UNESCO honours member of ICT4Peace Foundation board

As reported on the UNESCO website, on the 20th anniversary of World Press Freedom Day in 2013, UNESCO Director-General Ms Irina Bokova presented a medal to ICT4Peace Foundation board member Mr. Alain Modoux in recognition of his pivotal role in the establishment of World Press Freedom Day (WPFD).

For 20 years, May 3 has been a day when the world celebrates freedom of expression and stands together for its protection. This is the spirit of the 1991 Declaration of Windhoek, whose anniversary the United Nations General Assembly chose for World Press Freedom Day. UNESCO was instrumental in framing the Windhoek Declaration and works today to promote freedom of expression across the world.

In celebration of the 20th anniversary of World Press Freedom Day, UNESCO has published a commemorative book “Pressing for Freedom: 20 Years of World Press Freedom Day”. Mr Modoux’s account of his work to establish this day on the international calendar can be read in the publication, and the relevant section is also reproduced below.

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ICT4Peace, Big Data and Crisismapping magazines on Flipboard

The ICT4Peace Foundation is pleased to announce three new curated magazines on the visually compelling Flipboard, dealing with Big Data, crisismapping and ICTs for peacebuilding. Flipboard is one of the most beautifully crafted and commonly used web content aggregators and readers for iOS (iPhone and iPad), Android, Kindle Fire and Nook. These three magazines, curated by the Foundation’s Special Advisor and TED Fellow Alumn Sanjana Hattotuwa, will feature some of the best web content around Big Data, seen from a human rights, peacebuilding perspective and crisis mapping. Additionally, the Flipboard magazine of ICT4Peace will feature updates from around the world on the use of Information and Communications Technologies to support all aspects of peacebuilding and peacekeeping.

We hope you enjoy reading these curated magazines.

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  • Access the Flipboard magazine on ICT4Peace here.
  • Access the Flipboard magazine on crisis mapping here.
  • Access the Flipboard magazine on Big Data here.

Report of Crisis Information Management Advisory Group (CiMAG) Retreat 2013

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Led by the UN’s Office of Information and Communications Technology (OICT) and organised by the ICT4Peace Foundation, the 2013 Crisis Information Management Advisory Group (CiMAG) meeting was held on 2nd and 3rd May in Glen Cove, New York. Representatives from UNOCC, UNITAR, UNDP BCPR, UNICEF, OHCHR, OICT, OCHA, DFS/DPKO, UNHCR and WFP participated along with, on the second day, representatives from Google Crisis Response, Human Rights Watch, Sahana Software Foundation, Standby Volunteer Task Force, World Bank OpenDRI. Representatives from the New Media Task Force were invited but due to unavoidable circumstances, could not attend.

