Creating Technology for Social Change

Talking Fast II: More CrisisMapper Ignite Sessions

Luis Capelo (@luiscape) of Digital Humanitarian Network loves volunteers. DH exists to stimulate more interaction between humanitarian volunteers and large humanitarian institutions.

There’s information overload in humanitarian responses. How do we collect and make sense of all this information? Luis credits humanitarian orgs with doing the hard work of adapting, but it’s a rough sea to navigate. Volunteer & Technical Communities thrive in this environment. They’re nimble, lightweight, and advanced, technically. Luis thinks its time to stop questioning whether VT&Cs can help, and begin to dive into how these groups can collaborate.

DH aims to create a consortium of groups that faciliates between the two worlds, and reduces the cost of collaboration
They have a simplified activation process: activate volunteers, triage the volume, and forward them to VT&Cs. They’ve produced a guide to manage the activation of VT&Cs.

July and August of this year saw the first two activations. OCHA and ACAPS came to the DH network for help. OCHA wanted to build a pre-crisis profile of every country. ACAPS wanted to include VT&Cs in the formal assessment process.

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Cat Graham (@Peaceful_intent) of Humanity Road works in multinational crisismapping. They specialize in the first hours of an event (12, 24, 48 hour windows). Self-directed work teams with training and a mission come online.

Their forthcoming QuickNets microtasking platform is open source, free, and will stay that way. Each row of data has an ‘anonymize’ button. Its been tested at RIMPAC and Pacific Endeavor exercises. 20 volunteers from 8 nations stepped up to model communications for the tabletop exercise.

Ka-Ping Yee (@zestyping) is an engineer at Google’s Crisis Response team. He uses Stratomap, the open-source tool behind Google Crisis Map. It’s on Google Code, and there’s a hosted version available. There are important datasets for crisis response, but they’re all hosted on different websites, so it’s difficult to get them in front of the right decisionmakers. Some of these maps have crappy UI, or don’t allow the databases to be combined. Data publishers have tools to publish, but map curators could offer even greater value if they were able to mashup maps and databases between various providers. We gain great insight when we can synthesize various pieces of information.

The Google Crisis Map provides a range of useful layers, from traffic to weather to user-submitted YouTube videos. Your map mashup can point to live feeds around the web, and it will be updated in realtime as those data sources are updated.

Users can share a customized view of the map, with layers

Brian Root (@brian_root) of Human Rights Watch shows us a US map depicting ICE’s deportation patterns. The group produced a report on the human rights implications of the US Immigration department’s detainment and deportation policies. They needed data to show ICE’s movements, but only ICE had the data they wanted. Through Freedom of Information requests, they were able to procure some data.

After cleaning the data, they were able to show the number of facilities involved, the facilities sending the most cases, and identify problem cases, where a detainee has been transferred numerous times across the country. They were able to visualize findings about the costs, human and financial, of transferring detainees.

But maps and data do not effective advocacy make. Drilling down to the state level was more useful with getting the attention of local media and local politicians. In January of this year, ICE issued a directive to limit the number of transfers, in large part due to HRW’s report.

Brian asks the audience to consider the human rights research that could be done with the mapping experience sitting in this room.

Clarence Wardell (@cwardell) led a research team at University of Arkansas following the Social Media and Emergency Management conference. One of the main concerns highlighted in their summary report was high-level resistance to use data because of verification. They took the strategy of conceding the “is it perfect?” argument up front, and instead arguing that the data was still nevertheless useful. There is room between horseshoes and hand grenades.

They mapped the verified and unverified data points together, creating the Traveling Salesman problem for disaster responders. Which relief tour is the optimal use of time and ground covered? They tested the multiple approaches.

Munish Puri (@RecordedFuture / site)time travels by looking at data over time. Hindsight + insight leads to foresight. Text has a predictive power when it is loaded with temporal references.

They looked at temper, time, and tone in the Georgian Conflict. Volume and velocity didn’t equal veracity. Licklider’s Intelligence Amplification.

Discovery consits of seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what nobody has thought. Albert Szent-Györgyi

Clionadh Raleigh (@acledinfo) is Director of Armed Conflict Location and Event Dataset (ACLED). They report on all violent events across Africa. Dates, locations, actor types, event types, and territory exchanges are collected to produce trend reports for others.

What’s happening in Africa?
We can use SpatialKey to detect and investigate patterns. The agents of violence have changed drastically in the last few years. Civil wars are declining, but political militias increasingly threaten civilians. We can follow the movements and attacks of groups like the LRA and Boko Haram. Boko Haram, for instance, never attacks troops.

We’re seeing more trans-national threats from Islamist groups. We see Ethiopia’s increasing violence over the last 15 years.

Analysis sees increased urbanization and other factors driving today’s violence. The data informs policy, academic, and public research. They offer special reports on topics like Islamist violence.

Steven Livingston (@ICTlivingston) introduces Mapping the Maps and Crowdglobe, an Internews platform to visualize geospatial data. Different map themes emerge in different regions. Western Europe sees crowdmaps used for entertainment and leisure and media reports.

They also surveyed crowdmappers, 80% of whom were men at an average age of 40 years. Many of the dead maps are simply a result of users experimenting with no intention of creating a map to begin with.

Only 6% of respondents promoted their maps using traditional media.

