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[liberationtech] First full report on the largest humanitarian crowdsourcing initiative to date

Robert Munro rmunro at
Mon Jun 4 09:35:05 PDT 2012

The first full report about Mission 4636 "Crowdsourcing and
Crisis-affect Community" is now at:
The page contains a link to the report which will be published in the
Journal of Information Retrieval, a summary of
findings/recommendations, and the comments from the Haitian community.

Mission 4636 was a predominantly Haitian initiative that I coordinated
in the wake of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. It was the first time
that crowdsourcing (microtasking) had been used for humanitarian
response and is still the largest deployment of its kind -- larger
than the next 10 deployments combined.

In summary, the report has the following findings:

1. The greatest volume, speed and accuracy in information processing
was by Haitians and those working most closely with them.
2. Previous reports about Mission 4636 have incorrectly credited
international organizations with the majority of the work, often
inflating the 5% of data that went through the software of
international not-for-profits to look like 100% of the initiative.
3. No new technologies played a significant role in Mission 4636,
which is again contrary to most reports to date.
4. Crowdsourcing (microtasking) was an effective strategy to structure
and translate information into reports that the responders among the
US Military could act on.
5. The online chat was vital for information sharing, as no one person
could know all the possible locations and translations, but someone
among the collaborating volunteers often did.
6. Among social media platforms, Facebook was by far the most
important, which is contrary to most research on social media for
emergency management that has focused on Twitter.
7. Translation was the largest and most important information
processing task, followed by categorization and then geolocation and
structuring information about missing people.
8. The use of a public-facing ‘crisis map’ was opposed by the majority
of people within Mission 4636 and exposed the identities of at-risk
9. The majority of volunteers came together through social media and
strong social ties.
10. A quarter of all crowdsourced information processing was by paid
workers within Haiti, who were one of the most vital workforces but
have also been excluded from most other reports to date.
11. The most important connections to the country were through the
volunteers themselves, with direct relationships to people managing
the clinics, radio stations, and individual people that we were

>From the findings in the report, the following recommendations are
made for organizations or individuals considering the use of
crowdsourcing in response to future disasters:

1. Find and manage volunteers via strong social ties.
2. Maintain a ten-to-one local-to-international workforce.
3. Default to private data practices.
4. Publish in the language of the crisis-affected community.
5. Do not elicit information for which there is not the capacity to respond.
6. Do not elicit emergency response communications.
7. Use social media to encourage the centralization of information.
8. Establish partnerships with technology companies.
9. Avoid partnerships with media organizations and citizen journalists.
10. Integrate, don’t innovate or disrupt.
11. Employ people with close ties to the crisis-affected region.

The majority of the report is an analysis of how the Mission 4636
volunteers and workers collaborated online to structure, filter and
share information among people within Haiti and among the response
community. The particular focus is on the diaspora, and the argument
is that the diaspora were the key to new methods of information
sharing during a crisis, not the technology they happened to be using.
Having said that, subscribers to this list might be interested to know
that among the small role played by international engineers, 90% of
the management was by Stanford alums.

Rob Munro


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