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The UN Crisis Information Management Advisory Group meeting (CiMAG) meeting convened by the UN's Chief Information Technology Officer Dr. Dr. Soon-Hong Choi took place on 4 October 2010 at the IBM Palisades, in New York.

Participants included representatives from GlobalPulse, GAID, OCHA, UNDP, UNHCR, UNICEF, Ushahidi and OpenGeo.

Key observations

  • Participants noted at the outset that fragmentation of CiM systems continues and flagged the possibility of new technologies ironically accelerating this fragmentation. It was also noted however that new actors, such as the crisismapping community, were keen to work with the UN. The importance of interoperability was restated.
  • It was observed that some sort of structure was required to interface with the crisismapping community, and that this new community also needed guidance from the more experienced humanitarians in the UN.
  • Some raised concerns over what they saw as the ‘privatisation’ of information in private entities, but others said that the crisismapping community and their approach to technology and relief work was akin to the growth of new media and citizen journalism in the traditional mainstream media landscape. Participants noted that the crisismapping community didn’t report to the UN, were not answerable to the UN, didn’t work with the UN and yet will increasingly be present and in fact, leading some information needs in crisis response.
  • Accordingly, some interface – some called it an ‘API’ – was needed, and one that was not just technical but organisational as well.
  • Regarding the crisismapping work, some said that it was easy to create maps, but hard to create good maps. Others voices concerns over open source based tools, and said that the business case for crisismapping was still unclear, and stated obvious concerns over the veracity and verifiability of crowdsourced information.
  • It was noted that information didn’t necessarily mean that those handling it were responsible for response – in the field, many recalled, it was only the UN that often had the power to act with people on the ground.
  • Some said that technology could be used to get a sense of what is wrong – that the statistical, semantic and other analytical tools and technologies were already there, and what was needed in fact was to transform information into knowledge.
  • Many recalled the role of the UN as one that conferred legitimacy to aid and relief work. Accordingly they felt the UN was well placed to act as a bridge between traditional humanitarian roles and the crisismapping work.

For the full report of the meeting, click here.

UN CiMAG Retreat October 2010

For photos from the CiMAG retreat, click here.