A response to Diane Coyle’s defence of New Technologies in Emergencies and Conflicts: The Role of Information and Social Networks

Diane Coyle finds the tone of my critique of New Technologies in Emergencies and Conflicts: The Role of Information and Social Networks, published by the UN Foundation and Vodafone Foundation “surprising and disappointing”. That’s actually a succinct encapsulation of what I feel about her report itself.

I have already responded in detail to co / second author Patrick Meier’s earlier defence of the report. In our exchange of comments subsequently and in response to my post, Diane may well find the admission of significant exclusions and errors in the report by her co-author worth heeding.

Fundamentally, both authors of this report talk about selection methodologies for the inclusion of case studies in their respective responses to my critique of the report. Tellingly, there is an almost combative resistance to the submission that this methodology as it exists in the minds of the authors finds absolutely no clear expression or explanation in the published version of the report itself.

There is nothing at all wrong with playing to the strengths of authors, as Diane avers. However, as I have repeatedly noted earlier, it is evident that the strengths of both authors fail to bear a robust interrogation of technology in violent, protracted conflict / complex political emergencies (or worse, natural disasters within a context of a CPE, such as the case of the East coast of Sri Lanka at the time of the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami). If this aspect was never intended to be part of the report, fine. But then why include the word conflict in the title? And moreover, once included, why does it get glossed over?

Diane also egregiously misreads a point in my response to Patrick. I submitted that it would have made more sense to mention in the report what was left out of detailed case studies, even as just a list with short descriptions and pointers to relevant websites for more information. I went on to suggest that this would have made the report more useful and less exclusive.

Diane interprets this to be an academic literature review! It is emphatically not. It is simply due diligence and the submission that freely available and regularly updated online resources such as the ICT4Peace Foundation’s ICT4Peace wiki, amongst many others, could have been leveraged to far better effect. Earlier and better reports by the UN Foundation and Vodafone Foundation – Wireless Technology for Social Change: Trends in Mobile Use by NGOs for example – also feature recommended readings at the end. New Technologies in Emergencies and Conflicts: The Role of Information and Social Networks does not.

Diane suggests that some comments I make miss the thrust of the report, and uses as an example my problem over the inclusion of Burma in Section 3 of the table that appears on Page 7. Frankly, if what Diane now says is what was intended to be originally communicated, I would strongly recommend that the authors completely revise both language and layout of the table on Page 7, for it is hugely misleading as it stands. The inclusion, for example, of government as an actor – at both national and local levels – would be a fundamental revision in Section 3 alone.

Diane’s confidence that the report makes an important contribution in highlighting the potential for the latest technologies in this field, and the obstacles to realisation of that potential is shared by many, including myself. I sincerely hope therefore that the authors champion an urgent revision and release of a more comprehensive and cogent version of the report.

4 thoughts on “A response to Diane Coyle’s defence of New Technologies in Emergencies and Conflicts: The Role of Information and Social Networks

  1. My response was not directed at your critique specifically, and you misinterpret what I said by making that solipsistic assumption. This isn’t a constructive conversation so I won’t be responding any further to your comments in this post.

  2. Diane,

    This is exceedingly silly of you.

    At the time of writing, your guest post on Patrick’s blog begins with the line “The tone of some comments about our report has surprised and disappointed me.” Note the URL specifically linking to my post. You then have the impudence to suggest that you were not directing your response to my post?!

    You’re right on one count though. This isn’t a constructive conversation, but it is such by your own making.


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