The Best Part of ICCM 2010, Not.

I facilitated a self-organized session on launching a Standby Crisis Mappers Task Force  at the Annual Meeting of Crisis Mappers. I blogged about this idea before the International Conference on Crisis Mapping (ICCM 2010). Talk about a mistake and a missed opportunity.

I had clearly mentioned in my blog post and in my opening remarks that I was going to experiment with a model to set up a more formal volunteer network using the Ushahidi platform because that’s the tool I know best and because the bulk of this network already exists; because that’s what I can guarantee and take responsibility for getting  done—and not just talk about endlessly saying  wouldn’t it be nice if… At no point did I suggest that the other technology groups could not do the same. On the contrary, I invited them to step up to the plate and do the same, to take responsibility; take ownership.

The reaction from our humanitarian colleagues was largely positive with some important constructive advice. Not so with one of the technology groups present. The response from this group was that we couldn’t be the first to focus on preparedness more actively because of perception issues, i.e., that the Standby Force would be synonymous with Ushahidi and thence favored by UN colleagues who would adopt the platform instead of the other technology platforms.

My response? I immediately apologized for my faux-pas and promptly proposed not to call this initiative the Crisis Mappers Task Force. I vouched to be more explicit that the standby volunteer group I’m personally working to set up with a few colleagues would first and foremost be a network trained on the Ushahidi platform and surrounding ecosystem, e.g., OpenStreetMap, Google Earth, etc.  because that’s what we’re good at. And as one of my colleagues who has trained more volunteer Crisis Mappers than anyone else said, “When I’m training volunteers it is never only on the Ushahidi platform, we have to use several other important platforms to make all this work.”

After this comment, I once again invited this other tech group (and everyone else present) to strengthen our initiative by setting up a joint standby network in collaboration with ours. I clearly said we would happily share our lessons learned on the volunteer model we are testing. No one has a monopoly on preparedness!

But that wasn’t good enough for this tech group. They also said we couldn’t go ahead and recruit, formalize and train a volunteer network on the Ushahidi platform because they would miss out on consulting opportunities and funding. Note: at no point did I ever suggest that this volunteer network would request funding or that we have a monopoly over the volunteer network we are recruiting. Again, the point was/is to use Ushahidi to experiment and test a standby model for volunteer engagement. Indeed, any other tech group is more than welcome to train the volunteers we’re recruiting on their own platforms.  Indeed, if someone else had proposed a Standby Volunteer Network dedicated to crisis mapping before me, I would have joined theirs immediately and offered to train their network tomorrow.

But did this technology group step up to the plate and offer to train the volunteers we’re recruiting? No. Were they pro-active and did they take the opportunity to join and strengthen the initiative? No. Did they make any commitment whatsoever? No, they just did not want us to move forward and implement a core principle of disaster response: preparedness. I have little patience with this kind of positioning and jockeying. Needless to say, I don’t think our humanitarian colleagues were particularly impressed either.

So where does this leave us? Where we started: my colleagues are pressing forward to formalize a standby volunteer network around the Ushahidi platform, which again does not prevent other groups from doing the same and/or joining the initiative. This network of Ushahidi users largely exists already, we’re simply formalizing it so we can be better prepared. We absolutely want the volunteers we recruit to be conversant with the rich ecosystem of different humanitarian technologies that are of interest to them.

I don’t know how much more clear of a signal I can possibly send: please join us and help us strengthen this network.

If this particular tech group I’m referring to doesn’t step up to the plate and instead chooses to criticize others who take initiative, then they ought to know that the real perception issue here is this: humanitarian colleagues  and others  who were present at the session will perceive this particular tech group as being insincere about disaster preparedness.

The UN’s Global Survey of Early Warning Systems commissioned by the former UN Secretary General and carried about by the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) defines the purpose of people-centered early warning systems as follows:

To empower individuals and communities threatened by hazards to act in sufficient time and in an appropriate manner so as to reduce the possibility of personal injury, loss of life, damage to property and the environment, and loss of livelihoods.

I was at the Third International Conference on Early Warning (EWC3) in 2006 where this report was first presented publicly. The key to effective people-centered early warning systems is preparedness. We want to empower an online community to use a wide mix of Crisis Mapping tools to act in sufficient time and in an appropriate manner (with guidance from the humanitarian community) to reduce the possibility of personal injury, loss of life, damage to property and the environment and loss of livelihoods for those threatened by hazards.

If I could train volunteers on 5 different platforms, I would. But I can’t because I’m not an expert on the other platforms and I already have a full time job (and then some). That’s why I took the initiative to organize the pre-conference Crisis Mapping Training Session at ICCM 2010. If we had had more space, time and timely funding, I would have organized an all day training on a dozen platforms and would happily do so on a regular basis. So I’m trying to play my role in this but I will absolutely not take responsibility for others who don’t step up and act  but instead complain because my colleagues and I are choosing to act.

No one has a monopoly on preparedness.

12 responses to “The Best Part of ICCM 2010, Not.

  1. Patrick, I specifically said that HOT would be more than willing to help with training this network. I realize that wasn’t the reaction of everyone. Our mission is to help the spread of free geographic data far and wide for humanitarian response and economic development. Providing training and educational materials for anyone that wants it for crisis response is clearly part of that mission. There are going to unfortunately be turf wars as these informal groups formalize though, I am unsure of what the best way to mitigate that is though.

