The overflow of information generated during disasters can be as paralyzing to humanitarian response as the lack of information. This flash flood of information—social media, satellite imagery and more—is often referred to as Big Data. Making sense of this data deluge during disasters is proving an impossible challenge for traditional humanitarian organizations, which explains why they’re turning to Digital Humanitarians. Who exactly are these Digital Humanitarians and how do they make sense of Big Data? Digital Humanitarians: How Big Data Is Changing the Face of Humanitarian Response answers this question.
Digital Humanitarians are you, me, all of us—volunteers, students and professionals from the world over and from all walks of life. What do they share in common? They desire to make a difference, and they do by rapidly mobilizing online in collaboration with international humanitarian organizations. In virtually real-time, they make sense of vast volumes of social media, SMS and imagery captured from satellites and UAVs to support relief efforts worldwide. How? They craft and leverage ingenious crowdsourcing solutions with trail-blazing insights from artificial intelligence.
This book charts the sudden and spectacular rise of Digital Humanitarians by sharing their remarkable, real-life stories, highlighting how their humanity coupled with innovative solutions to Big Data is changing humanitarian response forever. Digital Humanitarians will make you think differently about what it means to be humanitarian and will invite you to join the journey online.
Table of Contents
The Rise of Digital Humanitarians
Mapping Haiti Live
Supporting Search And Rescue Efforts
Preparing For The Long Haul
Launching An SMS Life Line
Sending In The Choppers
Openstreetmap To The Rescue
The Human Story
Doing Battle With Big Data
Rise Of Digital Humanitarians
This Book And You
The Rise of Big (Crisis) Data
Big (Size) Data
Finding Needles In Big (Size) Data
Policy, Not Simply Technology
Big (False) Data
Unpacking Big (False) Data
Calling 991 And 999
Big (Bias) Data Unpacked
To Tweet, Or Not To Tweet
How Many Tweets Are Enough?
The Demographic Game
Big (Risk) Data
Big (Decisions) Data
Crowd-Computing Social Media
A Pain In The Side Of Putin
Here Come The Crowdsourcerers
The Escalating Crisis In Libya
Time For Smart Crowdsourcing
Typhoon Season In The Philippines
Micromappers Vs Typhoon Yolanda
Crowd-Computing Disaster Imagery
Crowdsearching Flight 370
The Search Genghis Khan Leads To Somalia
From Astrophysics To Zoomanitarians
Uavs As Humanitarian Technologies
Uavs Take Off In The Philippines
Aerial Selfies For Disaster Response
Humanitarian UAV Network
Artificial Intelligence for Disaster Response
Lees’ Guide To The Game Of Checkers
From Haystacks To Meadows
Tracking The Meadows Of Syria
The Red Cross Digital Operations Center
AIDR: Artificial Intelligence For Disaster Response
Big (SMS) Data
Artificial Intelligence in the Sky
Machine Learning With Pictures
Automated Imagery Analysis Of Haiti And Beyond
Coming Soon: Satellite Alchemy
Galaxy Class Machines
Artificial Intelligence At Digitalglobe
Automated Analysis Of UAV Imagery
Verifying Big Crisis Data
I’m Not Gaddafi
A Disease On The Map Of Russia
Wag The Dog Or Wag The Needle
Digital Sherlock Holmes
The Skype Detectives
Digital Scotland Yard
One, Two, Ten Red Weather Balloons
Surely, Verily, Truly
Verifying with Artificial Intelligence
BBC’s Big Data Blues
Groundbreaking Insights From Chile
Artificial Intelligence Beyond Chile And Tweets
Towards Some Tweetcred
Digital Humanitarians in the Arab Spring
The Mapping Reflex
Prelude To An Egyptian Revolution
Crowdsourced Election Monitoring Results
Assessing The Impact Of Crowdsourced Monitoring
Digital Humanitarians Beyond The Arab Spring
The Future Of Digital Activist Humanitarians
Next Generation Digital Humanitarians
A Question Of Policy
Less Computing, More Enlightenment
Data Fission To Data Fusion
Mission Not So Impossible
The Future Of Data Privacy, Protection And Ethics
Open Data And #Noshare
Democratizing Humanitarian Technology
Game On, Digital Humanitarians
The Share Economy For Disaster Response
The Kind Of World I Want To Live In
Featured Author Profiles
Patrick Meier is a passionate evangelist for the power of big data to help us respond to natural disasters and other crises. He is also a careful scholar who thinks deeply about the limits and potential dangers of data-centric approaches. His book offers both inspiration for those around the world who want to improve our disaster response and a set of fertile challenges to ensure we use data wisely and ethically.
