Monthly Archives: October 2008

Crisis Mapping at Mobile Active ‘08

Erik Hersman (Ushahidi), Robert Kirkpatrick (InSTEDD) and Christopher Fabian (UNICEF) led an excellent panel on mobile technology in disasters and crises. Erik gave an superb presentation on Ushahidi 2.0 due to be released in the coming weeks. The functionalities that the Ushahidi team has added to the platform are just spot on and really well thought through. I’m very excited for the open source tool to get out into public hands very soon. In the meantime, I will be helping the team test the upgraded tool over the coming weeks.

Robert gave a more technical-oriented presentation on InSTEDD’s latest toy, Mash4X. While I think I grasped the basics and ultimate purpose of the new tool, much of the platform’s description was rather technical. Robert did mention to me later on that they (InSTEDD) are still trying to hit the right notes when they present their work to a non-technical audience. I suggested he give more basic examples, real-world scenarios in which the tool could be used. Robert also showed screenshots of GeoChat which he had described to me back in November 2007.

Christopher presented some of the projects UNICEF is engaged in such as the development of a new laptop computer that can be used in crisis environments. He emphasized the importance of collaborating with groups like Ushahidi and InSTEDD.

Patrick Philippe Meier

Digital Democracy at Mobile Active ‘08

Emily Jacobi and Mark Belinsky with Digital Democracy are doing phenomenal work in Burma. Their presentation in Jo’burg provided an overview of their projects in the region.

Some of the most interesting observations they made included the following:

  • Activists within Burma smuggle out pictures taken using their mobile phones using flash drives, so that fellow activists in neighboring countries to upload to the web.
  • There is a correlation between access to the Internet and self-identification as activists.
  • A change in communication policy in Burma is most likely to come from pressures by Chinese businessmen who carry out extensive business (trips) to Burma and who are increasingly frustrated by connectivity issues and cost.


I had the opportunity to hang out with Emily and Mark quite a bit over the three-day conference and I’m really excited by the work they’ve been doing and will begin doing in other countries. They were two of the most interesting new friends I made at MobileActive. I’m eager to follow their work and to explore potential areas for collaboration with DigiActive.

Patrick Philippe Meier

DigiActive at Mobile Active ‘08

I was very kindly invited by Katrin Verclas to co-lead a workshop on mobile technology for advocacy and activism for Mobile Active 2008. Perhaps the best part about this was meeting and getting to know my fellow co-leader Hernan Nadal and his work with Greenpeace in Argentina. Hernan gave a really interesting presentation on mobile phone facilitated advocacy campaigns he has carried out with Greenpeace. I highly recommend checking out his slides here.

My presentation provided an overview of DigiActive, an all-volunteer group dedicated to empowering grassroots individuals and communities to maximize their political impact using digital technology. The first half of my presentation focused on examples of activists using the following tools in repressive environments:

  • Mobile technology to organize and mobilize protests
  • Camera phones to document human rights abuses
  • Microblogging tools to bridge mobile and cyber activism

The second half of my presentation addressed challenges such as personal security, costs and dissemination. On the latter point, one observation worth keeping in mind is that identifying distributed public spheres in countries with repressive regimes is critical for disseminating information. For example, while much is centralized in repressive environments, the transportation network tends to be more decentralized. These channels are important sources for disseminating and distributing information. For example, taxis in Cuba and long-distance bus drivers in Zimbabwe.

The slides of my presentation, which figured as a feature on Slideshare’s homepage are available here.

Patrick Philippe Meier