Overall observations

  1. It was the best-attended CiMAG retreat thus far, with over 30 participants from the UN and the crisismapping community participating over the two days. The retreat also had the most substantive discussions around information sharing as well as data architecture, a key component of the Crisis Information Management (CiM) strategy of any CiMAG retreat held to date.
  2. A substantial interest in, enthusiasm for and commitment to CiMS and the CiMAG process by its members.
  3. The expansion of CiMAG to include new UN agencies, like the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) and the Peacebuilding Support Office (PBSO).
  4. CiMAG members agreed that an annual retreat was insufficient to implement CiMS, collectively address critical issues and move the process forward. Perhaps a bi-annual meeting is required, but more importantly a small secretariat, ideally located at the OICT/CITO’s office to manage the CiM process and facilitate problem solving processes, provide a market place for ideas and solutions, provide strategic input and guidance for members of CiMAG in relation to crisis information management, arrange meetings with interested CiMAG members, including and as required with technology providers.
  5. The newly established UNOCC and its mandate vis-à-vis the Secretary General on one hand and CiMAG members on the other was considered an excellent driver for implementing CiMS both at HQ and field level. UNOCC agreed to play a catalytic role (“somewhere to put on the hat”), but considers responsibility for CiMS remains with CiMAG members and support role of the CITO/OICT.
  6. The Humanitarian Exchange Language (HXL), proposed by OCHA, was considered an excellent driver for CiMS, both on the data and technology side.
  7. Considering the four pillars of CiMS: (1) data architecture work will continue with the building of a COD/FOD/HXL Data Service (with support for OCHA, inter alia, from ICT4Peace and Switzerland’s ETH); (2) Technology Development with inter alia HXL (OCHA with UNHCR and support of ICT4Peace); (3) Stake-holder Management with COI and DHN Summit with support of ICT4Peace; (4) Capacity Building: Curricula Development and courses by OCHA, UNHCR, UNICEF and ICT4Peace respectively, and/or in collaboration.
  8. DPKO/DFS, a founding member of CiMAG and contributor to CiMS stocktaking report of 2009, highlighted again the high value of COD/FOD/HXL Data Service also for situational awareness creation in peacekeeping and peacebuilding respectively, as well as well peacekeeping cum humanitarian missions. They offered valuable support to its implementation and utilisation. In particular DFS offered to provide to the HXL development: (1) Infrastructure support from Brindisi and/or Valencia; (2) Make available support of in-house developers; (3) Provide GIS capabilities; (4) Contribute financially to establishment of CiMAG Secretariat in CITO office (in collaboration and consultation with Salem Avan).
  9. ICT4Peace was invited to assist in the establishment of the CiMAG Secretariat in developing TOR for Secretariat and staff, looking for candidates, the development of a tentative work plan from 2013 to 2016 in cooperation with Salem Avan, Susanna Shanahan, Rudy Sanchez and other members of CiMAG.
  10. ICT4Peace was invited to make a joint field visit in June 2013 with DFS of a peacekeeping mission (MONUSCO) to observe its CiM capabilities and practices from a CiMS perspective, including in its relation with HQ and OCC.

Download the full report from here.

Consultation on “Protection in violent situations – standards for managing sensitive information”

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Dutch Red Cross worker Meike Groen, working for the ICRC in Haiti, helps people use the satellite phone to reassure relatives that they are alive, via Flickr. © ICRC / Marko Kokic / ht-e-00459 / www.icrc.org

ICRC and InterAction: Consultation on “Protection in violent situations – standards for managing sensitive information”

Date and Location: 23 August 2012, Washington DC

Participants: Civilians in Conflict, Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, ICRC, ICT4Peace Foundation, IMMAP, InterAction, International Rescue Committee, Sahana Foundation, Standby Task Force, Ushahidi, World Vision,

Contact at ICRC: Guilhelm Ravier, gravier@icric.org

ICT4Peace Foundation represented and this note penned by Simone Eymann.


In August 2012, the ICT4Peace Foundation, together with a diverse group of human rights and humanitarian actors, was invited by the International Red Cross to comment on the revised draft of their “Professional standards for protection work” from 2009. The standards were developed to ensure that protection work by humanitarian and human rights actors meets commonly agreed minimum professional standards, a baseline to be respected by all.

Revised standards

New technologies, such as mobile phones, social media, google map and satellite imagery, combined with new methodologies, such as crowd-sourcing and crisis mapping, have changed the access to protection information for humanitarian and human rights actors on the ground and for the population affected by violence. Many actors already use new technologies to collect and publicize information about humanitarian crises, much of which could be considered sensitive protection information, even if the individual or team collecting it are not necessarily “protection actors”.

In light of this developing practice, participants were asked to give specific advice on the scope and the language of the revised standards on the chapter “Managing sensitive protection information”. While not per se a protection activity, data collection and management is an integral part of many protection activities. Despite the sensitive nature of these data, their management is often substandard, owing lack of knowledge, expertise and capacity. This chapter was primarily addressed to protection actors who conduct interviews with witnesses or victims on a regular basis, as well as those, which receive or use such information collected by others.

