I’d come across Ushahidi in the usual fashion: sideways, slinking through other people’s links.  Actually, it was this post on the Ushahidi blog that I’d come to see, about swine flu and emergency information patterns.  I was interested in what Erik Hersman, one of the founders of Ushahidi, about the pattern he could see in how the information developed as the crisis progressed:

  • First, we see an inordinate amount of traffic on the social networks (Twitter, Facebook, etc).
  • Second, the aggregators step in to gather the data into one place.
  • Third, we see visualizations (maps and graphs).

Obviously this differs considerably from the conventional top-down command and control model envisaged by government.  And it takes advantage of the many ‘eyes’ that are on the ground when and where the crisis in happening, not relying on collection by officials and formal analysis by a office located faraway from the crisis.  Because the information is online, it can be analysed by many, rather than a few.  That’s not to say official expertise is not valuable or necessary–but it ‘slots in’ at the aggregator level, to help shape rather than dictate.  Institutions–particularly bureaucratic organisations–are slower moving than the flash collection, speedy analysis and distribution of information enabled by the internet.

And then I found that Ushahidi was more than a blog musing on such technological developments, but an organisation putting together a system for such collection, analysis and distribution of emergency information (yes, another TED Talk):

(having trouble embedding the video: the link above will take you there)

What struck me was the simplicity, especially the conceptual cut-through–the appreciation of the mobile phone as the default device and of the role of the people on the ground as both collectors and receivers of on-the-ground information.

Imagine how differently information could have been collected and warnings sent out during the February bushfires in Victoria had such a paradigm, and system, been in place.  

We don’t need more heavy, slow and distant organisations to come out of the current Royal Commission and follow-on deliberations.  We need the Ushahidi model.