—Ethan Zuckerman, Director, MIT Center for Civic Media and author of Rewire: Digital Cosmopolitans in the Age of Connection
I dare you to read this book and not have both your heart and mind opened. Patrick Meier writes compellingly about his first-hand accounts of people around the world working together to help disaster victims through advanced computing solutions.
—Leysia Palen, Associate Professor and Director of Project EPIC—Empowering the Public with Information during Crises, University of Colorado, Boulder
Something very like the fog of war afflicts crisis response. On the ground, simply knowing what is wrong — who is suffering? where is the danger? — is both critical and difficult. In Digital Humanitarians, Patrick Meier, a scholar and practitioner of crisis response, shows us how simple digital tools, built and staffed by a worldwide network of volunteers, are providing faster and more comprehensive data for disaster response efforts. Working from examples like the Haitian earthquake and the Arab Spring, Meier shows how tools from artificial intelligence to aerial drones, and techniques from crowdmapping to distributed fact-checking, are helping to dispel some of that fog.
—Clay Shirky, Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute, New York University and author of Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations
An insider’s guide to the humanitarian data revolution, seen through the eyes of a thought leader, scholar, and expert practitioner on the front lines of a global movement that is already transforming how we understand and respond to crises.
—Robert Kirkpatrick, United Nations Global Pulse
Business, economics and governance are transforming as traditional state-based institutions are supplemented and indeed eclipsed by non-state networks of civil society. New technologies are enabling regular citizens to connect, collaborate, and save lives. In his book, Meier shows these same trends emerging in the field of humanitarian response. Global problem solving is rapidly evolving and Meier will help get you on board.
—Don Tapscott, Global Solutions Network and co-author of Wikinomics
This book breaks new ground, as Patrick Meier charts the optimism, the possibilities, and the dilemmas of a new Digital Humanitarianism from his own first hand experience. For anyone in the Humanitarian sector - ignore this book at your own peril.
—Tarun Sarwal, Innovation Advisor, International Committee of the Red Cross
Meier offers an illuminating look at how digital humanitarian have been creating value from big data for nearly a half-decade. He changes the narrative surrounding the "traditional" humanitarian community - often thought to be intransigent and inflexible - by presenting examples of how humanitarian organizations are actively exploring how to incorporate big data and crowdsourcing into their decision-making processes. His authoritative volume crackles with honest insights about the current and future state of humanitarian response.
—Albert Gembara, Technology Integration Officer, United States Agency for International Development
Patrick Meier has been the leading figure in creating a new type of disaster responders, digital humanitarians and in this groundbreaking book he takes us through the story of how technology can truly revolutionize how we deal with some of the most chaotic events we experience.
—Gisli Olafsson, Emergency Response Director, NetHope and author of The Crisis Leader
For all the technology firsts, this is first a story about volunteers. It is also a story about the relentless application of fundamental information technology skills, collecting, processing and making understandable an avalanche of data. Not only is this about the heart of information technology professionals, it is about the application of information technology skills; and in a crisis, any professional wants to contribute what they know best.
—Ed Happ, Global Chief Information Officer of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies
If you want to be enlightened about how technology is revolutionizing humanitarian aid, then this book is for you. In Digital Humanitarians Patrick Meier depicts a humanitarian endeavour that is being enriched by the efforts of a growing global network of smart, savvy innovators. Expertly fusing front-line experience, technological expertise, and a deeply humane worldview, Meier closes with a rousing call for change: toward a more open, democratic humanitarian system. All of us working in international disaster response should be paying close attention.
