How can humanitarian organizations use crowdsourced crisis information to generate actionable knowledge of crises, in order to strengthen their adaptive capacity?

In collaboration with:
Dr. Julie Ferguson VU Amsterdam
Dr. Muhammad Imran Qatar Computing Research Institute Hamad bin Khalifa University

In recent years, crowdsourcing initiatives have blossomed in response to diverse crises. A prominent manifestation of such an initiative is ‘crisismapping’, whereby stakeholders (such as volunteers, locally affected citizens, and technology specialists) cooperate toward geotagging, validating and enriching crisis information. This has yielded vast quantities of crisis-related information, which has sometimes enabled quick response to urgent needs (for example during the 2015 Nepal earthquake). However, at the same time, the quality of much of this information sometimes remains questionable and requires further analysis in order to be useful as actionable knowledge for response organizations.

Following a major crisis, humanitarian organizations seek to increase their situational awareness in order to reach the most severely affected areas and communities, and generate effective responses. To this end, they rely on needs assessment overviews, but this is often a labor- and time-intensive activity, depending on local representatives of humanitarian organizations, and leaves important hiatuses in the identification of needs. These organizations have recognized that crowdsourced information can be of great value to guiding their response activities, but are still struggling to evaluate how such information can best be integrated into their information management processes and thereby improve their adaptive capacity.

Thus, despite the wealth of available information deriving fairly directly from affected communities, and the willingness among aid agencies to make use of this information, there is still a considerable way to before crowdsourced information is optimally applicable to crisis response. A first step towards identifying how this information might be of use is by exploring what types of actionable knowledge the information contains. Actionable knowledge refers to 5 components people look for in information: solutions (both know-what and know-how), referrals (pointers to databases or other people), problem reformulation, validation, and legitimation.

In the project, we will analyze crisismapping data to identify:

  1. what types of information are available,
  2. what categories of actionability can be identified,
  3. how can humanitarian organizations integrate and act upon such information in their crisis response?

By responding to these questions, we can also provide recommendations to the overarching question: how can organizations strengthen their adaptive capacity, thereby improving their receptiveness and responsiveness?