Calling 911: What Humanitarians Can Learn from 50 Years of Crowdsourcing

Before emergency telephone numbers existed, one would simply pick up the receiver and say “get me the police” when the operator answered. In fact, operators became the first point of contact for emergency dispatch. They would keep lists of specific numbers in their local towns (local fire department, local doctor, etc) to provide a very personalized emergency service and fast track response.


London was the first city to deploy an emergency number system. The number 999 was launched on June 30, 1937. When called, “a buzzer sounded and a red light flashed in the exchange to attract an operator’s attention” (1). The first number to be used in North America was the 911 system deployed in Winnipeg, Canada in 1959. The first US system, also using the 911 number, was launched in Alabama and Alaska in 1968. It wasn’t until the 1980s, however, that 911 was adopted as the standard number across most of the country.

Today, about 240 million 911 calls are made in the US each year, 30%-50% of which are placed using wireless services, and this number is increasing steadily.

When discussing the use of crowdsourcing to collect crisis information in humanitarian disasters, one of the overriding concerns is: “But what if the information is false? How can we trust that the information reported is true?” We forget that national emergency telephone systems have faced the same challenge for half-a-century. Indeed, 911 is a 50 year-old crowdsourcing system! So our colleagues in law enforcement may have learned a few things during this time, which could inform our work in the humanitarian field.

Incidentally, this may be a silly question but why in the world did governments set up  emergency phone numbers if the information collected using this crowdsourced approach is not immediately verifiable? Have the police gone nuts? What were/are they thinking? Were police crowdsourcing reports before telephone lines sprung up across the country? Maybe one had to run, bike or drive to the police station. Or if you were lucky, perhaps you’d have a police officer strolling the streets at just the right time.

So why not keep that good old analog system then? Well, lets face it, do we really want to leg it to the station every time something’s strange in the neighborhood?  No, we want to be able to call…

Can we assume that we’ll always be mobile during an emergency? Do we want to leave it up to chance that a fire truck might be patrolling the streets when the house next door house goes up in flames? Probably not.

In fact, the world’s oldest emergency (crowdsourcing!) call service—the UK’s 999—was introduced over 70 years ago after a London fire on November 10, 1935 killed 5 women. A neighbor had tried to phone the fire brigade but was held up in a queue by the telephone exchange. Neighbor Norman was so outraged that he wrote a letter to the editor of The Times:

A public outcry resulted (which could have been crowdsourced and mapped on an Ushahidi platform as a complaints mechanism):

This prompted a government inquiry. And thus was born the largest crowdsourcing system of the day. Rather ironic that it was ultimately user generated content that created today’s national emergency phone services. Wouldn’t it be great to get a UN inquiry along those same lines that established a crowdsourcing system for humanitarian crises? Sounds crazy, I know, but hey, 999 probably sounded a little nuts back in 1937 as well. And yet, they decided to test the idea in London, then extended trials in Glasgow and within 10 years the entire country was covered. I don’t see why a similar iterative approach couldn’t work in disaster response.

But what challenges does an emergency phone system face? The misuse and abuse of 911 can be divided into 2 categories: unintentional and intentional calls (2). The former includes phantom calls, misdials and hang-up calls. Lets focus on the latter issue, which be divided into the following categories: Non-emergency Calls, Prank Calls, Exaggerated Calls and Lonely Complainant Calls.

  • Non-emergency Calls: reports suggest that non-emergency calls account for a large percentage of 911 calls. For example, callers will phone in to report their car radio getting stolen, or ask for the results of a football game, the time of day, etc. 911 operators even get callers who ask them to transfer their calls to another number since calling 911 is free.
  • Prank Calls: most agencies apparently do not keep figures on total number of prank calls but these generally come from children and teenagers. Diversionary calls represent a sub-category of prank calls. Callers will dial 911 to send the police to a location where not emergency has occurred, sometimes to divert attention away from criminal activity committed by the caller. “There are only a few ways to determine if a call is diversionary: if the caller admits it; if someone informs on the caller; or if the dispatcher or police compare the caller’s location with that of the alleged emergency, to determine if the caller could plausibly claim an emergency at the called in location” (4).
  • Exaggerated Emergency Calls: callers will sometime intentionally exaggerate the seriousness of an emergency expecting that the police will respond faster. It is reportedly unclear how extensive this problem is.
  • Lonely Complainant Calls: other callers will repeatedly report an emergency over a series of month or years but the police never find evidence of there being one. These calls are often made by the elderly and those with mental health problems.

