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Crisis and Media Event – Breakout Team Ideas

March 13, 2011

While every humanitarian crisis inflicts enormous pain and suffering, the media doesn’t give them similar attention and they aren’t covering them still. Why not?

CauseShift and Oxfam International gathered leaders from the humanitarian aid sector together with innovators inside and outside the sector for a special two-hour event in NYC.

After completing the one hour Conversation Gauntlet, the audience assembled into four Breakout Teams with each responsible for answering one of the four big questions of the evening:

  1. How do you explain a disaster in real-time?
  2. How do you create a marketplace to more efficiently identify needs and match them with resources?
  3. How do you keep 1 million people interested one year later?
  4. What do we need to STOP doing during disasters?

Thanks to our capable Breakout Team Leaders, we ended up with these results:

1.  How do you explain a disaster in real-time?
Team Leader: Chris Fabian, UNICEF

For the purpose of the discussion, “real-time information” was defined as information that is less than 30 minutes old and can be transformed from one person’s report into “everyone’s” information.

Both the media and humanitarian aid organizations need to have the team in place that is agile and effective at filtering real-time information about natural disasters. Otherwise real-time can perpetuate a crisis. The decisions that are made might not be the most thought out.

There used to be a lot of filtering activity packed into downtime. Now there is great potential to create confusion without debunking rumors, providing accurate information, spotting emerging needs and connecting the resources. People don’t wait for something to happen. Rather, things having their own cadence – as in Egypt.

Journalists, individuals, NGOs and government leaders need the resources and people in place to monitor, aggregate and create their own real-time content.

2. How do you create a marketplace to more efficiently identify needs and match them with resources?
Team Leader: Ian Thorpe, UNICEF

An emergency market needs to bring together three things:

  • Needs
  • Organizations with capacity/expertise
  • Resources – money, supplies and other support

Needs Existing plans and identified needs often involve a lot of guesswork and could be improved by predictive modeling based on past experience and making use of “data exhaust” from other sources not necessarily intended for this purpose to get a more accurate picture of potential needs (e.g. school attendance, mobile phone usage, local food prices etc.)

Once a crisis breaks, the predicted needs would be a first initial basis for response in this “marketplace”.  Additional data from the affected country and responding organizations can be added to real-time data from new sources such as what’s being pioneered by UN Global Pulse would continually refine the market’s needs.

Organizations – To determine which organization’s have the capacity to respond, they will enter their profiles onto a common platform including their geographical reach and what they could/would do in the event of crisis. This way you could see as soon as a crisis breaks which organizations are best placed to respond and what a first rough estimate of their resource needs would be.

The system would be open to any organization that fulfills minimum requirements, but that listed organizations should provide certain information on their operations (such as information on legal status, size, location, recent annual reports etc.) and should be encouraged to share more such as evaluation reports, beneficiary feedback etc.

Lightweight minimum reporting standards for organizations to report back on what they have actually done with the resources received. The idea here would be for this to avoid the need for multiple complex reporting requirements for different donors, but instead to have a common simple and transparent approach to reporting back that could include both quantitative and qualitative information (e.g. data and stories).

This should also include where possible comments boards, on the ground reporting using flipcams, blogs etc. from aid workers on the ground, but also importantly from beneficiaries, including independently sources from the organization itself in order to give an unbiased view.

Resources – The last crucial piece to the puzzle is resources – the donors. These could include governments, philanthropists, private sector donors and individuals. They would be able to go to the market review needs and organizations to donate to and choose which organizations they trusted and which “needs” were a good fit with their own.  The most obvious need would be money, but technical support and expertise and even “goods” would be needed, too. We had a bit of discussion around “goods in kind” – and how to ensure that any goods donated were driven by real needs rather than donor interest. The general feeling was that if these came from expressed needs rather than “random offers” then the risks of inappropriate GIK would be minimized.

(Full summary can be found on Ian’s blog: KM on a Dollar a Day blog)

3. How do you keep 1 million people interested one year later?
Team Leader: Remy Peritz, TEDx

Need #1: No one cares
Social networks allow us to create connections in times of crisis that are cultivated into REAL relationships going forward.

The folks you follow on Twitter to tell the story during the event, follow you back, and allow for ongoing in-depth storytelling like never before. A story is no longer limited to 100 words, but can be told over time like a serial. Connect with people on a human level. Follow progress.

Need #2: There is no money
Pledges from people who feel compelled to do something now, but cannot – follow up in 6 months, 1 year. Ask the same of celebrities, corporations who volunteer – NGO’s should become disciplined about asking for long-term commitment from the supporters while attention is still high.

Encourage more NGO’s to invest the money gathered at times of crisis into a slow-release fund with resources given to long-term storytelling demonstrating progress made and challenges encountered.

Need #3: The problems are different
Ask for engineers’ time, supply chain consulting and other technical expertise. Tell the story of the new problems that emerge in rebuilding.

4. What do we need to STOP doing during disasters?
Team Leader: Louis Belanger, Oxfam International

  • Stop putting up walls to ideas from people that support you and what you are doing on the ground
  • Stop assuming that all emergencies are good to fund raise. Stop doing media work purely for financial reasons, other wise you risk losing support even more. If you strategy is always
  • Stop being opaque and dispassionate. Transparency is key. Be human in your reporting – people want to know the aid worker more than the corporate side of an agency
  • Stop looking at how disasters are affecting “them” and think more how it impacts “us”, how it impacts “me”… make the link
  • Stop not working with local groups, smaller NGOs. That’s crucial. STOP acting like the only actors on the ground and be more inclusive
  • Stop hoarding good practices. Stop closing yourself to others ex: unicef, msf: be more open about success and involve local/national actors in your work when possible.
  • Stop Tweeting to tweet. Not all tweets are good tweets: ie: not everything that is up there on the social media platforms is useful.

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