13 July 2010
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New information and communication technologies, new information providers, and new international communities of interest emerged during the Haiti earthquake response that will forever change how humanitarian information is collected, shared, and managed. Humanitarian responders used social networking media, mobile phone text messaging, open source software applications, and commercial satellite imagery more than ever before. Outside of the established international humanitarian community, volunteers and participatory reporters from the affected population became new sources of data and information. Humanitarian organizations, host governments, and the donor community will all need to adapt to this new information environment. In addition to adapting to these new developments, there remain information management lessons learned and best practices from past experiences that need to be integrated into the organizational structures, coordination mechanisms, and decision making processes of the various humanitarian response communities.
The January 12 Haiti earthquake ushered in a new humanitarian information environment: one with unprecedented availability of raw data in all forms, the growing usage of new information communication technology (ICT), and the emergence of three loosely-connected humanitarian communities of interest. These three communities of interest were centered around: the US Government; the United Nations and international community; and a new group (ICT Volunteers) comprised of virtually-connected academics, humanitarians, corporate foundations, and ICT professionals. All three communities collected, shared, and acted upon enormous amounts of digital information made available on a variety of web portals, platforms, and new social networking media, such as Short Message Service (SMS) feeds, Twitter, Facebook, etc.
Each community has slightly different missions, needs, preferences, cultures, personal networks, etc. Therefore there is never going to be one single, universally accepted “Global Omniscient Database” (GOD) that contains all knowledge, serves all functions, and meets the needs of all users. Some users need information for operational purposes: planning, coordinating, and implementing a humanitarian response or program. Other users want information to provide them with synthesized situational awareness or strategic analysis. Because of the variety of users and applications, critical data and information should be structured in order to be shared across communities, networks, and platforms. These broadly available datasets can then be more systematically evaluated, synthesized, and analyzed by multiple users across different communities for the purposes of coordination, gap analysis, prioritization, strategic decision-making, and the creation of a more common situational awareness.