InSTEDD’s response in Haiti

I may have been one of the first to blog about InSTEDD when it launched in early 2008. While other crisis information management providers in the aftermath of Haiti’s devastating earthquake in January this year widely promoted their work and efforts on the web, InSTEDD’s work, though captured in the Haiti earthquake wiki I created and curated for the ICT4Peace Foundation, remained comparatively obscured.

I’m glad that Eric Rasmussen, CEO of InSTEDD, wrote in to the Foundation with a comprehensive account of InSTEDD’s technology deployment in Haiti. As he notes in response to the ICT4Peace Foundation’s two-pager Haiti and beyond: Getting it right in Crisis Information Management,

InSTEDD was one of the first teams on the ground after the Haiti earthquake. Nico di Tada and I arrived that first Friday, the 15th, and established a foundation for information flow that has since received more than 90,000 SMS text messages from the Haitian population, and broadcast more than 600,000 SMS messages to our 23,000 (free) SMS subscribers in Port au Prince. We developed the backbone on which Ushahidi, Crowdflower, Open Street Maps, Samasource, the Haitian Red Cross and a dozen other agencies conducted business. We were the core substrate on which everything else in SMS happened those first few weeks but, because we’re quite technical and rather quiet, very few people know.

A comprehensive account of InSTEDD’s work in Haiti was also attached to Eric’s email and can be downloaded from here. It is compelling reading, and commendable work.

My association with Eric and the founding members of InSTEDD goes back to before the Boxing Day Asian Tsunami in 2004. I am not uncritical of InSTEDD’s work, and the significant concerns articulated in the ICT4Peace Foundation’s paper on the use of ICTs in Haiti hold as true for them as they do for other crisis information management platforms, services and tools. What I appreciate in Eric and several others at InSTEDD is a sensitivity to the vexed nature of designing and deploying ICTs to support humanitarian aid in places like Haiti, often grossly oversimplified and under-valued by a technocratic hubris that shines through in some of the content I have read on the web.

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