How mapping can help defeat the Ebola virus

Over time, technological tools for emergency services have evolved. Particularly, digital mapping plays an increasingly important role in helping people in charge of managing humanitarian crises and their operations.

Some months ago, doctors without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) reviewed existing tools and skills to deal with the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. MSP then decided to send an expert cartographer of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) in Guinea to support international and local medical teams fighting the epidemic.

The case study written by Timo Luege, the MSF officer sent to Guinea, helps to understand if it was the right approach to deal with the emergency. Some points of interest in the report by Timo Luege:

  • Many of the areas close to the border of Guinea and Sierra Leone never had been mapped before. For this reason, differences were easy to spot.
  • Despite being in a remote area, the GIS officer had an internet connection which was enough to obtain support. This, in turn, allowed the OpenStreetMap community volunteers to make a direct contribution, and this whole experience is an evidence of how crowdsourcing can help respond to the humanitarian crisis.
  • The officer, as well as his local staff on the ground were able to provide enough information for the mapping to be done remotely. It is important to notice that, without remote support, Timo Luege could not have produced actual accurate maps. On the other hand, without the GIS technician on the ground much of the mapped data would have no meaning. In fact, it takes local knowledge to know whether a building is a school, a hospital or a police station. On top of it, assigning the correct names to the villages is as important as mapping the streets. And for this, too, we need people on the ground.
  • Because MSF chose formats and tools that encourage and require sharing, many of these maps will add value to both the community and its local government. They will also help other humanitarian organizations and development cooperation to work in the area. That is to say, these results will provide sustained benefits.

The whole study can be downloaded from: GIS Support for the MSF Ebola response in Guinea in 2014

Source: TechChange

Lessons learned in four years of working in NGO and social media

by Donata Columbro

The most dangerous thing to do is to remain motionless.

William Seward Burroughs

It was my last week of work for an NGO 2.0., Volunteers for development and CISV. The latter was the leader NGO for this editorial project, first, and then also the leader in terms of innovation applied to cooperation for development.

In 2010, after my graduation in international relations followed by a period of study in Burkina Faso, I made it to VpS. I literally could not wait to write for one of my favorite newspapers, which had, incidentally, helped me define – and refine – my academic career.

In these four years, I have learned a lot. I was lucky enough to both study and live through the evolution of a newspaper  able to turn itself into a speaker and an advocate for change among Italian non-governmental organizations. Although I cannot remember who said the phrase “If you want to learn, teach,” all I can say is this is so true for me. ONG 2.0 Webinars and online classes were a precious window of lifelong learning. At that time,  NGOs and nonprofit associations were slowly starting to allow new working and design paradigms to shape them, with no fear of comparing experiences and holding conversation through the many web and social media applications.

Three things lesson I learned that I would like to share with you in this entry.

  1. The change happening by virtue of the digital media and economic  crisis is scary to most NGOs. As a matter of fact, much is yet to be done, so  whoever “knows” and “can do” something needs to be willing to be an agent of change. Requests for help to understand “new” media (we accept the fact that for many are still new) do exist and should be listened to.
  2. Participation to community life is 60% of our job. It is akin to reading the newspaper to know what happened in the world. If you want to know the people, who chose and are still choosing you, you need to get acquainted with them. Long live Facebook groups! In our specific case, long live to Cooperanti si diventa (Becoming aid workers).
  3. Research and experimentation make up for the remaining 40% of the job. Getting your hands dirty (see picture) by trying out new tools and strategies is essential, in order to both be credible to who we want to educate about digital media and start the change ourselves.

Sometimes, change also means stopping and deciding to pass the baton.

The web doesn’t change the world, but allows the meeting of people who wish to do.

Claudia Vago (@tigella) said so during the last edition of Internet festival of Pisa. It is a beautiful phrase indeed, and the foundation of much of our work. Even more so today, given that my baton passes to her. The whole ONG 2.0 team is left in good hands.


