Inspired in part by an increasing set of expectations by social media users in crisis situation, the Red Cross and other agencies collaborated to identify the problems in, and possibilities for, the use of social data in crisis management.
A Dialogic Imagination
In the summit's post-conference paper, The Path Forward, the authors talk about the need for a new way to handle the back-and-forth of social data during a crisis.
"Some counties have made steps toward starting to build this capacity, but at present they are mostly push systems to aggregate and report information, rather than systems that capture and aggregate incoming information."
In other words, too many information systems built by crisis agencies broadcast information but can neither take in requests for help nor change their crisis picture by integrating real-time reports.
Another issue identified at the summit was the need to centralize such information. Although a number of conclusions were reached as to why that need is unlikely to be met - including the odd idea that the social web could fail - the one that was not mentioned is possibly the most important to the users of the social web. That systems is by its very nature decentralized, or at least distributed. That is its strength. What's missed here, perhaps, is an awareness that hubs can be built, and tools used, to temporarily funnel information. A feed hub can be created for a given crisis; search and other feeds can be created for them.
"The last thing we should do in a crisis is scramble all over the Internet looking for places that have the data required to ACT. That data should be brought into a single site that makes it easy to prioritize, and act on - and share with the Social Media networks/people that are interested in being involved."
The Mobility of Crisis
This obsession with the permanent, centralized aggregation of data seems like the very definition of slow-to-respond bureaucracy. A heartening move that obviates some of that is the suggestion to build a per-crisis API that local responders and other stakeholders can re-purpose.
An interesting reality in both crisis management and the social web is the mobility of data, which was acknowledged in the summit's conclusions. Both exigencies of crisis itself and the fact that low income and therefor digitally limited citizens are often the victims of crisis. Whatever set of protocols, process or system are created by the summit's subsequent working groups and implemented as a response to the reality of the digital role in crises will have to take mobility into account.
The Public Conversation
La Gesse's hope is that 2011 will see a series of what he calls "Crisis Code Camps" in the Bay Area next year. He also anticipates 2011 as the year the API will be released.
"(A) big part of what we need to figure out is how we have this conversation, and who wants to be involved. We made strides towards that with the summit - but that was a first step. Now we need the developers, the planners, the API gurus - we need them to step in and tell us what is possible. But time isn't on our side. The next disaster is not far off - they never are."