As these news articles here & here show, false reports to 911 can claim lives. Does this mean that law enforcement is considering pulling the plug on the 911 system? Of course not. So how does law enforcement deal with all this? Lets stick to prank and diversionary calls since this comes closest to the most pressing concerns we face in the humanitarian context. (Note the other issues listed above are typically addressed by educating the public).

Law enforcement’s response to prank calls involves targeting violators and applying graduated sanctions, such as fines or jail time. In Ohio, a public service announcement made clear to users that “we know where you are” when you call 911. Prank calls reportedly dropped as a result (5). Police can also take action by targeting specific phones that are used for prank calls. In another example, a hotel in Vegas routed all 911 calls to hotel security for triage after a large number of false 911 reports were made to the fire department.

Could we do something similar within a humanitarian operation? There’s already precedent to prosecute hate-based SMS, as happened in Kenya. We could work with telcos in question to send out a mass SMS broadcast to all subscribers letting them know they can be prosecuted for deliberately reporting false information.

That’s not a silver bullet, of course, but it seems to help national emergency phone systems. We could also draw on natural language processing (NLP) technologies like Swift River to create veracity ratings for crowdsourced reports. Of course, when confronted with a major disaster, everyone may be calling 911 at the same time, thus overwhelming capacity to respond.

In terms of this operational response, one partial answer may be revitalizing Community Emergency Response Teams (CERTs). Another partial answer may be the idea of crowdfeeding, or crowdsourcing response as I blogged about here based on a recent presentation I gave at Red Cross Conference in DC. During that same conference, the Red Cross revealed the results of a study on the role of social media in emergencies, which showed that more than 70% of those surveyed expect a response within an hour after posting a request on an social media platform. Now, there are too few disaster response professionals to assign to every street to meet those expectations (not to mention the cost implications). So they can’t always be there, but the crowd, by definition, is always there.

In the case of national phone emergency systems, there are usually laws that require the police to respond (not that they always do). This may be difficult to work out in the context of humanitarian response. So let me share an anecdote from the Ushahidi-Haiti Project. One of our overriding concerns after launching the 4636 short code with colleagues was raising expectations among those texting that someone would respond to these SMS’s. Three points:

1) Colleagues and I spent hours on Haitian Diaspora radio and television answering questions from listeners and viewers about the purpose of 4636. We made it very clear that the service was simply an information service and that we couldn’t guarantee any kind of response. We also explained that some responders like the US Coast Guard and Marine Corps were prioritizing life and death situations and therefore were not responding to every text message. This helped callers understand the purpose and limits of the service.

2) As a result of these concerns regarding expectations, my colleague Jaroslav Valuch and I recommended that PakReport.org adjust their public messaging campaign by asking people to report their observations instead of their needs. One could also invite people to text in their complaints, thus crowdsourcing perceptions (real or otherwise) of frustration and discontent which could provide humanitarians with important situational awareness. But this too may raise expectations of response. So sticking with simple reports based on observations is sometimes more prudent.

3) As studies from Aceh (the 2004 tsunami) and Pakistan (the 2005 earthquake) showed, it is important to communicate with disaster affected communities, even if the message is that help is not yet on the way. See Imogen Hall’s research and the CDAC consortium, for example.

I’m using the 911 emergency system as an analogy and don’t pretend that the model can be automatically applied to the humanitarian context. But these phone-based emergency crowdsourcing systems have been around for half-a-century and it would be naive to discount any of the lessons learned and best practices that this wealth of experience has produced across such a large scale.

32 responses to “Calling 911: What Humanitarians Can Learn from 50 Years of Crowdsourcing

  1. Hi Patrick,

    Nice article. Before ‘999’, there was ‘society’ – the men of a village would band together and put out fires; these became bands of men equipped with handpumps on carts, which eventually became formal fire brigades, and misdemeanours were often stopped by citizens because it was the right thing to do. And most UK lifeboat crews are still volunteers, being called out by pagers to do their own crowdsourcing bit.

    BTW, your list of phone system challenges missed “silent calls”. Some time ago I was visiting a (UK) emergency response centre and was told that people often called 999 accidentally – from memory, it went something like the 9 button isn’t disabled on UK phones (so you can still call the emergency number), and people often accidentally called the emergency services by sitting on their phones, jostling them in their handbags etc.

  2. Let’s use the Crisis Mappers Net monthly webcast series to integrate and share some of the lessons learned from the folks that have been thinking about 911 and emergency response systems for years. Let’s invite some key players/thinkers to give a 20-30 minute webinar followed by an open Q&A session for the community… thoughts?

