New report focuses on interface of digital humanitarian groups and government

October 21, 2013

A new report from the Wilson Center's Commons Lab, "Connecting Grassroots and Government for Disaster Response," examines a growing problem confronting government agencies: how to quickly make sense of data from the emerging technologies that are now overloading disaster responders, including social media, satellite imagery, and community-curated maps.

The report was written by John Crowley, a public policy scholar with Commons Lab, consultant at the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery at The World Bank Group, and affiliated researcher with the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative.

Disaster response officials are facing a new reality as citizens increasingly use tools that interconnect over mobile networks to rapidly share information via online maps and social media, then mobilize thousands of people to collect and analyze that information, Crowley says. This information can provide critical situational awareness to the responders who provide aid.

The new report looks at how to best connect these emerging volunteer groups with government agencies, with a particular focus on the legal, policy and technological challenges.

"The key to the successful use of a collective intelligence will be generating trust in the knowledge it creates--not just inside the government, but within the populations that may be affected by future disasters," Crowley writes. "When [the Federal Emergency Management Agency] or [U.S. Agency for International Development] uses citizen-generated knowledge to make decisions around saving and sustaining life, citizens must trust that the data used to generate those decisions were the best available at the time."

He continues, "The process of deciding when to use collective intelligence to augment traditional mechanisms of sense making will mediate how this trust is built."
The full report can be downloaded from Scribd:

It can also be downloaded from the Wilson Center website:

About the Commons Lab

The Commons Lab, part of the Science & Technology Innovation Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, advances research and independent policy analysis on emerging technologies that facilitate collaborative, science-based and citizen-driven decision-making, with an emphasis on their social, legal, and ethical implications. For more information, visit:

About The Wilson Center

The Wilson Center provides a strictly nonpartisan space for the worlds of policymaking and scholarship to interact. By conducting relevant and timely research and promoting dialogue from all perspectives, it works to address the critical current and emerging challenges confronting the United States and the world. For more information, visit:

Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars/Science and Technology Innovation Program

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