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How 'Civic Hacking' Answered Haiti Disaster

Tom Grubisich's picture

From the tragedy and wreckage of the Haitian earthquake come amazing lessons about how information technology and social media can bring help and hope to people trapped in catastrophic circumstances.

A good place to see how this is happening is the Social Entrepreneurship website.  Crisis camps of "civic hacking" throughout the U.S. and abroad are quickly producing base-layer maps that connect Haiti's thousands of orphans with potential adoption families, mobilizing speakers of Creole (photo), and delivering myriad other tech-driven emergency assistance with few layers of action-delaying bureaucracy.

The camps were set up by Crisis Commons, an international volunteer network of tech professionals.  The first CrisisCamp was actually held well before the Haiti earthquake -- in July 2009, at the World Bank.  Participants (scroll down to "Attendee List") included a rich cross section of representatives -- public, private, nonprofit -- from the sometimes rivalrous world of development aid.  "Us" and "them" suddenly became "we."

Civic hacking's Haiti successs stories are producing a flexible template for how emergency assistance can be delivered in other disasters, including those where climate change is at least a secondary cause, like storms and flooding.  Civic hacking's lessons will surely be extended to development aid in general, especially in countries with weak capacity.  Information technology can deepen and broaden capacity, and fast, as the proliferation of cellphones in Sub-Sahran Africa, South Asia, and other developing regions has been proving for years.

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