Break down the fortress: 4 reasons to use open data in non-profits

by Donata Columbro

According to the latest Aid Transparency Index, an increasing number of international agencies and governments have begun to publish their data on development funds. Some of this data are released in an open format, in full compliance with international standards such as those set forward by the IATI Convention.

Why should the third sector be interested (and educated) to use open data? In this entry, I outlined four reasons for which is make sense. In the light of my speech at the Varese News festival those reasons are:

  1. The demand for transparency keeps getting higher and higher. This is true for both governments and organizations managing public funds. Generally speaking, however, any player in the field requires a certain amount of trust from their reference community (citizens, stakeholders, volunteers, donors) to carry out his or her activities. Therefore, the public opinion has an increased need for trustworthy data, which also accessible and allow for change to be predicated upon them. The option of mandating non-profits and social enterprises alike to measure their social impact “ROI”, (meaning the “return of investment”) has already been discussed at European level. In this context, data are priceless in looking at the link between allocated resources and project outcomes, identifying excluded areas and subjects and making better decisions for the future. In other words, open data means improving accountability.
  2. It is a matter of communication. If you think about it, solutions for the world problems might already be there, but could be nested “in pdf files that nobody reads.” A recent World Bank report revealed how nearly one-third of the published reports has never been downloaded once. 40% of those was downloaded less than 100 times. Only 13% of the reports got downloaded 250 during their “shelf life”. And it is no coincidence that in 2010, the WB was one of the first international organizations to publish their database in an open format. A nice “side effect” of open data is the greater ease in producing infographics of one’s work, which is very useful in organizing contents and defining effective communication campaigns. Incidentally, the Guardian reminds us that one of the first data visualization in history was done in 1857 for the non-profit sector. During the Crimean War, Florence Nightingale drew an infographic of the mortality in soldiers so she could convince Queen Victoria to improve the conditions of military shelters.
  3. UN wants it. On November 8th, the draft report on Data revolution invoked by Ban ki moon was published. It calls for a greater commitment to the impact assessment of the funded projects and the monitoring of the living conditions of the population through those data. UN agencies such as UN Global Pulse were founded on this need. They want to help NGOs and non-profit organizations to get to a greater integration with governments and businesses so to be able to use their data in the design and evaluation of nonprofit projects.
  4. Let us stir up one thing or two. We need nonprofit to champion open data. Enthusiasm during a public debate is not missing, however let us keep in mind that more data is not equivalent to better data. The provision of data that are not accurate, old and/or difficult to have access to does not lead to greater transparency, but to data overload instead. NGOs and nonprofits should champion the revolution, by implementing good practice on how open data can help change and sharing difficulties and failures as well. Data users should be involved in this process.

If you’re still confused about what open data are, check out this video from the Trentino Open Data Challenge. It is a tale about open data.



Technology for development and the rights

Focsiv, and Impact Accri Hub organized a roundtable discussion in Trieste to talk about ICT and international cooperation.

The link between digital technologies and international cooperation is the theme of the roundtable entitled “ICTD4 – technology for development and rights” taking place November 14 to 18 in Impact Hub in Trieste.

ONG 2.0 is behind the organization of this initiative, within the ONG 2.0 framework. Silvia Pochettino, journalist and founder of ONG 2.0 will be there along with Marco Zennaro, researcher at the International Centre for theoretical physics Abdus Salam in Trieste, where he studies Telecommunications in developing countries. Gildas Guiella, Burkina Faso, founder of Ouagalab first Burkinabé fablab will be present via a remote connection. Tech Jjiguène, Senegal, will also intervene from remote, founder of a women-run hub sensitizing Senegalese women on technology and discrimination.

The main purpose of the meeting is to understand the role and potential of technology for development without ever losing sight of the importance of connection players coming from fields as distant as ICT and international cooperation.
Admission is free, but registration required.

For information: