From collaborative “crisis mapping” to “crisis feeding”

As many of you know, I’m quite critical when it comes to how to the impressive information gathering possibilities of crisis mapping tools turn into actionable information for responders. On LinkedIn someone shared a video with me today where Ushahidi’s Patrick Meier addresses some of these concerns.

The video is from 2010, but it’s still worth seeing:

He suggests that instead of expecting first responders to use the information collected on a crisis map, the data could be fed back to the crowd so that neighbours can help neighbours. He uses the example of snowstorms in Washington D.C. where people used an Ushahidi map to help others out with snow shovels etc.

I think he has point. If enough people were plugged into the system, it could turn into a marketplace for help needed and resources offered which could make a difference.

However, I have three caveats:

  • The risk remains that multiple responders would rush to a single incident that catches the imagination (think: babies) while other, more serious cases,  might be neglected. I suppose the likelihood of this happening could be reduced by enabling logged in users to say “I’m taking on this task.”
  • The usefulness depends very much on the size of the disaster and that there is a significant portion of the population who are not affected at all or who are affected but still have resources they can spare. So while it would probably work during the floods in Bangkok, it would not help during a mega-disaster like the 2010 earthquake in Haiti.
  • This model works only in societies which have a very advanced technology infrastructure that is accessible to a large part of the population. So, while I’m not surprised that it can work in Washington DC, it will not work in the poorer parts of the world which are also more likely to experience disasters.

With these concerns in mind, I nevertheless think that “crowdfeeding” (though that is a horrible term imho) can be a useful tool to organize people who are willing to help each other at least in the highly developed world – and that is nothing to scoff at, either.

What is your opinion?