Code for Good

Global groups

And so onto the global groups that I’m tracking or part of. Crisismappers: (and ICCM conferences), Humanity Road, Standby Task Force, Geeks without bounds. Mappers: open street map, grassroots mappers ICT4dev: IEEE Engineering for Change Open Data: Open Knowledge Foundation (and CKAN). Big data: data without borders Social innovation: Code4America, Mardi, iHub, km4dev Technologies: NextNet (building a distributed decentralized internet), W3C, Women in technology: Women in Technology, Girl Geeks, 85 Broads Innovations: British Library Entrepreneurs, 15inno, Startup Bus This is only the start of a list that I’ll add to when I remember all the job-related groups that I’m involved in.

Code for Good

New York tech groups

I’ve been talking to quite a few people as part of the dayjob.  And I knew I was talking to quite a few communities, but even I was surprised when our communications officer asked just how many, and we counted over 100.  Which since I’ve only been doing this since January is rather a lot.  So first, if you’re part of a community that I talk to, please bear with me if I seem a little distracted. And second, part of the job is to create stronger links between these communities and the UN, so I thought I’d write about who I was talking to and why, to give other UN peeps some possibly-needed leads. This is going to take a while, so I’ve split it into three posts: international communities, local New York communities and UN projects and communities.  Later on, there are academics, companies and conferences, but for…


WherecampDC thoughts on place

(Apologies – I’m tidying up my backlog of draft posts, so some of the following posts will be a little late and/or sketchy.) Most objects have a physical geography.  Some of the ones that might not (the argument continues) are part of the Internet, but most objects and the data they generate can be tied to a specific place or places (e.g. a crisismapper in London mapping Haiti on a server in Luxembourg has three). So is what we’re doing here an extension of human geography, the study of the interactions between people and place? Maps contain objects that are important to people. So a ‘conventional’, bought-over-the-counter paper map will contain things like roads, trees, buildings, post offices, hospitals, trig points.  I’m wondering today if we’re adding vulnerability overlays or complete layers to our maps. For instance, if a conventional map contains health facilities and we’re tracking an epidemic, then…


New development data

I’ve spent almost two years now thinking about and doing humanitarian crisismapping – about the sources, analysis and communication of information available to organisations like the UN before, during and after a natural disaster (fire, earthquake, tsunami, floods, snows etc), but that’s too diverse and uncertain for a small number of people in these organisations to distill into usable, searchable knowledge in the timeframes involved in any disaster (seconds, minutes, hours, days before it’s all over and all responders can do is help people to recover from its effects). There have been some amazing things done in those years. The UN cluster system, although imperfect and not mandatory to join, does have a structure that field organisations can join to improve their combined effort in an area (nutrition, health, water/sanitation, emergency shelter, camp coordination, protection, early recovery, logistics, telecomms). Teams like UN OCHA, the standby task force, crisiscommons, sahana, humanitarian…


Attracting Opposites

Most search applications are about similarity – about finding items or people who are similar in some way, and ranking their appearance by that similarity (amongst other things –there are also things like connection and advertising cash to take into consideration). I have a slightly different problem to solve: that of suggesting connections and forming teams between people who are complementary. Which is a great problem to have: new turf is always exciting. But before I get too carried away, I need to look for places where this problem might already have been solved. The obvious places to look are management theory, robot team formation and autonomous agents. Each of these is focused around a goal or task that requires a set of skills, time availability, location availability etc., and includes the study of communication, coordination and cooperation between team elements. In robotics, this is autonomy theory. Multi-agent theory is…


Development crises – who’s doing what?

A lot of organisations, communities and individuals are working on human development. The UNDP Sudan CRMAT team are working on mapping work in specific areas, and having been on a 3W team and browsed the Worldwide NGO directory, I’d say they have a lot of work to do. But although looking at who is working on development is interesting, we need to narrow down our search to people who search for, analyse and response to development crises. There is a lot of information online about natural disasters and other drivers (UN Global Pulse found 39 early warning systems in the UN alone), but less about the route from effect detection to decisions to act. Warning isn’t action, and we need to feed, track and encourage this cycle rather than creating yet another information-only system. So who’s looking? And who is able to act? The shortest answer to that is “everybody”…


Development crises

I need to understand what human development is, how it can be measured, what interruptions (‘shocks’) and damage (‘reversals’) to it look like, and the methods that people are using to a) reduce the risk of development reversals or b) reduce the impact of shocks when they can’t be avoided. And then look at who is doing what and think about how we might do more to help this work. First, human development. Wikipedia is surprisingly insightful (ed: not really – it’s been lifted from the UNDP website) about this – “Development is … about expanding the choices people have, to lead lives that they value and improving the human condition so that people will get the chance to lead full lives. And it is thus about much more than economic growth, which is only a means – if a very important one – of enlarging people’s choices”… “The most…


Open source GIS tools – QGIS

I was at the first Data Without Borders Data Dive this weekend, and needed a tool to view and play with some GIS layers. I remembered that this was possible in Open Street Map, and dived into the OSM wiki to find out how. The answer (amongst several other options) was an open-source tool called Quantum GIS (QGIS). Which has been impressing me greatly since I first started playing with it. Notes to self on this: The best guide to starting with QGIS that I’ve found is MapAction’s Field Guide to Humanitarian Mapping. Loading an OSM map into QGIS needs the OSM plugin (QGIS top menu bar > plugins > manage plugins > Open Street Map plugin) and an OSM map file (there’s a QGIS tutorial on this here – I downloaded the Uganda .osm file from cloudmade). Labels on a map is as easy as double-clicking the layer (QGIS…


Development Crises

Back to blogging. I write mainly to keep sane, but also to think through subjects that are complex or I worry that I need to but don’t completely understand yet. Today it’s development crises. My day job deals with helping to detect large-scale human crises that aren’t natural disasters, but apart from the obvious categories (famine, conflict, poverty limiting access to basic resources like food, medicine, education), it’s not very easy to pin down a) what a non-disaster crisis is, and what is typically done to detect and act to mitigate it. Once I’ve thought about what large-scale human crises are, I also need to think about how the other work that I believe is relevant to them is starting to form a connected space, and what help that space needs from us to keep developing well. So first. Nomenclature. A quick Google search on “development crisis famine” shows phrases…