—Ben Ramalingam, Chair of the Humanitarian Innovation Fund (HIF) and author of Aid on the Edge of Chaos
This book shows us once again why Patrick Meier is a thought leader in leveraging emerging technologies for social impact. His book captures the enormous possibilities and avoidable pitfalls of big data, social media and artificial intelligence in crisis contexts. Digital humanitarians can be powerful agents for social change but ground-truthing what we see and hear digitally is more important than ever.
—Aleem Walji, Chief Innovation Advisor, Leadership, Learning, and Innovation, World Bank Group
Patrick Meier is a master cartographer. He is a talented crisis mapper, sure, but he’s mapping something even bigger in this book. He’s mapping the ecosystem of digital humanitarianism – the hills of human motivations, the seas of human institutions, and the urban landscape of human technology. The ideas and stories here not only plot the path for digital humanitarians in disasters, but they illuminate a runway of opportunity for all of philanthropy and social innovation in the digital age.
—Wendy Harman, Director of Information Management and Situational Awareness, American Red Cross
There has been a lot of hype about the role of technology can play the humanitarian space, with very little to show for it. Patrick Meier – in his book and in his work – is one of the few people who has gone beyond talk to show how big ideas can translate into very concrete initiatives that help save lives. He also shows a fascinating glimpse into the early days of crisis mapping and the passionate group of volunteers who are transforming the way we work. This book is indispensable reading for anyone who is interested in finding ways to incorporate technology into their work as humanitarians.
—Sharon Morris, Senior Advisor to the President, US Institute of Peace
Patrick provides a fascinating read for anyone interested in how technology could spur the humanitarian community far into the 21st century. Building from his very personal experience that propelled him into the digital humanitarian space, Patrick lays out the amazing achievements of many who have dreamed to change the world for the better. At the same time, and perhaps more importantly, Patrick also outlines what the humanitarian community can do to fully embrace new technologies and approaches--many of which are already revolutionizing other industries.
—Andrej Verity, Co-Founder of the Digital Humanitarian Network
Patrick Meier’s brilliant and inspiring book documents the power that everyday citizens have when responding to humanitarian crises or political repression. Patrick writes from the unique perspective of having played a key role in the development and evolution of the digital humanitarian field. The book provides a wonderful combination of case studies exploring many successes and challenges and also has a critical and necessary exploration of the many ethical issues around the use of technology in humanitarian work, such as privacy, safety, power and agency. This book is a must read for students, faculty, policymakers, activists, simply anyone who is engaged or seeking to engage in technology for social change.
—Craig Zelizer, Professor at Georgetown University and Associate Director of Conflict Resolution Program
In clear, compelling prose, Patrick Meier offers readers of Digital Humanitarians a front row seat into the start of the digital revolution that has swept the world since he and his colleagues created -- from scratch and on the fly -- a digitally-based response to the 2010 earthquake that devastated Haiti. He explains the strengths and potential weaknesses of using big data and crowdsourced analytics in crisis situations. It is at once a deeply personal and intellectually satisfying book.
—Steven Livingston, Professor of Media & Public and International Affairs, Elliott School of International Affairs, George Washington University
Technological and methodological developments are rapidly changing the face of humanitarian action. We are encountering a flurry of new tools involving cell phones and internet-based platforms for data aggregation, analysis, and visualization. We are exploiting the potential of collective and artificial intelligence. We are collecting data from satellites and drones while we are also involving thousands of people in reporting events, locations of assets, and places of danger. In Digital Humanitarians, Patrick Meier provides an interesting and useful overview of these developments, and offers examples drawn from years of hard-earned experience. This is essential reading for both students and practitioners of humanitarian action. Those who read it will be able to navigate this important, exciting, and dynamic field.
