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When Meier heard the news of the earthquake, he recalls sitting in his dorm room at Tufts University where he was working on a Ph.D. “To be perfectly honest,” he recalls, “I had an emotional reaction. I had friends in Port-au-Prince. I could not wait another minute to find out whether they were dead or alive.” Meier noticed that there were numerous Haitians tweeting live about the earthquake, such as where they were, naming landmarks like a specific church in Port-au-Prince. With a quick Google search, Meier would be able to find the location of the church and then plot it out on a map using Ushahidi. It was a tedious and gigantic task, however, and Meier discovered he just couldn’t keep up with the output of data.
By the end of the week, Meier had recruited and trained 100 volunteers to monitor social media and gather mappable information. From there, it just expanded. In conjunction 38 Sarah Farmer, “Crowdsourcing and Crisis Mapping,” Change Assembly, 16 November 2012, http://www.changeassembly.com/ crisismapping/ 39 Interview with Patrick Meier.
Source: http://newswatch.nationalgeographic.com/2012/07/02/crisis-mapping-haiti/ 40 Patrick Meier, “How Crisis Mapping Saved Lives,” National Geographic, 2 July 2012, http://newswatch.nationalgeographic.
Source: http://newswatch.nationalgeographic.com/2012/07/02/crisis-mapping-haiti/ Meier pointed to Libya as another key moment for crisis mapping. “Haiti showed the potential [of crisis mapping]. Libya actualized that potential,” he said.
When Meier and his team launched the crisis map in Haiti, they did so without connecting right away with humanitarian organizations. This was a significant disconnect they did not want to repeat for future missions. After Haiti, the U.N. approached Meier and asked him to collaborate. The opportunity to test their new partnership and put crisis mapping to work came only a few months later when revolt and violence broke out in Libya.
Even with the Standby Task Force, Meier acknowledged that the project was still tedious, manual and therefore not scalable. “The rise of big data is something already having huge implications and consequences,” said Meier. “But throwing more and more volunteers at this data problem is not the solution. There is burnout that has happened before.” He noted a few statistics to put it in perspective: there were 20 million tweets in one week during Hurricane Sandy and 2,000 tweets per second during the Japan earthquake.
In what Meier calls “next generation humanitarian technologies,” artificial intelligence (AI) and algorithm-based technologies can be used to find mappable tweets and other open source data, reducing the burden of human computing. He says it’s not as scifi as it sounds: “The technology has been around for a decade but is very new to the humanitarian community.” Meier is now the Director of Social Innovation at Qatar Computing Research Institute (QCRI) where they are developing an AI disaster response platform, which combined with human computing, would be what Meier calls “the holy grail.” He writes, “On the advanced computing side, it should be perfectly feasible to develop an automated way to crawl Twitter and identify links to images and videos.”42 41 United Nations Office of Humanitarian Affairs, “Libya: Online Volunteers Help UN Response to Humanitarian Crisis,” http://www.unocha.
org/ocha2012-13/stories/libya 42 Patrick Meier, “How the UN Used Social Media to Respond to Typhoon Pablo,” iRevolution, 8 December 2012, http://irevolution.
Source: http://irevolution.net/2013/02/26/crowdflower-for-disaster-response/ Urban Planning and Reconstruction After nearly three decades of civil war that ended in 2002, the Angolan government turned to reconstructing its war-torn infrastructure — 70 percent of which had been destroyed. The government partnered with USAID in 2005 and with the Angola Electricity Support Program (AED). The project received financial support from Banco de Fomento Angola (BFA), who pumped US$400,000 over three years into Kilamba Kiaxi and Viana, two municipalities in the capital of Luanda. In order to plan and manage municipal infrastructure, AESP needed up-to-date maps. At the time, its latest cadastral maps were from 1989.43 AED selected ArcView software in order to obtain accurate information on residences and businesses in Kilamba Kiaxi and Viana. Information was collected through surveys and site visits and then added to geographic data and maps to create up-to-date geographic information systems for the two municipalities. The new maps showed the current land plots, existing electrical networks, and stored vital information like street addresses and meter numbers. This information was then shared with Empresa Distribuidor de Electriciade (EDEESTE), Angola’s national electricity provider, who used it to extend the network, generate more accurate electricity bills, and provide better customer service.