    • Totally! I was definitely *not* referring to you or the awesome HOT team. Sorry for the confusion. Anahi told me almost a week ago that you were all already on board, which I’m absolutely thrilled about!! Ushahidi-Haiti could *not* have happened the way it did without OSM and Mission 4636 and you all deserve a lot more credit than you have received. Lets make this standby volunteer network happen and train volunteers on all the tools we’re conversant in. George and I will follow up soon with a proposed plan of action for your feedback and everyone else’s who want to work together. Would that be alright with you?

      As for turf wars, I’ll let someone else deal with that ;)

      Go Team!

  2. Hey Patrick, I am disheartened to read this. Community and volunteering is really about building and collaborating. I support any effort to that end irrespective of organization. Please count me in for what ever tasks the team needs.

    Also, congratulations to you and the ICCM10 team for a great event. It was an honour to attend the training session on Thursday and the Ignite presentations on Friday. The people were fantastic all around.

    Heather Leson

  3. Patrick, I am sorry that you appear to be so disheartened by the discussions surrounding the ready reserve. I certainly did not read into the consensus of the group any condemnation (other than the initial “branding” of the ready reserve) for what you are planning with regard to Ushahidi. I certainly applaud your efforts and as with the HOT I hope that Sahana can take steps itself to have a ready set of volunteers to mobilize.

    I do think that much of the surrounding discussion was not contrary to the concept of individual community ready reserves, but also looking towards overall mechanisms and qualifications that the non-traditional humanitarian technology responders can adopt to help foster trust. There were many good points within this discussion. Should we — in addition to the teams we have within our own projects — get those members to join or collaborate with existing groups such as URISA’s GISCorps? Should we create some sort of overall education and qualification for the individuals across our projects that requires education on basic emergency management, ethics, safety, and privacy/security concerns (this is an area, in particular, where I would be most willing to explore — if others are interested, let’s coordinate on the mailing list)? I think all of these things are over and above what we do internally within our groups and will go a long way to create trusted resources for those we wish to partner with.

    Yes, there were some concerns about “turf” and about funding, but I do not believe that the movement I saw in that room saw those as insurmountable. I especially did not hear anything that was pushing for Ushahidi not to pursue a ready reserve, just not to call it the “Crisis Mappers Ready Reserve”or to broker deals for Ushahidi under the auspices of Crisis Mappers which I honestly don’t believe was ever your intent.

    Keep up the good fight!

  4. Patrick – I think this is a great initiative on your part and I fully understand your personal decision to focus your efforts rightly on the area where you have the most expertise, which is with Ushahidi – especially as there was not overwhelming consensus behind your original proposal to form a broader crisis mappers team. I’m sorry to have missed this session at ICCM because it is a topic which I think occupies a lot of us individually and collectively.
    We’ve all moved beyond the proof of concept phase in the humanitarian-foss world and need to partner effectively with humanitarian response agencies. We can only do this through professionalizing to an extent our approach to volunteer contributions to disaster response activities. Sahana, like HOT and Crisis Commons and the team you are trying to organize (no matter what it’s final name or labeling) are all pursuing the same goal – getting effective tools into the hands of those who can use them to save lives and help disaster victims. That is what humanitarian-foss is all about and I know that you understand that. (See the Humanitarian ICT wiki for more on a proposed humanitarian-foss code of conduct). There should not be an exclusive rush to market. We all have something to offer. I’m sorry to hear that this is not necessarily a universal sentiment in the community. Hopefully perhaps just a misunderstanding that we can all put behind us. (I do like the call to action that such a discussion has generated however).
    There will, however, be obvious inevitable competition for scarce resources but as we discussed in New York early last week, I hope to have Sahana collaborate with you on this effort and look forward to continue to work as a global community with the Crisis Mappers and Ushahidi and Open Street Maps and everyone else present (and those not present) at ICCM10 to help the responsible responding agencies be more effective at their core missions.
    Go out and do good! is my motto. Bravo Patrick!

    • Thanks for your very kind words Mark, and many thanks again for making the trip to be at ICCM 2010, really great to have you and David there. Perhaps I did misunderstand some of the comments that came up, goodness knows I was exhausted. So yes, lets put that behind us and press on. In terms of funding, imagine how powerful a joint proposal from Sahana, FrontlineSMS, OSM and Ushahidi would be re setting up a modest standby volunteer network. Point is, we can find ways to collaborate and do good if money is needed.

      We’re now at a stage where it’s more about the ecosystem than the individual tool. Strengthening one tool and user base strengthens the entire network.

      Really looking forward to building this ecosystem with you and everyone else who is interested!

  5. Patrick I think the conference was great and we applaud your idea of working on Preparedness and Training. We would like to be in these disucssions and include perhaps Virtual training from our end. We could look at the Virtual Campus and evaluation software for groups you are training.

    We could also look at doing a high level Virtual Campus course to include for managers. This free HAZUS training course would be something we could model after. http://training.esri.com/acb2000/showdetl.cfm?DID=6&Product_ID=906

    • Many thanks Jon, it was really great to have ESRI represented at this year’s ICCM. Thanks for your co-sponsorship and thanks again for offering to concretely support our preparedness work.

  6. “Point is, we can find ways to collaborate and do good if money is needed” – i have good ideas (plenty) but no money and no way currently of getting the tech support i need to make them happen without money. I am working on the long-term global problem and the crisis of missing and unidentified persons. Feeling…like i need some help! Any of you fine tech people care to help me? Sorry, if this is off topic… apologies in advance.

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