Discussions among the participants focused on risks and manipulation of crowd-sourced data, informed consent when collecting information remotely, challenges of data interpretation with remotely collected information, and public sharing of sensitive information.

Risk and Manipulation of crowd-sourced data

The participants agreed that more thought should be given to the objectives of crowd-sourcing of information, data analysis and curation and suggested adding a separate guideline on analysis which should also include curation rules. In order to analyze the vast amount of data and to recognize false data early, posts for senior analytics officers should be created. So far, only communications specialists and press officers are identified in the standards (guideline 33). Examining datasets by professional analysts over a period of time could help discover deception. In response to the question if humanitarian actors should work with, or take into account in their assessment and planning, information from sites that clearly favour one side in a conflict at the risk of presenting a partial picture of what is happening on the ground, the participants recommended that all protection data, even if it was suspected to have been manipulated, should be considered in order to understand the dynamics of information in an environment. However, it should be tagged properly. A paragraph should be added to guideline 34 on threat analysis. In addition, the security of data should be regularly reviewed. Throughout the chapter, it would be better to clearly separate first-hand and crowd-sourced information gathering. A new guideline on how to communicate with communities via new technologies should be added.

Informed consent

How should the standard of informed consent be understood when collecting information remotely and not in a face-to-face setting and what are the challenges if someone was to remove consent remotely? The standards should give more attention to the problematic of information gathering from under-aged or mentally disabled persons. Professional, ethical and legal limitations of confidentiality should be considered and mandatory reporting be disclosed. The power relation between the person who is giving information and the person, who is receiving it, should be reflected. On the ground, the notion of informed consent cannot always be integrated, and, therefore, the sources of information should be maximized. Creating incentives should be avoided: remote info gathering should not be coupled with services. One of the problems on the ground is that it is not always clear if the person who is giving information is speaking on behalf of a larger group (e.g. household).

Public sharing of sensitive information

How does the public sharing of sensitive information affect the risks faced by civilian populations and humanitarian operations? It should always be clear what the benefits of going public are. With ICTs, we should be more sensitive to risk because of the added context provided by triangulation. There should be a distinction between aggregation of information and information that can put people at risk. If information is publicly shared, it needs to be adjusted temporarily and spatially, which also avoids the issue of providing information to military. Regular risk assessments for the system needed a feedback mechanism. To minimize risks, some degree of uncertainty in the data has to be accepted. There should be an obligation to share information that, if withheld, can do harm (mine locations), and by sharing, can benefit. Before publishing sensitive information, actors should look at the context of the country.

Way Forward

The ICT4Peace Foundation sent in detailed comments about the substance of the revised standards and suggested re-structuring the chapters from “Information Collection”, to “Data Analysis”, to “Information-Sharing”. Since the standards have so far only been used at the organizational level, the ICT4Peace Foundation stressed the need to make the standards more “user-friendly” for field personnel with an online tutorial and/or a shorter version of the standards. Currently, they are only used at the organizational level. The revised version should be published in April 2013. The ICRC informed the ICT4Peace Foundation in January 2013 that an e-Learning course on “Managing of sensitive protection information” was being developed for field staff.


Simone Eymann currently works for the UN Development Programme (UNDP) as a Consultant on ICT for Development and Communications.

Previously, Simone has worked as a consultant in the area of ICT 4 Peace for the UN Department of Public Information (DPI) and the UN Department of Political Affairs (DPA), for communications offices in the private sector and as a producer and assistant for internationally acclaimed photographers and documentary filmmakers. 

She holds a M.A. in mass communication and media research, political science and constitutional law from the University of Zurich.


Big Data & social media for crisis management: Lecture at ETH, Zurich

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Sanjana Hattotuwa, Special Advisor to the ICT4Peace Foundation, delivered a public lecture on Big Data & social media for crisis management at Zurich’s Swiss Federal Institute of Technology – ETH, one of the leading international universities for technology and the natural sciences in the world. The Foundation was invited by Prof. Dirk Helbing, Chair of Sociology, in particular of Modelling and Simulation. ICT4Peace is an active partner of Prof. Helbing’s FuturICT project.