43 USAID, “Working Together to Expand Energy Access,” http://transition.usaid.gov/our_work/economic_growth_and_trade/energy/ publications/stories/angola_access.pdf
environment Long-established institutions like the Conservation Trust of Puerto Rico, have recently turned to GIS to more efficiently manage their projects. Created as a charity in 1970 through a joint effort by the government of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Department of the Interior, the trust aims to protect and acquire ecologically important lands, and promote awareness of protected areas through educational and research activities. The trust currently owns about 19,000 acres of protected land, home to many endangered plants and wildlife.
In July 2003, the trust established a GIS unit to update its conservation mapping system.
It was able to map out over 40 land parcels making up its 19 protected areas including details like trails, cave entrances, and locations of certain species. Furthermore, the trust was able to use GIS to evaluate land parcels offered to the trust by private landowners, looking at factors like biodiversity, vegetation, and important habitats.46 44 ESRI, “Restoring Angola’s Electricity Network,” ARCNews Online, Winter 2009/2010, http://www.esri.com/news/arcnews/ winter0910articles/restoring-angolas.html 45 Nataliya Pushak and Vivien Foster, “Angola’s Infrastructure: A Continental Perspective,” World Bank Africa Infrastructure Country Diagnostic, March 2011, http://siteresources.worldbank.org/ANGOLAEXTN/Resources/AICD-Angola_Country_Report.pdf 46 ESRI, GSI Best Practices for Non-Governmental Organizations, April 2010, http://www.esri.com/library/bestpractices/non-governmentalorganizations.pdf, 22.
Data Collection Mapping technologies (section 3) and translation tools (section 9) are powerful examples of ways data can be collected via crowdsourcing methods. Crowdsourcing can also be used to gather data for research or surveys.
The NOAA mobile phone app allows citizens to report weather conditions to the Internet.
The data can be used by meteorologists like Kim Elmore, an adjunct professor at the University of Oklahoma. She explains, “The [NOAA] app could help severe weather warnings reach certain areas at a faster pace — which is all the more necessary given the lessons learned from Hurricane Sandy last fall and this week’s blizzard in the American Plains.”47 A study conducted by the creators of All Our Ideas, a crowdsourcing platform, revealed the power of crowdsourcing data collection over traditional methods. Surveys and interviews are two of the key methods used to measure attitudes and opinions, but they are criticized for being inaccurate or inefficient. Surveys that offer respondents a set of predetermined questions and a limited range of answers are often too top-down and rigid, not allowing answers to emerge organically. Interviews, on the other hand, are more flexible yet difficult to quantify and expensive to implement. The study revealed that using advanced computing, researchers could use a hybrid form of the survey interview they call a “wiki survey” which uses aggregation technology based on Wikipedia. It offers a more accurate and efficient method of gathering opinions and attitudes and has been used by various charities and governmental bodies, like the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the New York City Mayor’s Office.48 Catholic Relief Services (CRS), a charity that provides services in 100 countries to those in need, used the site All Our Ideas as a platform to source ideas from their workers and better improve the quality of service. The site is considered “a suggestion box for the digital age.” It currently holds 3,081 wiki surveys, 154,042 ideas, and 4.0 million votes.
Since CRS has over 4,000 employees and 150 different offices, a uniform, comprehensive, as well as participatory and bottom-up, feedback assessment would have been very challenging. Using All Our Ideas, CRS wanted their employees to answer the question, “Which phrase better describes an exemplary CRS staff member?” The survey was launched in three different languages: English, French, and Spanish. It received 20,000 47 Guardian US News Blogs, “Citizen Scientists use NOAA Ping app to improve severe-weather warnings,” 27 February 2013, http://www.
guardian.co.uk/world/us-news-blog/2013/feb/27/noaa-citizen-scientists-ping-weather-app 48 Matthew J. Salganik and Karen E.C. Levy, “Wiki Surveys: Open and Quantifiable Social Data Collection,” http://arxiv.org/pdf/1202.0500v1.