  3. Hi Patrick,

    Like the post. I have been thinking along similar lines in terms of preparedness. I can very much see a role for an organization like UN-OCHA, ISDR and maybe even UNDP to work with governments in getting a system established (perhaps first in the most disaster prone countries). Imagine if a short code was already established, the website setup, and processes to handle the information defined (before an emergency). When something strikes, the people (and government) know how to use the system – no sales job required. At that point, we (as in the humanitarian responding community) would have a great ‘early assessment’ of the situation because people could be SMS-ing almost from time 0. I know that many would be very hesitant to call such an approach an official assessment, but it could be used to help identify what could be the worse affected areas and then organizations could target verification assessment missions in these locations.

    I know that in Pakistan, the government had a call center setup to handle people calling into to complain about the situation. However, they were capturing only basic information and then used it in a highly consolidated way. Unfortunately, they were not in a place to respond to questions or issues on these call. The Mass Communications team (lead by IOM) was trying to work with them so they they could have ‘stock answers’ to common question as well as build up a list of new questions (which could then be turned into stock answers). If we are going to setup such a system, we need to be able to communicate with the community (i.e. CDAC).

    Cheers.

    • Hey Andrej, thanks for writing. I’m actually exploring the model you outlined with a UN Office for a country in Central Asia. Will send you the draft report when I’ve finished it. Interesting to know about the call center in Pakistan and IOM.

      Cheers,
      Patrick

  4. Very nice post Patrick. It’s important to look at the opportunity to incorporate what we learned from the past. It charts a path to address those questions that are raised by crowdsourcing in relief operations.

  5. This post is bizarre: by every definition I’ve ever seen, the 999/911 emergency services are not crowdsourcing.

  6. Patrick,
    I read with interest, your article concerning original crowdsourcing technologies relevant to the emergency scenario.
    Moving to the origin of the term, before the technology of telephone, we had word of mouth, the ‘alarum’. When this voice activated system was initiated, sufficient individuals were summoned by audible response to a ‘cry and hue’ otherwise known as a ‘hubbub’ perhaps (another term having popular resurgence in relevant quarters).
    It is my opinion that we have reached another threshold surpassing the telephone system and your article is illustrative of the scope we have transcended.
    Having a phone branch system with emergency responders passively waiting to leap into action attached made it necessary to have a special number that could circumvent the typical routing scenario.
    Internet technology, and specifically the ability for SMS text to be transmitted via internet and interact with databases, has taken us another quantum leap beyond anything like 911.
    The ‘on the ground’ pedestrians, I mean every citizen with a communications device, is now our best source of information for any given scenario. Collectively, humans are capable of a great deal of information processing and organizing that was formerly the domain of ‘managers’ who were necessary when the means to disseminate information was constricted.
    These ‘managers’ would be the collecting point for all types of data and would screen superfluous noise, impart a value scale, then pass along or act upon the incoming data.
    I feel strongly that the age of cloistered specialists controlling access to information is forever gone.
    I am a newfound fan of the Craig’s List model of “needs and resources”.
    I believe that an incredibly robust system is now available for low cost that does not technically require cell tower infrastructure or an internet connection with servers to be effective.
    Literacy is no longer a barrier either.
    For less than $10 us, right now, java enabled handsets with GPS locators can transmit information from phone to phone using a graphically driven menu system that updates a central database, which ‘manages’ the flow of information.
    I believe that geographically relevant groups of individuals are best able to manage their own affairs for the most part and should be encouraged to participate in a system that allows them to do so. At some point when a self organized community is no longer capable of providing for all needs or when an exotic or emergent need is produced, this same system should be perfectly capable of forwarding the request on ‘upward’ (I prefer ‘over’) to an agency or department capable of responding to that specific need.
    The origin of the need will have precise coordinates, since the system would be living and integrated, resource chains can be created according to logic rules. e.g. I have a truck but no water. A nearby community needs blankets. An aid agency has water and blankets but no transport: A simple system could inform me that I could obtain water and blankets, take them to the exact location required and satisfy my community need for water. Re-weaving the post-disaster social fabric at the same time.
    Positive relationships can be indicated and thereby trust mechanisms organically grown.
    Individuals shouls OWN their OWN wisdom /knowledge /data /etc. and there is no excuse why civilians should be marginalized while well-fed western aid workers wander into town and offer advice on how to live.
    Let’s develop an economic model to go along with it; Such a system could actually quantify the amount of money saved by NOT having to respond to a disaster. One or two early reports of diarrhea in a vulnerable location could stave off an epidemic of Cholera. A system with many participants can provide these reports far better than a team of canvassing aid workers. With the additional benefit of providing culturally appropriate solutions and again, strengthening the community bond, democratizing and fostering confidence in the local government.
    So yes, incident verification is important. That is an easily solved problem with weighted value on the reporter. For the unknown cases in a connected environment, it becomes quite simple for the community to verify if anyone within a proximity is notified and given a location to walk or drive to and obtain that verification. If the tool is owned and used by the community, we can mostly eliminate the need for big letter agency ‘driving around’ to check up on reports and most importantly enable community members to guide recovery efforts.
    Looking at groundcrew.us provides a glimpse to something crucial as well. Identification of natural leaders. These golden individuals rarely self identify or advertise. They get to work. But they are precisely who you want to notify in case of disaster to have effective response.