Sanjana’s presentation looked at events on the ground from his home country, Sri Lanka, as well as, at the time of the presentation, content generation on and around the bombings at the Boston marathon, as key examples of how today information is produced at exponentially increasing rates, leading to new ethical, philosophical, scientific, journalistic, scientific, computational and other challenges, as well as opportunities.

The presentation looked at cities around the world, including from the African subcontinent, embracing big data and making decades of hitherto closed or hard to access information available, for free, in the public domain via the web, and relevant APIs and frameworks. The presentation looked at how even the UN, often perceived as extremely conservative and conventional, is today leading the way in flagging the value of big data and leading the development of platforms as well as political leadership to meaningfully use it in key operations. Through information visualisations, Sanjana demonstrated just how much a city’s contours and its population movements could be tracked. Examples were also shown from the world of data driven journalism – how big data, from its production to its consumption and open analysis, is changing the way the news is generated, distributed and engaged with.

The presentation focussed on the impact of big data in humanitarian aid and relief operations, including with the UN OCHA and other key humanitarian actors in the UN system. After going into how digital cartography today is no longer the exclusive domain of GIS experts, Sanjana also flagged key drivers from other domains – from algorithms in the online music industry that can sift through millions of tracks in less than a second to the gamification of disaster response – that will drive both the awareness of big data as well as progress in actually leveraging its potential to really make an impact in the efficiency and effectiveness of relief work.

Finally, Sanjana touched more deeply on some of the ethical and rights based concerns over the generation, use and archival of big data, especially around humanitarian disasters in fragile States, and in post-war contexts. Ending on the note that sharing, not hoarding, firewalling and storing, is the new power, Sanjana flagged the report by the ICT4Peace Foundation The potential and challenges of open data for crisis information management and aid efficiency.


Web based social media and peacekeeping


Image courtesy UN

Sanjana Hattotuwa, Special Advisor at the ICT4Peace Foundation, was invited to deliver a presentation at Centre for International Peace Operations (ZIF) in Berlin, Germany, on 15 April 2013. A short write up about the presentation on the ZIF website can be read here.

The ICT4Peace Foundation works closely together with ZIF in the design and implementation of the Crisis Information Management course, which was last delivered in Nairobi, Kenya in February/March 2013.

Sanjana’s presentation focussed on how Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs) were contributing to a paradigm shift in the praxis, study and design of peacekeeping, peacebuilding, election monitoring and humanitarian aid. Sanjana ended by looking at how leading institutions like ZIF could leverage social and new media to strengthen all aspects of their programming, and by doing so, add value to existing training programmes.

‘Humanitarianism in the Network Age’ by OCHA highlights shared interests and work

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The ICT4Peace Foundation recognises UN OCHA’s new publication Humanitarianism in the Network Age as a significant contribution to our understanding of how new technologies including new web based social media, are reshaping our fundamental understanding as well as the design and delivery of humanitarian aid and relief work across the world, and indeed, beyond the UN.

The report cites our publication Peacebuilding in the Information Age: Sifting Hype from Reality. As far back as 2011, the Foundation’s paper looked at difficult questions and provided concrete recommendations concerning:

  • the effectiveness of current systems of crisis information management;
  • the need for a comprehensive assessment of the effectiveness of the use of ICTs in crisis response by the academic community;
  • the need for better coordinative mechanisms amongst the key players, including the UN and its various agencies;
  • the humanitarian responsibility of various actors, in particular new players such as crowdsourcing providers and social media;
  • the serious challenges that still need to be overcome in terms of underlying political, hierarchical and traditional resistance to information-sharing amongst diverse organizations;
  • the negative potential of ICTs in compromising the security of persons at risk in conflict situations;
  • the lessons learned from the earthquake in Haiti on the use of new ICTs in disaster response situations and,
  • the big picture of what this shift to an ICT-focused approach really means for existing humanitarian response systems.

