Thursday, January 16, 2014

Four years after Haiti ... a look at the state of #smem


For many, the Haiti earthquake of early 2010 marked the first global expression of social convergence. The use of social networks, crisis mapping, all operationalized with real impact on the ground reached a scale and effectiveness not seen before. Even in the days that immediately followed the tragedy, social media became a focus of the world's response.

Now, four years later, the use of technology in disaster response is a growing trend, in the Caribbean and across the globe. 

There are few more convincing apostles of this revolution in disaster response/management than Patrick Meier (@patrickmeier on Twitter). He's writing a new book that will come out next year. That will be a must read. 

Patrick has written many times about the relevance of social networks monitoring and information gathering in disasters: the value of big data. He's elaborated on his assessment of the evolution of SMEM and big data in emergency management ... and where it's going. 

The determination of the relevance of crowdsourcing in large-scale disaster, of the usefulness of crisis mapping and the role of volunteer technical communities, is no longer based on anecdotal evidence. In the four years since Haiti, many academic studies have showed their strengths (and weaknesses). From the use of the Ushahidi platform to the creation of donation apps within hours of the earthquake, Haiti truly launched the era of digital volunteerism

Since then, we've been able to see the exponential use of social convergence tools in disasters: Christchurch, Japan, Queensland floods, Typhoon Hayian. The examples on the global stage are numerous. But what about on a more tactical level? 

How is the integration of social convergence in emergency management programs across Canada and the US being measured? We've seen highly influential examples of the power of these new tech tools: in Boulder, in Boston, in Calgary ....  so progress is being made.

Obstacles remain though that keep the proponents of SMEM from declaring victory: the question of trusted agents and digital volunteers, integration of efforts such as VOSTs (Virtual Operation Support Teams), the operationalization of social data as info to support efficient decision making in crises. All these questions are still being debated daily in agencies and governments across North America. 

Too often, the perception of social convergence is limited to the use of social networks as communications tools ... with total disregard for their fantastic ability to help organizations mobilize data and people. 

In a series of blog posts on PTSC-Online, i expanded on my social convergence integration model. That's a six step process in adoption of new tools that will lead agencies/EMOs toward an optimal use of socially convergent tools and practices: 

  1. No use of SM
  2. Limited use of SM
  3. Interactive use of SM
  4. Conversational use of SM
  5. Operational use of SM
  6. Integrated use of SM

I even formulated a measurement matrix with input from trusted colleagues from around the world. A simple tool to help organizations gauge their progress.

That's because, despite the immense steps forward on the global scene, the real benefits of social convergence become most evident (in terms of resilience and faster recovery) when its tools are applied locally. 

So where do you stand?

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