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‘Volunteers turning potential of crowd into reality’

Libya: Critics often questioned potential of crowd-sourcing information in humanitarian efforts during disasters. Limitations, they include the problem of connectivity where access to the internet is not reliable, reliability of the data and the functional perspectives of the interface. However, Jeffrey Villaveces, information management officer with OCHA Colombia, said, “Today’s volunteer efforts on the Libya crisis map are turning that potential into reality.

Soon after the Libyan crisis broke, decision-makers and humanitarian workers faced a critical challenge: lack of information about events inside the country. Within hours, Andrej Verity, information management officer at the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Geneva, called a meeting with volunteer-based and/or technically focused groups. OCHA activated the Standby task force, comprising more than 150 volunteers skilled in online crisis mapping. The idea was to map out social and traditional media reports from within Libya. That led to the creation of LibyaCrisisMap.net.

The LibyaCrisisMap.net site incorporates SMS (text messaging) and an online mapping service modelled on the Kenyan Ushahidi initiative.

Jeffrey added, “The volunteer teams monitor media outlets, social networking sites and reports from staff in the field, then the information follows a rigorous process of geolocation, approval, verification and analysis to ensure high quality in the final reports that are broadcast by the analysis team.”

“One of the benefits of crisis mapping, on a platform like Ushahidi, is the concept of moving away from broad media to a ‘me’ concept,” Verity said. “In the past, the responders and decision-makers would have a static map that was usually produced for mass consumption. With the Libya crisis map, anyone can drill into the map by zooming into a location and filtering what types of reports to be shown,” he added. “It becomes relevant specifically to them and they can make plans or decisions based on that highly relevant information. Imagine in the future when all needs, response activities and other relevant information are placed on this type of site. Both responders and the affected could access a wealth of highly relevant information through a simple map interface.”

Source: IRIN