I’ve spent much of the past two weeks hanging out with the Ushahidi team in Kenya and South Africa. When the team invited me to join their Board of Advisers last month, I was honored and gladly accepted because Ushahidi’s crowdsourcing crisis information approach is both innovative and promising. The project was figured in Kenya’s leading national newspaper, the Daily Nation, just yesterday.
During this week’s MobileActive conference in Jo’burg, Ushahidi’s Program Director, Juliana Rotich, conveyed to me the team’s strong interest in prioritizing early response after they release Ushahidi 2.0 next month. Juliana described the difficulty they had in convincing NGOs in Kenya to make use of Ushahidi during the post-election violence in order to map human rights abuses and share information. “We’ve got a major coordination problem when it comes to NGOs, not only for information collection but also response.”
I emphasized that the novelty of Ushahidi’s approach vis-a-vis humanitarian early warning is crowdsourcing; meaning I would not place emphasis on NGOs per se. One of the persistent problems with the field of conflict early warning and response is that those most in need of early warning, local at risk communities, seldom have the peer-to-peer, networked communication tools they need to warn each other.
I thus recommended that Ushahidi retain their decentralized approach and apply crowdsourcing to early response. Yes, crowdsource warning AND response. Of course, local decentralized response is not always effective, so warnings must include concrete recommendations for response. These recommendations can be based on already existing preparedness and contingency plans. Indeed, Kenya already had these plans in place to respond to expected violence during the elections, but the plans were not implemented by officials, let alone communicated to local at risk communities.