    I’m trying to create such a system right now. With a planned rollout to representative members of groups who meet regularly and are primary care providers of numerous communities. Opening such a system to the general public is not a technical hurdle, but making sure the ‘system culture’ is cultivated for best use is an important consideration.

    I’m wrestling with myself to stop writing at this moment so let me cut it here.

  7. What Crowdsourcers can learn from Humanitarians?

    Patrick…well written and thought out post comparing emergency calls to crowdsourcing.

    The international humanitarian community – the UN agencies, international and non-governmental organizations, the donors, etc – will need to adapt to the new technologies, the new information providers, and the new community of ICT professionals and volunteers that have begun to play a role in the humanitarian information landscape. Likewise, the new community of ICT professionals and volunteers will need to establish collaborative working relationships with international and host country humanitarian organizations and utilize their valued-added capabilities to enhance coordination and decision-making, and not undermine and circumvent it. There are certain meta-data standards, knowledge management principles, and humanitarian codes of conduct that this community should incorporate into their best practices.

    The first responders are always the citizens, the civil society organizations, and the local and national government emergency response organizations – they are at the scene when the disaster strikes, they have the personal and national interest and responsibility to save the lives of their fellow citizens, to treat the injured and the sick, to take care of the emergency needs of their own affected populations – providing food, shelter, medical services, etc… This is the way it should be. We must ensure that specific reporting of emergency needs does not circumvent the civil society and governmental response mechanisms, and that it feeds into the emergency assessment process. It is already difficult enough for the affected country and international humanitarian organizations to coordinate assessments, emergency response, and humanitarian assistance, without individuals, communities, and institutions (schools, churches) now being able to request assistance via Web 2.0 technologies.

    Crowdsourcing can play a valuable role in providing information from the most neglected community and ignored source of information – the affected citizens themselves. It can add to the overall situational awareness – identifying problems and unmet needs in areas that have not been assessed and responded to. Although there is the problem of the “ digital and wireless divide” – it automatically favors individuals and communities that have access to devices, connectivity, bandwidth, and techie skills over those who do not – it should be seen as new source of information that adds to the overall situational awareness and assessment of needs. Governmental and international organization assessment teams will still visit and assess communities and areas that are without connectivity or necessary technology.

    Another gap in information that crowdsourcing can fill is reporting on how the citizenry, civil society institutions, and government are responding to the emergency. Admittedly, ReliefWeb, Alertnet, the international humanitarian organization, and international media reporting and websites give the impression that the international humanitarian community are the Superman saviors of the affected population and providing all of the assistance – there is little available reporting on what local first responders, civil society groups, and government organizations are doing to respond to and provide assistance to their own citizens. This gap in information perpetuates the impression of the affected population as helpless victims – rather than recognizing and promoting their own role in the response and recovery. The new Web 2.0 technologies should be applied to mobilize and galvanize affected community response efforts and preparedness, as well be used to inform and provide guidance to the affected populations.

    Citizen reporting and crowdsourcing will be able to provide information from a previously untapped and ignored source of information – the affected population and survivors of the disaster. It will, however, add to the already existing overload of information on an emergency. The challenge will be to get the critical and “actionable information” into the hands of the humanitarian response/assistance organizations, both national and international, so that it can facilitate effective decision making, faster response and delivery of assistance, and enhance coordination and not undermine it.

    Dennis King

    • Hi Dennis, many thanks for your informative feedback, I really appreciate. I agree that one of the challenges will be the overload of information. I’m optimistic that tools from NLP, machine learning and AI will help in that regard.

