ISCRAM2009 Sensemaking and Information Management in Humanitarian Disaster Response: Observations from the TRIPLEX Exercise

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Presentation given at the Information Systems for Crisis Response and Management (ISCRAM) 2009 conference on May 11, 2009 in Gothenborg, Sweden. The presentation is based on the paper "Sensemaking and …

Presentation given at the Information Systems for Crisis Response and Management (ISCRAM) 2009 conference on May 11, 2009 in Gothenborg, Sweden. The presentation is based on the paper "Sensemaking and Information Management in Humanitarian Disaster Response: Observations from the TRIPLEX Exercise" by Willem Muhren and Bartel Van de Walle, which is published in the ISCRAM2009 proceedings and online available at

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  • 1. Sensemaking and Information Management g g in Humanitarian Disaster Response: Observations from the TRIPLEX Exercise Willem Muhren and Bartel Van de Walle Tilburg University Acknowledgement Gothenburg, 11 May 2009 The research reported here is part of the Interactive Collaborative Information Systems (ICIS) project (, supported by the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs, grant nr: BSIK03024.
  • 2. Outline • Information processing challenges • Sensemaking S ki • UNDAC, TRIPLEX exercise and Research methodology • Observations • Discussion • Conclusion Concl sion
  • 3. Information processing challenges Information Interpretation Lack of… Uncertainty Ambiguity Acquire Variety/diversity of… Complexity Equivocality Restrict Analysis Sensemaking (Adapted from Zack 2007)
  • 4. Sensemaking (Weick 1995) • Dealing with ambiguity and equivocality • The deliberate effort to understand events to give meaning to what is events, happening • Ge es s Genesis: a lack o fit bet ee e pectat o a d e pe e ce ac of t between expectation and experience • A set of seven constructs to understand and analyze this process • Has been proved useful for crisis analysis • Support resources for better Sensemaking Can Sensemaking be supported through specific IS design?
  • 5. Sensemaking constructs and their support Construct 1 Solitary Social 1.IS should encourage Social Context resources resources conversation Construct 2 2.IS should give people a distinct, Vague Defined stable sense of who they are and Identity identity identity what they represent Construct 3 3.IS should preserve elapsed Forward Backward Retrospect data and legitimate the use of noticing noticing those data Construct 4 Confirmed Equivocal 4.IS should enhance the Cue extraction cues cues visibility of cues
  • 6. Sensemaking constructs and their support (2) 5.IS should enable people to be Construct 5 Episodic Continuous resilient in the face of Ongoing flow of events flow of events interruptions Construct 6 6.IS should encourage people Probability Possibility Plausibility to accumulate and exchange as criterion as criterion plausible accounts Construct 7 Reactive Enactive 7.IS should encourage action Enactment as form of action as form of action
  • 7. UNDAC Case study United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination • Part of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) ( ) • Designed to assist the UN in providing information during the first phase of a sudden-onset emergency and in the coordination of incoming international relief at the site of the emergency. • Standby capacity of international disaster managers • Rapid deployment for sudden-onset disasters (in 6-24 hrs) • Team of 5-10 people • Deployed for approx. 3- 4 weeks • Free of cost to recipient country • Self-sufficient
  • 8. OSOCC UNDAC sets up an On-Site Operations Coordination Center (OSOCC) Objectives: • To provide a framework/platform for cooperation and coordination among the international humanitarian entities at a disaster site. • To act as a link between international responders and the affected country'sy authorities.
  • 9. Research aim • UNDAC information management: “to compile and analyze the information input from outside sources and provide timely output of analyzed information for dissemination to stakeholders” • Important in the information management processes are needs assessments, coordinated (and sometimes conducted) by UNDAC Role of Sensemaking: • How well UNDAC team members make sense of the situation – especially when managing the information – will determine the timeliness and appropriateness of the response by the international community community. • Improved Sensemaking will lead to less ambiguity and equivocality, hence a better assessment of the disaster situation and the aid that is needed How can IS support the seven Sensemaking constructs in the needs assessment process?
  • 10. TRIPLEX exercise • International Humanitarian Partnership exercise in Norway and Sweden, September 2008 • Floods scenario in Westlandia (Norway) and Eastlandia (Sweden) – Westlandia: medium developed, peaceful country – Eastlandia: low developed, autocratic country – Border area inhabited by a economically less-developed minority, Morokuliens • Realistic exercise, with participation of the l f h local community l i
