Bridging the Gap Between Traditional Relief and New VTC

Posted on Oct 6, 2011 in Conferences, Crisis Response, Musings and Insights

Gisli Olafsson spoke at the end of the first day of Star-Tides about traditional relief organizations (including NGO and military) adopting and interacting with current technologies. Many organizations have only recently begun to have their own Twitter accounts, if they have one at all. The sheer prospect of drinking from a firehouse of information with no process for validation is a daunting one.

New organizations are popping up on a massive scale. After the Tsunami, 600 organizations showed up to help in the first 6 weeks. With Haiti, 4 THOUSAND organizations registered to help in first ten DAYS. Many of these organizations are new, and endorse crowd sourcing. They are equally adamant that more traditional structures are not a viable option.

Traditional humanitarian response is much more about coordination than collaboration, collaboration defined as working with someone to whom we are not immediately connected. A way of bridging the gap between coordination-heavy efforts and collaboration-heavy efforts is to bring the coordination into the infrastructure, not via the institution (see Clay Shirky TED talk on this for further explanation of this concept). It is not often recognized that individuals within organizations of either pole are who actually make the connections which make things possible. The organizations themselves get in the way when trying to respond to things on any sort of level. This is a drastic issue when the response rate continues in the bounded trend of involved geeks (see what I did there?) from Tsunami to Haiti.

The talk took place at and was recorded by The Wilson Center and can be found here. I’m incredibly impressed at the rate this went live!

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What can we learn from these rather daunting datapoints?

Geeks Without Bound’s attempt to address this in some small way will be implemented for Random Hacks of Kindness #4 in Portland (also hopefully in our instances in San Francisco and Milwaukee). We will be bringing Challenges as well as Problem Definitions – not just what is perceived as being an issue but the entirety of the environment in which the solution must be implemented. We’ll hold a session on Friday evening to play games constructing those environments so the participating developers get a chance to fully understand what they are building for. We hope that you will join us the first weekend of December to build, to improve, and to save.