Networks While Facebook has connected a billion people from around the world, it has left out significant portions of those who cannot benefit from social networks since they do not have access to the Internet, a smartphone, or a computer. Digital Green’s Farmerbook project, however, created its own social media platform for farming villages in India, allowing users to share vital agricultural information.
Launched in 2006 as part of a Microsoft research project, Digital Green is now an independent charity. With additional funding from the Ford Foundation, it created Farmerbook, a social networking platform for farmers. Local facilitators show videos of farming techniques to each of their villages and lead discussions among small groups of 12 to 15 farmers. These facilitators gather a significant amount of data and feedback from the farmers about the videos they were watching and the techniques they were adopting.50 The facilitators then print the pages, and share them with villagers in small groups of six to eight in a village of 100. “That may seem small,” says Rikin Gandhi, Chief Executive of Digital Green, “but in reality they often operate at caste or familial levels and might not have a relationship with others. Using Farmerbook, and printing off the village pages, facilitators can connect these individuals and groups so they can reflect on why some farmers do one thing or another.”51 While only facilitators have online access to Farmerbook, the hope is, with the spread of mobile technology, every farmer will be able to access the network in the future. For now, this hybrid online-offline network still works quite effectively. Prior research revealed that compared to other methods, farmers who shared agricultural practices through video were at least five times more likely to adopt new practices.52
Photos courtesy of Digital Green:
A Local films two farmers sharing agricultural techniques for Farmerbook (Source: http://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=5FHurcUTITU) 49 Catholic Relief Services, All Our Ideas Blog, 6 July 2011, http://blog.allourideas.org/post/7300721979/catholic-relief-services-andallourideas 50 Caspar van Vark, “New Versus Old Media: how best to get information to smallholder farmers,” Guardian, 7 February 2012, http://www.
guardian.co.uk/global-development-professionals-network/2013/feb/07/smallholder-farmers-radio-mobile-social-networking 51 Ibid.
Technology for good Social media and crowdsourcing | 22 Screenshot of the Farmersbook site.
human Rights and Corruption I Paid a Bribe is a crowdsourcing platform developed by Janaagraha, a charity based in Bangalore, India, that works with both the government and citizens to improve urban infrastructure and boost civic engagement. The bribe crowdsourcing platform works as a completely anonymous site where people can report incidences of bribery across various government departments and sectors.
Even when a bribe is reported, it must remain completely anonymous. Janaagraha’s goal is not to seek arrest or prosecution but to find systematic corruption and work with the government to fix the problem. The charity also hopes that by allowing bribers themselves to freely report without fear of prosecution, Janaagraha will be able to note bribery trends and find large-scale solutions for these problems.
With the data, Janaagraha creates an analytics report that shows which cities in India are plagued with the most bribes, the branch of government they belong to, and whether or not the bribe was paid, unpaid, or not asked. Bangalore leads a list of 305 cities with 5,261 bribes to date. On average, the site gets around 25 to 50 reports a day in their bribe section, whether or not it was paid.53 The site is not all bad news, however. It offers citizens a chance to report good deeds by reporting under, “I met an honest officer.” It has also received some attention from the government as a potential way to reduce corruption, and members of the site were invited by the Central Vigilance Commission to present a report at a national level.
“I Paid a Bribe” sites are also available in Kenya, Greece, Zimbabwe, and Pakistan and will launch in countries like Azerbaijan and Tunisia as well.
Management In Uganda, bad accounting literally cost lives, making available medicine inaccessible to local clinics simply because of muddled supply lines.
A new initiative known as mTrac, a collaboration between UNICEF and the World Health Organization, is revolutionizing the way Uganda’s healthcare system manages its data, shifting its laborious, paper-based system to an electronic one.