Presenting the Open Aid Movement at Open Source Bridge

“Open source” is a method for putting intellectual property in the public domain, allowing anyone to use it however they see fit. I’m an advocate of the “open source way” because I believe that if more people shared intellectual property of all types – whether its farming techniques, software code, music, etc – then we’ll eventually be able to meet the basic needs of everyone in the world, allowing all people to pursue their own happiness without fear of material scarcity.

This type of thinking can lead to some pretty impractical theorizing, so my route in actualizing this belief is to help build the open source movement by demonstrating how open source can improve the world. As president of the Sahana Software Foundation, a world leader in open source information systems for disaster and humanitarian aid management, it’s gratifying to work with talented people who feel similarly about open source and its role in the world as I do.

In my work with Sahana, I’ve discovered that there is a lot of curiosity among disaster management professionals about how open source thinking is impacting their field. I’ve given presentations about this topic at nearly a dozen disaster management conferences including those organized by IAEM, NVOAD, OASIS, IEEE SIGHT, NYCEM, ARC, STAR-TIDES, and other acronym-ed groups.

The basic thesis of my talk is that an “open aid movement” is emerging because of two factors:  (1) The maturity of free and open source software tools; and (2) The proliferation of open data practices among NGOs and government agencies. Together, these expand the public’s capacity to respond to disasters and enable them to form peer-to-peer disaster relief groups that can become assets during disaster relief efforts.  

These groups come in two formats: (a) “grassroots disaster relief networks” organized by local people affected by disasters and (b) “volunteer technical communities” consisting of volunteers who organize information online from anywhere on the globe to serve those affected by disasters.

This June, I had the pleasure of talking with an audience who has an affinity for open source, as opposed to a sole interest in disaster and humanitarian aid. This presentation took place at the Open Source Bridge conference, which is held annually in Portland, Oregon and “focused on building open source community and citizenship.” The presentation was modified to be more relevant to this unique audience. You can see it below.

Despite the conference’s general nature, most of my time was spent in conversations with people involved in other open source humanitarian projects such as Open Data Kit, Digital Impact Alliance and LibreHealth. These conversations focus on two critical topics: (a) how we understand, articulate and build awareness of open source as a coherent movement within the disaster/humanitarian sector, and (b) how open source projects within the disaster/humanitarian sector can achieve sustainability and scale without building centralized bureaucracies that ultimately undermine the peer-to-peer structure that makes open source projects so dynamic and successful.

The takeaway?  We have A LOT of work to do on both fronts to address the challenges ahead.

The first challenge is that there is very little collaboration taking place between the people and projects advancing open source in the humanitarian sector, despite the fact that open source developers and advocates within the sector recognize that they’re doing complementary work, encountering similar challenges and overcoming them in similar ways. This is something many people have identified as an issue, and something folks from DIAL’s very new Open Source Center are likely able to affect. DIAL’s OSC plans to “convene a vibrant, inclusive, free & open source software community that promotes knowledge sharing, collaboration, and co-investment in technology & human capacity to support positive social change in communities around the world.” Really exciting and certainly needed!

The second challenge is to define the “open aid movement” and use that shared understanding to organize an ecosystem of support services that make it easier for open source projects to deliver humanitarian practitioners the solutions they need while also ensuring those projects are stable over the long term. By doing this work, we can demonstrate that open source is more than just a useful “type” of software, but also a production methodology that enables the disaster and humanitarian management sector to most effectively utilize networked communication technologies.

As the maker of Sahana EDEN, the world’s most widely used information system for disaster and humanitarian management, Sahana Foundation can help define the movement and leverage its unique organizational format and administrative capacity to offer fiscal sponsorship and other support services to aligned open source humanitarian projects.

My Open Source Bridge experience confirmed to me that this is the right way to go. Let’s do it!

Occupy Sandy and the Rise of Open Aid at AIANY on 9/10/16

The AIANY invited me to present my perspective on Occupy Sandy at their event “Stand Up! How to be Part of the Solution after a Disaster.” My presentation argues that Occupy Sandy, and the mutual aid work of its predecessor Occupy Wall Street, were physical-world manifestations of the “Open Aid” trend taking place in the disaster relief and humanitarian aid sectors.

The presentation begins by pointing to the fact that “faith in institutions” is at an unprecedented low in the USA at the same time as our economy is being transformed by widespread access to networked communication technologies. These technologies enable autonomously organized, local grassroots disaster response efforts to network with each other to create a new type of entity that the Department of Defense is calling “Grassroots Disaster Relief Network” (GDRN). In the virtual world, networked communication technologies are also allowing people with specialized technical skills to organize themselves into groups that can provide information processing services through a wide variety of tools including social media, GIS and collaborative documents. These groups are called Volunteer Technical Communities  (VTCs).

I argue that GDRNs are a local/physical manifestation of the “Open Aid” concept, and VTCs are a global/digital one. Currently VTCs tend to serve formal response organizations such as UNOCHA, but in the not-too-distant future  they’ll be able to collaborate directly with GDRNs, giving disaster survivors and their communities unprecedented access to information.

The presentation ends with some suggestions for how we can set up simple, open source systems to streamline information flows related to disasters.

I gave a very similar presentation to disaster response personnel at the Disaster Preparedness Exchange in Indianapolis a week later.

Sahana Software Foundation Overview at the 2016 Global CAP Implementation Workshops on 8/22/2016

As president of the Sahana Software Foundation, I had the privilege of delivering a brief overview describing Sahana to the 2016 Global CAP Implementation Workshops held at the Asian Institute of Technology near Bangkok, Thailand. Slides are embedded below.