  • 11. Research methodology • Participant observation (DeWalt and DeWalt 2002) • Embedded in the Belgian First Aid and Support Team ( pp (B-FAST) ) • Conducted assessments with B FAST B-FAST and operated as information managers in the OSOCC • Debriefing of assessment teams
  • 12. OSOCC functional elements
  • 13. Observations: OSOCC Information Management Information gathering OSOCC Information processing Information dissemination
  • 14. Information gathering • Contact with all the humanitarian organizations in the field, clusters, clusters through on site visit telephone and email on-site visit, • One person in charge of scanning all incoming channels • Media • Local authorities • Needs assessment
  • 15. Needs assessment process • Not conducted by UNDAC, but by NGOs, UN agencies, and other international responders • Five teams each day, and joint needs assessment: each team comprising five people from different organizations • Standard assessment forms: – Demographics – Health – Water, sanitation & hygiene – Food & nutrition – Shelter & non-food items – Protection – Logistics • Observation and semi-structured interviews • Assessment through making notes and discussion in team, debriefing at the OSOCC
  • 16. Information processing • Information sharing through Microsoft Groove • Coordination meetings with the larger international community. • Information presentation: -log book -information maps -contact details -”pigeon hole” ”i hl” -notice board -hardcopies
  • 17. Information dissemination • Situation reports • Virtual OSOCC a web- OSOCC, based information platform on which disaster information is exchanged by relief actors working in all parts of the world.
  • 18. Discussion Sensemaking’s social context: Can IS encourage conversation? • Groove supports conversation and information exchange within the OSOCC, but no real-time communication with assessment teams , • This would enable feedback for the assessment teams on the situation and what to do, and faster reporting of assessment findings back to the OSOCC. Sensemaking’s personal identity: Can IS give people a distinct, stable sense of who they are and what they represent? • Change of identity for assessment teams and UNDAC when going out on a mission • IS can support team building and a defined identity when assessment teams and people in the OSOCC use the same system system.
  • 19. Discussion (2) Sensemaking’s retrospect: Can IS preserve elapsed data and legitimate the use of those data? • Time gap between the actual assessment and the discussion and writing gp g down of the final result: elapsed data are only pen-and-paper. • IS can help in capturing accurately what they assess, e.g. by enabling digital capturing of information, which will secure a faster and more accurate process. Sensemaking’s cues extraction: Can IS enhance the visibility of cues? • IS can assist actors in focusing on cues by indicating which cues are important in a certain setting according to historical data. • If the IS connects assessment teams and the OSOCC, UNDAC staff can give on the spot advice on which cues to pay attention to as they have on-the-spot the overview of what is going on.
  • 20. Discussion (3) Sensemaking’s ongoing projects: Can IS enable people to be resilient in the face of interruptions? • Assessment teams should be supported in continuous updating of the situation in order to make their experience and actions seem ongoing rather than an interrupted series of events. • Communication with the OSOCC is important: it enables assessment teams to be continuously updated on the situation in the disaster area, giving them a stab e sense o what is go g o stable se se of at s going on. Sensemaking’s plausibility: Can IS encourage people to accumulate and exchange plausible accounts? • Focus in the assessment process is now more on probability than on possibility: Only when the most accurate picture is crafted, the assessment is communicated to the OSOCC. • IS can stimulate reflection in earlier stages of the assessment process between OSOCC and assessment team, in which the assessment team members report a plausible account of what is going on, and on which the OSOCC can give relevant feedback.
  • 21. Discussion (4) Sensemaking’s enactment: Can IS encourage action? • IS can stimulate action as a means of gaining more understanding of the situation e g through more engagement situation, e.g. from UNDAC in the assessment process and exchange of plausible accounts.
  • 22. Conclusions • Ambiguity and equivocality are common problems in immediate humanitarian disaster response • Sensemaking describes the constructs that influence how well people can handle these problems • This can be a starting point for designing supporting IS • In th I the case of disaster assessment and UNDAC, th most f di t t d UNDAC the t effective improvement for Sensemaking would be to connect the assessment teams and the OSOCC in real-time • We ill W will conduct more research on how IS can support the seven dt h h t th Sensemaking constructs, which IS design characteristics lead to improved Sensemaking, and whether that influences performance
  • 23. Thank you! Willem Muhren