  8. Please, somebody help me out.

    Jeff Howe identifies two definitions of crowdsourcing. His “White Paper Version” refers to taking “a job traditionally performed by a designated agent (usually an employee) and outsourcing it to an undefined, generally large group of people in the form of an open call.” The 999/911 emergency services are exactly the opposite of that, part of the process of moving away from the “hue and cry” approach referred to by Omdesign above, and placing the responsibility clearly in the hands of a designated agent.

    Howe’s “Soundbyte Version” refers to the “application of Open Source principles to fields outside of software”. This is more interesting and more flexible, but again doesn’t describe the 999/911 emergency services. Historically, emergency call systems run on the opposite of Open Source principles – they are not transparent, participatory or collaborative.

    Crowdsourcing has proven its value in a number of different fields, but applying the label “crowdsourcing” to anything and everything doesn’t really add much to that value. Can somebody please explain to me how 999/911 is crowdsourcing?

    • Paul,
      if looked at from the perspective of the Emergency Services, 911 (999) is “crowdsourcing” in the respect that they want to know where the Emergency is and what kind of response is needed.

      Fortunately, they have the entire local population available to provide that information as soon as an Emergent situation becomes recognized.

      The citizenry is basically on contract to seek and report any possible emergency so, in effect, the Fire Department doesn’t have to constantly put water on every roof in town just in case one of them sprouts fire. ;)

      • The thing is, there are actual definitions of crowdsourcing – I gave two above – and what you describe doesn’t fit them.

        So the question is: how useful is it if you simply redefine “crowdsourcing” to fit whatever subject you happen to be interested in?

        Also: that’s a pretty horrific view of the relationship between the emergency services and the public. Are you sure?

  9. Incidentally, this may be a silly question but why in the world did governments set up emergency phone numbers if the information collected using this crowdsourced approach is not immediately verifiable?

    It was immediately verifiable, by professional employees visiting the location which had been identified in person to ground truth the information. In a previous post you condemned this as “the traditional mindset” that “implies that the disaster affected populations are all liars”. I’m starting to get very very confused indeed.

  10. Patrick Meier | September 26, 2010 at 6:01 am | Reply

    Hi Dennis, many thanks for your informative feedback, I really appreciate. I agree that one of the challenges will be the overload of information. I’m optimistic that tools from NLP, machine learning and AI will help in that regard.

    Hi Patrick,

    This is a well-studied area for military information systems. The best places to start are works on situation awareness (or situational awareness – these terms are often used interchangably) and information fusion. Gotchas in reducing the information overload are going to be things like information incest (giving too much weight to the same source data because it comes from several apparently independent places), uncertainty handling and deep parsing issues that come with using completely free-text inputs. That said, having access to things like gisting and sensitivity analysis could certainly be useful, as could be adapting things like combined source / data credibility ratings. It might be worth posting a summary of the problem to the Uncertainty in Artificial Intelligence mailing list, to see if anyone there would be willing to help.

    Sj.

  11. PS re Paul C’s comment. IMHO, the term crowdsourcing seems to have been applied equally to two quite different situations, both of which have been part of Ushahidi’s model: the generation of information by a crowd of people (i.e. the 999 model), and the processing of information by a crowd of people (i.e. the traditional crowdsourcing model that you mention).

    Data to processing doesn’t have to be crowd to crowd (which is what happened in the first days of the Haiti response): the processors might also be a smaller group of specialists (e.g. the dedicated operators who are now processing the Haiti SMSs), which would make Patrick’s analogy to the 999 system stand.

    BTW, this mental model helped me make sense of some of the uses of the term ‘crowdsourcing’ and is offered only as a possible suggestion. It might not be ‘correct’, but then ‘correct’ in IT terms is often, whether we like it or not, a matter of common usage.

    Sj.

  12. Patrick,

    I enjoyed this – I wonder if we might look at the issue of false reporting from a community perspective. How does the community benefit if the information is correct? In many ways, we reward false information and useless information on such a regular basis, that people may not be able to tell the difference anymore.

    I know that Boston provides training and certification for volunteers in emergencies. Perhaps we could partner with this kind of local, on the ground training so that people could also be trained to crowdsource during an emergency. That way, there would be people on the ground in each location who could go and verify reports on the ground.

    Anyway, very thought provoking piece, thanks. I’ll link to it on @The_Beanstah

    Warmest,
    Sonya

    • Hi Sonya, thanks for your feedback and for Tweeting!