This conference was my first time engaging, in-person, with the disaster relief community outside the United States and I was extremely impressed. Unlike most conferences I attend in which there is an abstract “theme” with random and broad sessions, this conference had a laser-like focus on a very specific data standard called the Common Alerting Protocol (CAP).  The goal of this protocol is to facilitate in the exchange of “all-hazard emergency alerts and public warnings over all kinds of networks.”

Presentations and discussion were focused on the design and implementation of this specific data standard. There  were also sessions organized in which stakeholders worked together to create field-by-field recommendations for how to improve future versions of CAP. The amount of information that was shared and the effective collaborations that took place were inspiring.

We need many many more events that are focused exclusively on the design and implementation of data standards within the disaster relief and resilience community. If we can come together to create  a shared language and set of data standards for our work, then information sharing will become radically easier. Easier information sharing leads to better situational awareness, more efficient resource distribution, and more positive outcomes.

I’m look forward to bringing some of the the tools and techniques I learned at this event back with me to the USA.

“Open Tech and Open Data: The Key to Whole Community Engagement” at IAEM 2015

The International Association of Emergency Management (IAEM) Conference was described to me as the Oscars of Emergency Management field. The event took place in the Paris Hotel in Las Vega November 14th. It was three days after the Paris attacks. Walking under the hotels faux Eiffel Tower and through its simulated Parisian streets was uncomfortable.

Nevertheless, the event was quite informative. Right before my presentation was a session about building your own emergency operations center (EOC) with inexpensive off the shelf tools and another one by the head of St Louis’s Office of Emergency Management explaining how he managed the reaction to the killing of Michael Brown.

My presentation wasn’t as well attended as I had hoped. Maybe the title wasn’t compelling. But it went well. The audience was engaged and we had a good back and forth. Unfortunately, due to technical problems, my sessions wasn’t recorded like all the others. I would have really liked to have seen that video. Instead, at the request of the IAEM, I recorded my presentation via Hangout Live. You can see that video here.

This presentation is the most well rounded of them all. It gives a solid overview of the four facets of open aid:

  • Open Technologies
  • Open Data
  • Grassroots Disaster Relief Networks
  • Volunteer Technical Communities

At the end it offers a diagram for how we build an integrated information management ecosystem cycling information from local community groups through municipal, state and federal agencies and channel resources effectively.

Google Presentation

Video of Presentation

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“Sharing Data to Improve How We Cooperate, Coordinate, Communicate & Collaborate” at NVOAD 5/14/15

This presentation was delivered at the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster Conference 2015 in New Orleans.

I’ve been an active (and actively marginalized) participant in my local NYCVOAD community, so it was nice to feel accepted by the broader VOAD community.

Of all the presentations I’ve given, this one felt the best. The audience was very engaged and we had a robust back and forth. It felt electric. Outbursts came from the audience. It felt like a unique space. The feedback was fantastic. Much thanks goes to Marie Irvine who helped put the presentation together and who co-presented with me.

This presentation is based around the concept that “Open Networks that efficiently provide relief after a disaster are built on Open Technology and Open Data. It explains NYC:Prepared’s toolset and has extensive training materials about open data within the context of disaster.

Google Presentation

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NYC:Prepared Presentation at RaCERS John Jay College 10/14/14

“The Christian Regenhard Center for Emergency Response Studies (RaCERS) is a unique applied research center focused on documentation of lessons learned and planning for future large-scale incidents.”

I had the honor of presenting to one of their classes of students pursuing masters degrees in Emergency Management as well as a number of professors in the school.

This presentation was very similar to the one at the IEEE HTC Conference a few days earlier, but since it was to a New York focused audience, I explored the connection between Occupy Wall Street and Occupy Sandy a bit more extensively.

The audience reaction was extremely positive. The professors and students asked a ton of questions and everyone expressed frustration with the state of information sharing in the Emergency Management sector. There was one older man who mean mugged me the entire presentation, had no questions and didn’t say a word. I couldn’t tell if he was upset with me for arriving late (sorry!) or because he really didn’t like the way I presented Occupy Wall Street as an important element in the resilience of New York City.

Google Presentation

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NYC:Prepared Presentation at IEEE HTC 2014

I had the honor of presenting NYC:Prepared at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Humanitarian Technology Conference 2014 held in San Jose, California.

The presentation situates Occupy Sandy within the context of Occupy Wall Street and explains how social movements prepare participants to respond during disaster.

It goes on to outline four phases of Occupy Sandy activity:

  • Scouting
  • Networking
  • Relationship Building
  • Autonomy Projects

NYC:Prepared is one of the autonomous projects that emerged from Occupy Sandy. The presentation continue with a vision of how grassroots communities and institutional relief providers can use free and open technology to more effectively collaborate.

I review the software and data needs of various stakeholders and propose a set of free and open solutions.  Then I present the various tools and template we’ve made available in New York City and beyond.

The presentation is long and pretty comprehensive – too much so for the audience. They appreciated my style and enthusiasm but in the future I’ll certainly try to reduce the comprehensive nature of the presentation and focus more on precisely what I want to deliver the specific audience.

Presentation on Google

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NYC:Prepared Presentation at NYC OEM Volunteer Conference 5/31/14

Thanks to a positive reviews from my presentation at the Red Cross in April 2014, I was invited to present at NYC Office of Emergency Management’s Volunteer Conference on 5/31/14.

Since I was speaking to city officials and volunteers, I tried to show the audience how they could use simple techniques to understand, share and collaborate using data.

Some of the elements in this presentation were developed further to create my Data Basics Training.

Google Presentation

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