Jonne Catshoek is a conflict analyst working in the Republic of Georgia. In 2008, Russia and Georgia battled over South Ossetia. Conflict continues despite the international community’s involvement. Jonne blames security strategies that are not responsive enough to the needs of local communities. The elva platform (code here) they developed allows community representatives to SMS in community needs, where the information is then put online for the wide range of non-community actors.

Jonne estimates they spend 20% of their time developing software, and 80% of their time understanding local community need. This local trust allows better information sharing, and more reliable information.

They use SMS because smartphone penetration remains low. Trained monitors code a lot of information into a single SMS.

They’re expanding beyond violence into weather and agricultural information feeds for communities. The community is also heavily reporting security incidents, helping security providers respond appropriately.

Patrick Vinck (@developmentdata) is at the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative. They conduct surveys on countries’ peace and conflict, the way we have regular reports on health and other human factors. KoBo Toolbox is a data collection instrument designed to assist in this effort. It helps surveyors create their forms and export the questions. It even has recommendation engines, to suggest questions based on the topic being queried.

The same tool can collect voice, written text, images, and videos in one place. It works offline.

KoBo Map links to a spreadsheet (Google, CSV, etc.) and visualizes the data it contains. It’s lightweight for slow connections.

Taylor Owen (@taylor_owen) did a PhD thesis to map the historical US bombing of Cambodia. He quotes Nixon telling Kissinger to “crack the hell out of them” with an unlimited budget. He demands it. The result is over 200,000 sorties over an 8-year period. The 115,000 records detailing the planes, bombs, and tonnage remained secret until President Clinton opened the records to Vietnam for the purposes of de-mining the land.

Taylor used the data to produce timelines and fact-check the official timeline. The data can change our understanding of history. The bombings started sooner than we’ve said, lasted after the peace treaties, and hit civilian areas where Kissinger said we wouldn’t. We can see Watergate’s effect on bombs dropped in Cambodia.

We can see how the US bombing pushed the Khmer Rouge east, into the Vietcong territory, where they developed from agrarian socialist revolution to an anti-imperialist group.

It doesn’t take much to radicalize a population, Taylor says. In one instance, a single bomb in a village drove 70 radicalized recruits.

Henry Kissinger’s record of claims on this issue, including Kissinger’s Second Rule of Engagement (We won’t bomb within a mile of a village) turns out to be wildly incorrect once we map the bombing patterns. The US bombed heavily populated areas near Phnom Penh, for example.

Government data is often deleted, or at least classified for long periods of time. We need to work with the data when it does get released, so we can understand its historical implications.

Patrick Florance is in town from Tufts University to talk about the Open Geoportal (OGP). It’s an open source project at Tufts to rapidly discover, preview geospatial data. It’s a collaborative effort to take on big geospatial datasets.

You can shop around for datasets and drop them into your virtual shopping cart. You can incorporate third party web services and share the data all over the web. It works with common web mapping tools and will have over 20,000 data layers available by December.

Josh Campbell (disruptivegeo) is a geographer at the Department of State. He’s working to link together the US government’s purchasing power of commercially available satellite imagery, and the need of VTCs for this imagery.

In a few weeks, Haiti went from being barely mapped at all, to being mapped in such great detail so as to support on-the-ground action. State attributes this incredible development to the existing OSM community, empowered by web-service satellite imagery.

The US government buys a LOT of satellite imagery, and is contractually required to share it. In the Horn of Africa crisis, they experimented with letting volunteer mappers map refugee camps. 29 volunteers produced 50,000 nodes of data on a previously blank refugee camp map. The volunteers provided not just roads and streets, but also footways, paths, hydrologic features, and other rich data.

The project showed that people would map where there is imagery. But they’re interested in mapping the human elements, as well. The Red Cross hosted a mapping party, and went to Uganda to train locals to use OSM and fire responders. Locals annotated data with places names and restaurants. The local community received a map of the density of grass huts (a fire hazard).

John Crowley (@jcrowley) works at Camp Roberts to connect the top-down and bottom-up aid groups.

1. In law, agencies are having trouble navigating the policies that govern their use of crowd data
2. Trust in data, and trust in processes of VTCs
3. Security – the Arab Spring and Anonymous have shown that we can’t secure all the voices in a system
4. Voice – We could have a bigger collective capacity than we’ve ever had in human history. But what happens when that moves faster than our governments?

Agencies ask, how can we control this? Bad news is, you can’t. Good news is, we can begin to see how we can coordinate in this space. But we need to step outside of bureaucracies that only allow information to flow down.

We need space to fail, where it won’t disrupt actual operations. That is the purpose of Camp Roberts. Crashing is allowed. They bring together the players in the space to bridge capability gaps.

How do we repeat Haiti?
A range of actors not traditionally in the same space were brought together. An 18-month exercise brought them up against many legal and policy walls, but they were able to show the process worked.

FEMA came and asked about doing the same with tornadoes. Civil Air Patrol and many VTCs came together and designed a new workflow, which was used in Hurricane Isaac two weeks after it was created.

Can we scale this innovation process to all the other agencies around the world? It’s an Open Humanitarian Initiative.

This process of bringing people together into safe spaces requires combining the wisdom of the old with the innovation of the new. How can we bring together the human race to learn to heal itself?

Part I of the Ignite Talks is here