Friday, December 2, 2011

Selling SMEM, crowdsourcing and crisis mapping to government

We had a fantastic meeting today in Ottawa with the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) ... Canada's version of the State Department. The purpose of the meeting was for the department to learn more about the Volunteer Technical Communities who do mapping and crowdsourcing during crises and how this process could help Canada assists its citizens abroad in disasters. The other benefits are related to giving more evidence to decision-makers in Ottawa regarding disaster response and diplomatic staff security.

I was honoured to have the chance to talk about the broad applications of technology in crisis and emergency management. I was even more honoured to be asked to speak in a meeting involving such respected figures as: 

  • Patrick Meier from Ushahidi and Crisis Mappers Net (@patrickmeier on Twitter) (via teleconference ... see pic to the right ...)
  • Christiaan Adams from Google Crisis Response 
  • Heather Leson from Ushahidi (@heatherleson) 
  • David Black from CrisisCommons and the University of Toronto (@db7)

Some of the points that were made: 
  1. DFAIT is looking for evidence-based and validated info for their response to emergencies and disasters abroad ... crowdsourcing that works and crisis maps could be tools .... 
  2. As diplomatic "first responders", Consular ops need credible info to support decision making for humanitarian assistance but also to take measures/provide info to Canadians on how to protect their safety/security abroad.
  3. Crisis mapping and crowdsourcing can help build resilience for Canadians abroad.
  4. Patrick Meier talked about dynamic, real-time situational awareness as a result of crisis mapping and its role as a decision-support tool.
My presentation concluded the formal part of the meeting before open discussions. My key points were focused on the following;
  • need to focus not only on the tech but also on what it allows and the human behaviours it makes possible or amplifies 
  • the benefits of the whole social convergence phenomenon (social media + mobile tech = empowered citizens and volunteers + enhanced ability to mobilize data and vols)
  • need for clear objectives and then match the tech tools and not vice versa 
  • need for clear policies and expectations re: relationship between gov't and volunteer organizations who do mapping and crowdsourcing
  • the need to use social media as effective crisis comms tools 
And,finally, the need for agencies and governments to move at the speed of their audiences and use the tools they use ... or face total irrelevance ...

that got lots of attention ...

a very good meeting ... 

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