Utilizing Volunteer Technical Communities in Haiti

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Editor's Note: This post was written by Cristina Gonzalez, a Communications Consultant within the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR) who is presently supporting the World Bank Haiti Situation Room.

The success of World Bank’s engagement with Volunteer Technical Communities (VTCs) is nothing short of remarkable. In a very short period of time VTCs achieved extraordinary results in building an information base about Haiti and useful applications that were applied in the response effort. In the aftermath of the massive Haitian Earthquake, this information and these tools immediately began improving the lives of Haitian population.

A detailed map of Port au Prince and the surrounding areas was developed almost instantly by OpenStreetMap. This tool has become the de-facto standard used by organizations involved in Haitian disaster recovery effort, including US military. In fact, it is the most precise map ever developed for Haiti.  Other VTCs, such as Crisis Commons, developed interesting and useful web-based applications in a matter of days.

Applications developed by Crisis Commons during Crisis Camps (days designated where hundreds of tech savvy volunteers gather to produce applications) include a Creole-English dictionary and a Craigslist-like application called “We Have, We Need”, connecting emergency supplies with immediate needs. Another VTC, GEO-CAN, formed around the Bank’s remote damage assessment, is conducting a structural damage assessment of buildings for the affected areas and beyond.

The World Bank’s LCR Disaster Risk Management (DRM) team has set a precedent in successfully engaging with Volunteer Technical Communities. Its first interaction with Crisis Commons took place in June of 2009, soon after Crisis Commons’ creation. The LCR DRM team’s interactions with Crisis Commons and other volunteers led to the creation of the Random Hacks of Kindness (RHoK) partnership between Google, Yahoo!, Microsoft, NASA and the World Bank.

Before the Haiti Earthquake these VTCs were organized around theoretical ideas, but were never put into action to respond to immediate needs. Then, on January 16th in DC, a Crisis Camp brought together hundreds of volunteers and produced great results. The following Saturday, Crisis Camps took place in over a dozen cities around the world, including London, Toronto, Bogota and New York.

The Brown Bag Lunch (BBL) meeting that took place this week clearly demonstrated that there is already a high level of interest among World Bank’s employees in engaging VTCs into other Bank’s activities.

To most effectively engage with and harness the valuable contributions made by the VTCs, the World Bank Institute and LCR & EAP DRM groups have engaged McKinsey on a pro-bono basis. As part of their analysis, the McKinsey experts will be conducting a series of interviews within and outside the Bank over the next week. The goal of this effort is to develop recommendations on how to make our relationship with these communities mutually beneficial and sustainable post-Haiti relief effort.

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