Operationalizing Peace Operations Reform

Clearing the Decks After a Year of Reviews: Operationalizing Peace Operations Reform, organised by ZIF, the Centre for International Peace Operations, was held from 25 – 26 February just outside of Berlin. Agenda here.

I was asked to make a presentation on New Technologies and New Media as it related to UN peacekeeping. The presentation can be found below, and in large part, it is based on the submission made at re:publica 2015 on The future of tech and peacekeeping.

Download the presentation as a PDF here.

 

The workshop also employed a talented graphic artist to visualise the presentations.

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Haiti and Beyond: Getting it Right in Crisis Information Management

Haiti

The ICT4Peace Foundation released a new briefing today, co-authored by me, critically looking at the response to the devastating Haitian earthquake in early January. We chart in brief the significant progress made in the use of ICTs in humanitarian aid, and also how much more needs to be done in order to sustain and systematise new developments, platforms and trends.

Read it in full here. As the report avers,

Haiti is seen by many as a turning point in the use of ICTs in disaster response, and rightfully so. However, vital lessons for humanitarian aid and first response clearly identified in the Asian Boxing Day tsunami response remain unheeded, along with points regarding aid work and the use of ICTs enumerated in the UN OCHA +5 symposium report, of which the ICT4Peace Foundation was a key partner. Disaster-affected communities remain largely passive recipients of information, having to deal with, amidst significant trauma, competing information on aid delivery and services. Beyond the hype, the majority of those affected by the Haitian earthquake were off the radar of ICTs. Compounding this, as early as April 2010, Haiti is receding from international media and global attention, yet significant long-term humanitarian challenges on the ground persist. It is unclear how the ICTs first deployed in the country will be sustained over the long term, and in particular international crowd-sourced platforms relying on volunteers. Significant problems of coordination, collaboration and aid delivery dogged the disaster response effort. The Head of UN OCHA, Sir John Holmes, in a strongly worded email in February expressed his frustration over the UN’s aid effort in Haiti, noting that “only a few clusters have fully dedicated cluster coordinators, information-management focal points and technical support capacity” and adding that the disjointed effort is casting doubts on the UN’s ability to effectively provide relief. Beyond the UN, significant concerns were raised over the coordination and collaboration between civil and military actors, and the international community as a whole.

Much more can and must be done to strengthen disaster preparedness and crisis information management. There are no longer excuses for ill-preparedness or haphazard aid response. We already know much of what needs to be done and going forward requires requisite funding coupled with political will of the UN system and international community. Some key ideas and suggestions in this regard are,

  • The accelerated development and population of easily accessible datasets with essential information shared across UN and other aid agencies, to help identify, prepare for and mitigate disasters.
  • Developing ICTs that work better in, and are more resilient to austere, traumatic environments.
  • Significantly improving interoperability across all systems between UN agencies and other key platforms outside, including UN OneResponse, Ushahidi, Sahana and InSTEDD’s Emergency Information Service.
  • Using endogenous technologies, help communities develop their own capacities and capabilities for disaster early warning, prevention and resilience, is vital.
  • Greater cooperation between governments and NGOs, based on standard operating procedures governing information sharing to help aid work.
  • Global and local business, as we have seen in Haiti, also has a key role to play in generating and sustaining financial inflows and strengthening aid. They need to be partners in crisis information management.
  • The development of a comprehensive crisis information management preparedness and assessment tool box, including appraisal mechanisms, especially in and for disaster prone regions and countries.

Crisis information wiki on Chile earthquake

Chile earthquake
Image courtesy Wikipedia

Just set up for the ICT4Peace Foundation, like I did before for the Haiti earthquake, a wiki to curate information on the Chilean earthquake.

As noted on the OpenStreetMap wiki, the 2010 Chile earthquake occurred off the coast of the Maule Region of Chile, on February 27, 2010, at 03:34 local time (06:34 UTC), rating a magnitude of 8.8 on the moment magnitude scale and lasting about three minutes. On 9 March 2010 the ICRC reported that according to the latest government figures, more than 528 people have died, most of them after a tsunami, caused by the tremor, struck a coastal strip of 500 kilometres. More than 500 people have been injured, two million affected and at least 500,000 houses have been damaged.

The wiki features a comprehensive collection of links to vital satellite imagery sources from Google and elsewhere, on the ground local information sources in Spanish, a collection of videos showing the devastation and links to a number of other vital news & information aggregation portals.

  • The entire wiki itself can be read in Spanish via Google Translate.
  • All websites / sources in Spanish included in the wiki have a link to English translations, again using Google Translate.
  • The wiki features a comprehensive PDF (around 18Mb) from UN ReliefWeb with all the key information from the UN and other agencies released since the day of the earthquake.
  • There are over 100 data sources currently catalogued including links to GIS data.

Cyclone Nargis: Lessons and implications for ICTs in Humanitarian Aid

Almost a year ago, in the immediate aftermath of Cyclone Nargis, myself and others at the ICT4Peace Foundation were copied to a spate of emails that included voices from inter-governmental, non-governmental, private business and commercial organisations, academia, former field level practitioners and others on how best to respond to the monumental challenges of information and communications technology provision to support the humanitarian operations.

