Too much or too little - the paradox of information for development


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"The paradox of the human rights community is that it is an information-processing industry that has limited access to information technology" says Jim Fruchterman, the winner of the Skoll Award for Social Enterpreneurship in 2004 and 2006 and founder of Benetech – an organization that creates technology used by human rights and literacy program workers.

Benetech's own Web site goes on to observe that "human rights groups throughout the world gather massive amounts of violation data. Much of it never reaches its full potential or intended audience."

Isn't the same paradox common to other areas of the development sector, including policy making and private sector development?

After having successfully launched Martus, a tool to improve the documentation and reporting of human right abuses, Fruchterman is planning to take on the conservation sector through Miradi, an IT solution to help implement open standards for conservation.

Too much information, too little processing capacity. The result is information loss, and its equally crippling counterpart, information overload. Crowdsourcing  is a potential solution. Effective information design is another.

"Visualising information for Advocacy" is a free booklet full of interesting examples of how powerful visuals and charts can support campaigning efforts. Some of them are worth an inclusion in the Economist' list of history's top graphics. My personal favourite is the "atlernative map of Tashkent" designed by Human Rights Watch  to remind delegates of EBRD's 2003 annual meeting of human right abuses in the host country.

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February 20, 2008

why do groups continue to wrestle with the idea that they need to create their own websites, repositories, and data models for "their" data? these groups want to share what they have; but they seem unconsciously bound to the idea that they need to brand it, format it, and control its use.

today, there is a lot of computational power available for little to relatively no cost. the constraints seem to lie with the inability of many to separate the old-fashioned notion of "owning" their data with the more effective idea of "sharing" it.

why not create a group page on facebook? create an advocacy group in any one of many public fora, or in all of them? link them together. publish everything on-line and make sure the "metadata" is intuitive and replicable.

too often, the authors of important information handicap their findings by trying to speak "over" their hard work, rather than allowing their findings to speak on their own behalf.