Dear colleagues. Having the opportunity to be first at giving an Ignite talk has its privileges. It means that I can in many ways set the stage for part of the discussion that is yet to come. And that is exactly what I have chosen to do here today. I want to focus on the importance of making sure that all of our efforts here today and tomorrow are efforts that add value to the environment we are trying to address
Because we must all remember that in the chaotic environment that follows a sudden-onset disaster information is one of the most valuable commodities, yet it is at this same time that it is hard to obtain the right information and there is little sharing going on between those that manage to get some of it.
And it is at these times we look towards the crowds as a way to solve this need for information. But we must ask ourselves these basic question – Is the crowd providing any value? Is crowdsourced data of any value?
We all belief that technology is the solution to all of our problems, yet we see in the humanitarian world that the use of technology has changed very little in the last 5 years. We are still struggling to get technology to deliver value. This is mainly due to lack of standards, political will and capacity within the humanitarian community.
Any effort we do can provide value for different actors in the emergency. It can provide value to the government of the affected country. It can provide value for the humanitarian organizations responding. It can provide value for the affected population itself. It is however very seldom that the same effort provides value to all these actors at the same time and we must be clear when talking about an effort for whom we are adding value.
For affected communities we must provide them with information about how to help themselves. We must keep them informed of what the humanitarian community is doing and we must involve them in the process. We should also consider them as an important source for information about the situation. This is one type of crowdsourcing.
For the first responders we must provide them with the information they need to be able to provide the assistance on the ground in occasionally connected austere environments they work in. They don’t have access to websites or fancy live maps. They need offline capability and simplicity is the key to everything. The ability to navigate their way around an unfamiliar environment is priceless.
Operational decision makers on the ground need information to create tactical plans for how to coordinate the resources available. They need to have a good overview of the situation and they need to establish a common operational picture that gives them an idea of who is doing what and where. Their connectivity is somewhat better, but usually bandwidth, time and human capacity are a limited commodity.
Strategic decision makers sitting in headquarter locations around the world need information to create strategic plans for how to deal with the crisis. They need to have a good macro-level overview of the situation and they need to be able to identify gaps in the response for them to address. This group includes the donor community which uses information to decide who to support and where.
Finally we can be providing information to the general public to create awareness about a crisis and the response, mainly to generate funds for the response itself.
So before we start harnessing the power of the crowds to gather and process information and create good looking maps we must ask ourselves whether all of this is worth the effortAre we providing value to the right actors? Or are we spreading our efforts to thin by trying to provide value for everyone?
The key to making this effort worthwhile is for all sides to be willing to discuss and listen. By understanding the needs of the response community and understanding the needs of the affected communities the crowd communities can start providing value. If you want to add value to crowdsourcing effort for humanitarian response I encourage you to listen more than you talk and thereby gaining the needed understanding of each other.
So take a leap forward for the next day and a half and lets start focusing on providing value to each other. Take a leap forward and focus on listening to what each other have to say instead of trying to preach what you believe is right. Take a leap forward and decide to cooperate, collaborate and work together instead of trying to become a lone ranger.
Leveraging the opportunities ahead of us requires us to be humble about each others capabilities. It requires leadership at all levels. It requires collaboration instead of competition. It requires focus on value and an attempt to understand each others needs and abilities. It requires courage and a belief that anything is possible if we work together.
The importance of adding value
GISLI OLAFSSON Expert Meeting: Crowdsource Mapping for Preparedness and Emergency Response Vienna, 5-6 July 2011