The Foundation wanted to ascertain what was going on and commissioned me to do a rapid assessment of who was doing what and a media monitoring exercise, to determine the cultural and political context that framed aid delivery.

Download the report here. Download the update to the report here.

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Ushahidi helps develop Crisis Information Management demo tool

Ushahidi

From the ICT4Peace Foundation came news today of its collaboration with Ushahidi.

The ICT4Peace Foundation, Geneva has mandated Ushahidi to develop an ICT4Peace Crisis Information Management Platform Demonstrator (CIMD), based on Ushahidi’s existing platform with the following features and functionality.

  1. A product that is able to be deployed in the field with a minimum of fuss, on any browser, on mobile phones, over any Internet connection and also store data offline for later synchronization.
  2. A database architecture robust enough to meet the demands of information gathering in UN peacekeeping and humanitarian operations, based on requirements and necessary forms provided by the ICT4Peace Foundation.
  3. A front end that degrades gracefully on low bandwidth connections, with key information able to be consumed even on dial-up.
  4. An emphasis on accurate location data, which needs to include GPS co-ords based information and integration with UN OCHA’s location and mapping standards. The ICT4Peace Foundation will provide location data.
  5. Strong reporting requirements, incl. automatic generation of reports from designated fields, map plotting, RSS updates, geo-location based alerts, proximity based alerts for specific event categories (on the lines of the Ushahidi DRC implementation )
  6. A comprehensive database architecture that allows for (a) easy and seamless information exchange between field and HQ (b) off-site archival (c) customisation according to context and specific mission requirements (d) offline access to the degree possible (e) strong security (f) multimedia capable

Combined, Ushahidi’s thought leadership in the field of crowd sourced information gathering and the ICT4Peace Foundation’s expert input into the development of the tool, especially in verifying information in a manner that facilitates robust, accurate, timely analysis and information sharing in peacekeeping operations will make the CIMD a useful tool to augment crisis information management practices in the UN, and elsewhere.

After championing Ushahidi at the ICT4Peace Foundation in my capacity as a Special Advisor, I am working closely with another colleague at the Foundation, hugely experienced as a UN peacekeeper to develop the CIMD, which we feel can be a powerful tool to:

  1. Demonstrate the potential of what’s possible today with new media, mobile phones, the web and open source tools
  2. Add value to Ushahidi’s model of crowdsourcing by adding a module / component (call it what you will) of information verification. While Ushahidi has its own ideas in this regard, the Foundation’s initial intended audience will be more manageable, allowing for mechanisms – both technical and processual – to be built into the system that along with requisite training can significantly enhance information gathering and analysis in critical peacekeeping operations.

I met David the extremely affable and unassuming David Kobia in New York recently. Our interactions were far too short, but his presentation on Ushahidi wowed an audience of seasoned UN staff and practitioners from NY, Rome and Geneva – never mind that so few of them could pronounce Ushahidi correctly (I heard Ushahi, Ushidi and Ushadi)! We also talked briefly about the joys and pitfalls of moderating websites within cycles of violence that explored conflict resolution – he with Mashada (an online African community) and I with Groundviews.

Looking forward to blogging the development of this.

Recommendations and ideas to strengthen best practices of Crisis Information Management at the United Nations, New York

ICT4Peace Foundation

This is an excerpt from Interim Report: Stocktaking of UN Crisis Information Management Capabilities that can be downloaded in full from here.

The authors strongly feel it is timely for the UN System as a whole to address, at a strategic level, issues of crisis information management and technology best practice and interoperability – to identify current knowledge of best practice, capabilities and challenges, and plot a way forward to improved response.

Respondents in the discussions felt that IM and KM strategies, frameworks and technologies were constantly evolving as well, making it important to create policies in the UN robust enough to handle current needs but flexible enough to accommodate change. Others noted the importance of using appropriate technology – hardware and software solutions – that could leverage existing (embryonic) IM / KM mechanisms and render them more meaningful and effective. This includes the need to develop of mechanisms and tools that work in austere conditions. Crisis information systems need to be developed that work robustly and are “good enough” to work in conditions of chaos, political instability, poor and intermittent network access, lack of physical security, with democratic institutions under siege and very little control over territory by a central government. Developed for these conditions, it is expected that the crisis information management tools can both scale up and be deployed in other conditions less austere, and also at the HQ level at the United Nations in New York.

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Interim Report: Stocktaking of UN Crisis Information Management Capabilities

ICT4Peace Foundation

Sanjana Hattotuwa and Daniel Stauffacher

From October 2007 to February 2008, representatives from the ICT4Peace Foundation met informally with a number of high-level representatives at key agencies based at the United Nations in New York in preparation for a stocktaking exercise on crisis information management capacities and best practices. These meetings with heads of agencies, units and departments, IT administrators and key Knowledge Management (KM), Information Management (IM) professionals and consultants gave vital insights into some of the best practices and key challenges facing crisis information management at the UN including the gaps and needs that had already been identified, the challenges facing KM and IM and ideas for meaningfully addressing some of these challenges.

A draft report was tabled at a meeting held on 8th July 2008 in New York at the United Nations, where respondents and other high level participants were invited to engage with the preliminary findings and observations. Their input and feedback at the meeting and via email is incorporated in this final draft.

Download a copy here.