—Joseph G. Bock, Eck Institute for Global Health, University of Notre Dame and author of The Technology of Nonviolence: Social Media and Violence Prevention
Patrick Meier is a humanitarian in the trenches—working tirelessly to use technology for the greater good. In his new book, he highlights the latest solutions revolutionizing humanitarian response, ranging from social media platforms powered by artificial intelligence to crowd computing solutions that analyze satellite and UAV imagery. Throughout the book, however, Patrick returns to the fundamental story behind these technologies -- the human story, the digital humanitarian volunteers who mobilize across time zones to help others in need. As Patrick says, "This is the kind of world I want to live in.
—Claire Diaz-Ortiz, Director of Social Innovation, Twitter
Meier’s book is essential reading on at least two counts. First, it captures key developments on and around the use of web, Internet and mobile communications during and after disasters, cutting through the hype and grappling with critical questions related to technology and governance. Second, it is a timely publication. The preparation, response to and recovery from disasters today is inextricably entwined with technology, at local, regional and international levels. Meier looks at how what is already taken for granted came about, and looks critically at what it means for humanitarianism in the future.
—Daniel Stauffacher, Former Swiss Ambassador to the United Nations & Founder of the ICT for Peace Foundation (ICT4Peace); Sanjana Hattotuwa, Special Advisor at ICT4Peace & TED Fellow
Finally, someone who knows both the potential of mobile, networked technologies and the practicalities of how to use these tools to enhance humanitarian work. Meier’s new book, Digital Humanitarians, has the potential to relieve suffering by showing activists, citizens, and technologists how to use everything from satellite imagery to big data techniques and social media to save lives in natural disasters and other crises that require humanitarian response. This book can save lives!
—Howard Rheingold, Lecturer at Stanford University and author of the bestsellers Smart Mobs, Net Smart and Virtual Reality
The ideas and lessons in this book could save millions of lives in the 21st century. Digital tools – from crowdsourced mobile data to satellite imagery — promise to make the world more transparent, more inclusive, and more locally empowered. Patrick Meier charts a bold new course for humanitarianism that harnesses technology’s revolutionary potential, while also addressing the need for safeguards. His brilliant combination of scholarship, real-world experience and thoughtful perspective makes this essential reading for anyone who wants understand the future of humanitarian action.
—Andrew Zolli, Director of PopTech and author of Resilience: Why Things Bounce Back
Since it became possible for nearly anyone with a cell phone or an internet connection to send data, photos and other information around the world with a few key strokes, we’ve seen a number of books attempt to catalog this incredible revolution. What makes this book different – and exceptionally important to humanitarians and peacebuilders alike – is that it has been written from the perspective of one who has helped to lead the revolution. If you want to understand both the power and the pitfalls of digital humanitarianism – a movement unprecedented in human history – read Patrick’s take on it. You’ll be richer for it.
—Sheldon Himelfarb, Director of PeaceTech Lab, United States Institute for Peace (USIP)
Patrick Meier has been at the center of the digital humanitarian movement for all of its recent history. This thoughtful collection of case studies and analyses provides a first-hand account of how the tools, practices, and community of digital humanitarians have succeeded, stumbled and evolved. There's a welcome mix of accessible technical content and, more importantly, stories about the people who've taken technology and shaped it into tools that help others when they're most in need.
—Tariq Khokhar, Data Scientist and Open Data Evangelist, World Bank
Digital Humanitarians is a MUST READ for anyone who believes that new technologies and big data, when used properly, can save millions of peoples lives during disasters and times of crisis. Meier is not only a master storyteller of real world events, he is a practitioner and visionary who is showing governments and NGO's, and all of us how to think and do disaster relief in the 21st century.
—Andrew Rasiej, Founder of Personal Democracy Media and Senior Technology Advisor at Sunlight Foundation
I am optimistic, however, that as technologies progress—
and we find new and better ways to respond to,
prepare for, and cope with disasters—so will the policies
and ethics. The development of new strategies and
methods is exemplified throughout the book, and that
is one of its strengths.
Patrick Meier, 2015, CRC Press