Teaming up with the Digital Humanitarians

UK, 27 Jun – MapAction is playing an important role in harnessing the skills and resourcefulness of high-tech volunteer communities to meet urgent information needs in disaster situations.

In recent crises, like the 2010 Haiti earthquake, talented and committed members of online technology communities have stepped up to gather, process and share crucial information resources to help aid agencies on the ground. Volunteer communities like the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team, and more recently formed groups like DataKind, are adept at exploiting online technologies and crowdsourcing methods to turn new sources of raw data into useful intelligence that can help aid response on the ground.

For example, blending analysis of satellite imagery with mobile phone traffic data may offers ways to detect movement of displaced people across a disaster zone.

These potent and agile resources must however be focused the priority information needs of aid agencies and other responders, otherwise there is a risk of merely contributing to ‘data noise’. This issue was recognised after Haiti and the volunteer communities have now responded by establishing a ‘network of networks’ with the aim of focusing the response of the ‘ecosystem’ of online groups onto the most urgent information needs during each new emergency.

The result is the Digital Humanitarian Network ( The network is gearing up to provide a tasking linkage between formal humanitarian organisations and the online technology communities. At the heart of the new structure is a coordinators group.Initially this comprises four individuals who will quickly review requests for help and work with the network to find the right member entities to respond as a solution team. One of the four coordinators is Jonny Douch, operations director of MapAction. The other three are from the United Nations, CrisisMappers and GISCorps.

Jonny Douch of MapAction said: “We are hoping this new system will help to unlock the potential of techology expertise world wide to contribute to positive humanitarian outcomes in disasters. MapAction’s own teams, who work in the field, will play a vital role in the network by being a bridge between the innovative communities in the ‘cloud and crowd’, and the emergency responders on the front line.”