It was in Paris at the 2011 Summit of European CrisisCamps, that I felt, understood, the true power of the Crisis Campers fast growing community: no tweet, blog post, article, or paper can replace the experience of being in person within that small crowd of extremely motivated, capable and genuinely devout people! (and yet I’m blogging in the hope that some reader will be inspired).
Crisis Camps are a special breed of barcamps, born to connect a global network of volunteers who use creative problem solving and open technologies to help people and communities in times and places of crisis.
Senior information managers, developers, bloggers and journalists, project managers, designers from big NGOs to small non-profits, volunteers or professionals, very young and less young, the very diversity of the people gathered there was so powerful to me.
We spoke a lot about technology, sure, but the common ground for all people there is not to invent radically new tech (maybe sometimes) but how to use, mix and shake existing tools, to solve immediate problems.
This changes everything!
At a CrisisCamp you might find yourself developing an application to help refugees find their relatives, designing a system that processes Tweets to provide assistance after an earthquake, brainstorming around a mobile application, open data, transparency and security, and discussing a hundred new ways to volunteer and help, and build a more resilient world.
Among all wild ideas and new technologies, there is one central aspect that needs all of our attention:
people, the very people affected by a crisis are getting connected!
Not all of them, no, not everywhere, not all the time, but they are there. They might not have a pc, but they might access Twitter, and be on Facebook, and this changes everything!
Tools liberating new energies
The opening case study of the CrisisCamp is the story of #CIVSOCIAL (slides here), a beautiful, immensely human story, of how a group of friends and volunteers reacted to save lives in recent Cote D’Ivoire crisis, using ordinary technology (Twitter, Skype, etc.) and leveraging the energies of extraordinary people. Thanks to Jean-Patrick (@ jpehouman) for sharing his great story.
Have you ever heard of Ushahidi? Per se, it’s a great idea: with it you can crowdsource geotegged information, provide visualization and interactive mapping… quite powerful. But you should listen to the stories of Anahi (@anahi_ayala) and others that have been using it, to really grasp the revolution that happens behind: hundreds and hundreds of people collaborating worldwide to create accurate maps, to translate messages, requests for help, reports, to harvest information from the Internet aggregate and validate it, and more. The output is information, rapid, often good and very valuable information, to inform people, coordinate, and act, in crisis: for the Haiti earthquake, Chile earthquake, Pakistan floods, Egypt, Lybia, Sudan, …
Other major projects presented, discussed and worth our attention are: OpenStreetMap and Global Voices, and there are many many others, and all of them share the goal to build a little piece of a better world, a more prepared, transparent, resilient, open and human world.
People in humanitarian crisis are getting connected: connected one to each other, connected to people in other countries and willing to help, connected to the rest of the world, when listening. The names of the tools that connects us all are not new: Facebook, Twitter, Skype, WordPress, …
Tools liberating new energies, the energies of:
- volunteers across the globe translating, validating reports, spreading the information and spreading awarness,
- geeks, mappers, developers, hackers, creating new and better tools,
- and most of all, the energies of the people there!
Few have yet acknowledged such a big change and big opportunity.
The new paradigm in Crisis Management
Social, partecipatory web is liberating new energies, energies that have already shown their impact, so where do the well established agencies, NGOs and institutions stand?
An important debate that took place in Paris: “Civil Society & institutions in Crisis Management : New Paradigm of the Participatory Web.”, a roundtable on the current understanding and acceptance of the new paradigm from the Institutions. The main outcome of the debate was that not only the Institutions but also most humanitarian agencies and large NGOs have not yet seen, understood, nor accepted the change. And it was great to have people from UN OCHA and the International Committee of the Red Cross at the table, OCHA in particular has already done much and is leading the effort of collaborating with the volunteers communities defining the new challenges.
CrisisCamps collect the enthusiasm, the appeal, the dream of the many that have experienced the change: volunteers, humanitarian geeks and technoutopists, a movement born from the bottom, very young, and unexperienced. On the other side the institutions and international organizations that have been working in humanitarian crisis for decades, with their experience and knowledge (and rules and procedures) aimed to ensure quality, safe, transparent and effective action.
Participatory web, and notably the direct participation of the affected communites, will have a growing impact on the information, knowledge sharing, privacy and security, and action before, during and after a crisis.
As Anahi puts it:
“people have access to these tools and they will use them, anyway!”
“people are now in the information loop and can provide and will also benefit a lot from information.”
I urge all international organizations, NGOs and Institutions to look at, explore and embrace the new paradigm: the debate is open, while communities are growing and social web spreading more and more.
And only these organisations only can provide the experience, the training, the wisdom and the resources needed. And I’m sure the “new energies” will listen, learn from them, and organize, develop new tools, practices and continue to innovate.
I really hope that in the next years international organizations will foster and help accelerate such change, fully understanding that the social web is an everyday tool to fulfill their very mission.
The Paris Summit of CrisisCamps has motivated me more than enough to move forward and start bringing such new powerful ideas and tools into my everyday work in Reflab, and engaging in the community: together with Elena Rapisardi (@erapisardi) and Marco Boscolo (ogdabaum) we have kickstarted an Italian group. Thanks to Header (@poplifegirl) and CrisisCommons for the support. Huge thanks to LaCantine for giving us a great location, wi-fi, food and everything we needed and to Claire (@ClaireInParis) for leading and guiding us all.
Related resources crisismappers.net crisiscommons.com Disaster Relief 2.0 (report) Volunteer Technology Communities (paper)