image Credit: Road by BraveBros. from the Noun Project, ccby]


Scaling Inclusiveness for HumTech

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

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

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

Scaling Humanitarian Technology

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Delivering, Still Waiting

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

Humanitarian Innovation: Where is the parallel stream

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

Occupy Your Reality (photo in Padua)

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

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

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

Example: Digital Technology & Digital Humanitarians (Responders)

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

Impact examples:

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

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

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

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

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

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


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?


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.


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


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.

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