OCHA new paper underscores many of these points and records notable developments in the field since 2011.

The ICT4Peace Foundation has worked very closely with OCHA to develop best practices around the use of new media in aid, crisis information management, interfacing and working with volunteer and technical communities (V&TCs) that are now global in nature and local in impact, helped establish vital platforms for the dissemination of fundamentally important datasets of UN member states in relation to disaster risk reduction and crisis response, helped ideate and communicate pathbreaking new technologies like HXL, supported exercises led by OCHA that have strengthened the work of digital humanitarians, published papers on Big Data and humanitarian aid and every year, convened leading UN agencies, including OCHA, and some of the world’s most recognised and respected actors from V&TCs as part of the Crisis Information Management Advisory Group (CiMAG) retreats held in New York.

All this work is carefully documented on our website. OCHA’s new report avers,

The network age, with its increased reach of communications networks and the growing groups of people willing and able to help those in need, is here today. The ways in which people interact will change, with or without the sanction of international humanitarian organizations. Either those organizations adapt to the network age, or they grow increasingly out of touch with the people they were established to serve.

If they choose to adapt, an old dream— enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights—has a chance of coming true: that all people gain the freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media, regardless of any frontiers. That is a goal worth pursuing.

As the institutional and global custodian of Paragraph 36 of the WSIS Declaration, is it heartening to recognise renewed political leadership, at the UN and the global level, to more fully embrace the potential of ICTs to – after sudden onset and even during longer term political emergencies – generate, analyse, disseminate, contextualise, visualise, archive and action information that can save lives and strengthen human dignity.

Lectures at Humanitarian Logistics and Management course in Lugano

Photo courtesy Uni. of Lugano

Since the first cohort of students over three years ago, the ICT4Peace Foundation has lectured at the Master of Advanced Studies in Humanitarian Logistics and Management at the University of Lugano. Led by Sanjana Hattotuwa, the Foundation’s modules are broadly anchored around two key areas – one, the impact of new and social media on the web, Internet and via mobiles on humanitarian aid, situational awareness and more effective design and delivery of relief systems. Two, an overnight simulation exercise, based loosely around the Haiti earthquake, that takes students to around 30 of the leading humanitarian websites as well as new media platforms and portals and gets them to search for, compare and verify information on them, as well as collaborate and produce information using them.

This year, the Foundation introduced a new online collaborative mapping exercise to this simulation, based on the new Google Map Engine Lite.

Over the two and a half days of teaching, the ICT4Peace Foundation is joined by UN OCHA or UNHCR, represented over the years by Andrew Alspach. Together, the modules deal with,

  • The IM Process
  • ICTs and new media in Crisis Information Management System: New tools, new actors (ICT4Peace)
  • Analysis in the humanitarian context
  • Verification of online information (ICT4Peace)
  • Practical exercise in Crisis Information Management including online mapping (Simulation)
  • Reporting back on simulation exercise (ICT4Peace)
  • Modules on IM Process (UNHCR)

We have noticed that with each cohort, competencies with and awareness of web based social & new media platforms, as well as aid, relief and data portals by and outside the UN is increasing. The Foundation, along with our partner UNHCR/OCHA, is keen to broaden and deepen this knowledge through the unique opportunity afforded by the Master of Advanced Studies in Humanitarian Logistics and Management.

Admissions are accepted on a rolling basis by the University. Please consider applying.

Public Talk: Big data and social media for crisis management

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Sanjana Hattotuwa will give a public talk at Zurich’s world renowned ETH on big data and social media for crisis management on 16th April, from 17:00 – 19:00hrs. Details on the ETH website here.

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Those interested in the topic can read The potential and challenges of open data for crisis information management and aid efficiency: A preliminary assessment published by the ICT4Peace Foundation in March 2012.