    • Sonya,
      crisis commons has been working hard to create a “Crisis Camp in a Box” that will be an effective mechanism for the training you suggest.
      Leveraging social networking and being able to tap into the volunteer tech community has already been a proven means to ‘crowdsource’ solutions.

  13. Sara, thanks for your clarification, although it’s disappointing that Patrick wasn’t able to clarify himself.

    the term crowdsourcing seems to have been applied equally to two quite different situations, both of which have been part of Ushahidi’s model: the generation of information by a crowd of people (i.e. the 999 model), and the processing of information by a crowd of people (i.e. the traditional crowdsourcing model that you mention).

    Perhaps this is where I’m failing to understand what’s being discussed. I can see where you’re going with the definition of crowdsourcing, but I still don’t see how you can call the 999 model “crowdsourcing” in any meaningful way.

    The 999 model is an individual passing a request via a dedicated centralised agent to a range of professional service providers who respond on an case-by-case basis. There is no “crowd” in the sense intended by crowdsourcing at either the transmitting or receiving end.

  14. hi.

    This is a great article, and I love the analogy to 911, and what we have learned.

    I think the place to start when asking the question about false data is with the question Sonya asked – How does the community benefit if the information is correct? I think digging down into this is the question – what does the community expect? I would suggest that in places such as Haiti, the community is looking for the immediate crisis to be solved, but in the long term they are looking to better their lives. For better or worse, crisismappers are now part of the “development community”, and have to address the longterm outcomes of their actions

    Thus, we can go at the false data question then by looking at how we can create tools to externally groundtruth data. THis is the shortterm may provide some results, but in the longterm … not so sure.

    Or, it can be looked at from a longer term perspecitve – gaining the trust of the community by demonstrating the commitment to the community beyond the immediate crisis. In the long run I would say that this will assure better data than will the better or new tools. .

    So, from the perspective of better tools, I am skeptical – the cost/benefit of verifying data can become quickly prohibitive, especially in developing country, crisis situations. You brought up two ideas:

    1. Targeting those who are reporting false data. I think this is a good idea, and can up the veracity of the data, but this is challenging in a developing world context. Many people who may be providing false data may not have a permanent address so can’t be found. It is also hard to punish them if you find them, especially if you don’t know the politics of the area. And, punishment in many countries goes beyond just fines … it could get ugly.

    2. Communicating exactly what your intentions are; being clear that you are not providing immediate relief, but collecting data that will inform the larger response. Your idea of having people report the information and not the needs is a smart one. Yet, this is again challenging, as it goes to the heart “development” and what the community really wants. The perception of people on the ground of outsiders who are coming in from the developed world is that they will do something, make things better, not just in the short term but the long term. Just creating maps doesn’t necessarily do it for people, especially if they will never be able to access it after you leave. Eventually you lose legitimacy, maybe not with the large agencies, for whom you are providing a key service, but with the people.

    So, I don’t think either of those in the long run is the most effective.
    My proposal would be to contextualize the crisis response in the broader terms of long-term and sustainable development. I know there is already more than enough to do, but, in looking at the longer term need to work in communities, and the long term need to deal with crisis, the way one does this is to assure that the community is “empowered” – by the technologies, methods, and ownership of the outputs.

    This means looking beyond the immediate crisis, and addressing if they are able to use and incorporate mapping into their community. Mapping is new to most communities – in my experience most of the people I have worked with (primarily with youth in East Africa) have never seen a map. Goodchild describes GIS as the “language of planning power”, and these communities never had that power literally at there finger tips. Handing it over to planner or local government is as well not a great idea – it is better to empower the groups that you are working directly with.

    In demonstrating that crowdsourced maps are legitimate, communities now have the ability, if their capacity is increased, to not only deal with crisis, but as well plan and advocate for the betterment of their community.

    So, you can create organizational capacity on the ground – such as say the MapKibera people are doing in Kenya (I blogged on this a while back – )- and then the community becomes allies, empowered, and in turn they will assure the data is good. The power of taking a place such as Kibera, which most saw as miles of corrugated tin roof, and making a map that shows how people live day to day, is immeasurable. Or, in providing maps in Haiti.

    Anyways, this is a longer and more circuitous route, but I think the if in the front end planning, there is a goal of ensuring capacity is built with the local populace, in the long run the data will be better.

    Doug

  15. hi Patrick. No problem. And thank you for ICCM – sorry i couldn’t make it – but that’s what twitter is for! Learned a lot. Doug

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