Jimmy Whitworth in the Financial Times:”…It is an imperative to offer shelter, nutrition, sanitation and medical care to those suddenly bereft of it. Without aid, humanitarian crises would cause still greater suffering. Yet admiration for the agencies that deliver relief should not blind us to the need to ensure that it is well delivered. Humanitarian responses must be founded on good evidence.
The evidence base, unfortunately, is weak. We know that storms, earthquakes and conflicts have devastating consequences for health and wellbeing, and that not responding is not an option, but we know surprisingly little about how best to go about it. Not only is evidence-based practice rare in humanitarian relief operations, it is often impossible.
Questions about how best to deliver clean water or adequate shelter, and even about which health needs should be prioritised as the most pressing, have often been barely researched. Indeed, the evidence gap is so great that the Humanitarian Practice Network has highlighted a “dire lack of credible data to help us understand just how much populations in crisis suffer, and to what extent relief operations are able to relieve that suffering”. No wonder aid responses are often characterised as messy.
Good practice often rests on past practice rather than research. The Bible of humanitarian relief is a document called the Sphere handbook, an important initiative to set minimum standards for provision of health, nutrition, sanitation and shelter. Yet analysis of the 2004 handbook has revealed that just 13 per cent of its 346 standards were supported by good evidence of relevance to health. The handbook, for example, recommended that refugee camps should prioritise measles vaccination – a worthwhile goal, but not one that should clearly be favoured over control of other infectious diseases.
Also under-researched is the question of how best to provide types of relief that everybody agrees meet essential needs. Access to clean water is a clear priority for almost all populations in crisis but little is understood about how this is most efficiently delivered. Is it best to ship bottled water to stricken areas? Are tankers of clean water more effective? Or can water purification tablets do the job? The summer floods in northern India made it clear that there is little good evidence one way or another.
Adequate shelter, too, is a human essential in all but the most benign environments but, once again, the evidence base about how best to provide it is limited. There is a school of thought that building transitional shelter from locally available materials is better in the long run than housing people under tents, tarpaulins and plastic, which if accurate would have far-reaching consequences for standard practice. But too little research has been done…
Researchers also face significant challenges to building a better evidence base. They can struggle to secure access to disaster zones when getting relief in is the priority. The timescales involved in applying for funding and ethical approval, too, make it difficult for them to move quickly enough to set up a study in the critical post-disaster period.
It is to address this that Enhancing Learning and Research for Humanitarian Assistance, with the support of the Wellcome Trust and the UK Department for International Development, recently launched an £8m research programme that investigates these issues.”
Brooklyn-based MakerBot Industries has announced a new crowdsourcing initiative with DonorsChoose.org, Autodesk, and America Makes to put 3-D printers in each of America’s public schools. MakerBot Academy could put as many as 5,000 printers in public schools by the end of this school year, says MakerBot CEO Bre Pettis.
The initiative is a response to President Obama’s call for more home-grown manufacturing in his recent State of the Union address. Each 3-D printing bundle comes with a MakerBot Replicator 2 printer, three spools of PLA filament (in red, white, and blue, of course), and a year of MakerBot Makercare for about $2,250, plus a $98 threshold raised by someone with ties to the school.
Individuals and corporations can visit DonorsChoose.org to donate to the pot for the project, and teachers register on the site to receive a bundle. Teachers have until Nov. 18 to enter the Thingiverse Math Manipulatives Challenge, where they can upload designs for teachers to use in the classroom. First-place winners get to send a 3-D printer bundle to the classroom of their choice.
“Hands-on learning and applied learning is the way to engage students, and there’s nothing more hands on and applied than 3-D printing,” says Charles Best, founder of CEO of DonorsChoose. “The impulse to construct is deeper than a teaching strategy. It’s a human need.”
“This book was started with the intent of changing design and social entrepreneurship education. As these disciplines converge, it becomes evident that existing pedagogy doesn’t support either students or practicioners attempting to design for impact. This text is a reaction to that convergence, and will ideally be used by various students, educators, and practicioners:
One audience is professors and educators of design, who are challenged with reinventing their educational curriculum in the face of a changing world. For them, this book should act as both a starting point for curriculum development and a justification for why this development is necessary—it should answer the question “what should design and social entrepreneurship education look like?”
Another audience is made up of fresh-out-of-school designers, who are bored and uninspired by their jobs. For them, this book should answer the question “how can I redirect my design efforts to something meaningful?”
Finally, a last audience is made up of practicing designers and entrepreneurs, who are looking to achieve social impact in their work. For them, the book should answer the question “what tools and techniques can I use in my work to drive impact through design?”
The entire text of the book is available online for free as HTML, and provided for reuse and adaptation under a creative commons license. We hope you find this a useful resource in your practice, education, and in your day to day life.
Read Wicked Problems: Problems Worth Solving“
Information Week: “The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and Networking and Information Technology R&D program (NITRD) on Tuesday introduced a slew of new big-data collaboration projects aimed at stimulating private-sector interest in federal data. The initiatives, announced at the White House-sponsored “Data to Knowledge to Action” event, are targeted at fields as varied as medical research, geointelligence, economics, and linguistics.
The new projects are a continuation of the Obama Administration’s Big Data Initiative, announced in March 2012, when the first round of big-data projects was presented.
Thomas Kalil, OSTP’s deputy director for technology and innovation, said that “dozens of new partnerships — more than 90 organizations,” are pursuing these new collaborative projects, including many of the best-known American technology, pharmaceutical, and research companies.
Among the initiatives, Amazon Web Services (AWS) and NASA have set up the NASA Earth eXchange, or NEX, a collaborative network to provide space-based data about our planet to researchers in Earth science. AWS will host much of NASA’s Earth-observation data as an AWS Public Data Set, making it possible, for instance, to crowdsource research projects.
An estimated 4.4 million jobs are being created between now and 2015 to support big-data projects. Employers, educational institutions, and government agencies are working to build the educational infrastructure to provide students with the skills they need to fill those jobs.
To help train new workers, IBM, for instance, has created a new assessment tool that gives university students feedback on their readiness for number-crunching careers in both the public and private sector. Eight universities that have a big data and analytics curriculum — Fordham, George Washington, Illinois Institute of Technology, University of Massachusetts-Boston, Northwestern, Ohio State, Southern Methodist, and the University of Virginia — will receive the assessment tool.
OSTP is organizing an initiative to create a “weather service” for pandemics, Kalil said, a way to use big data to identify and predict pandemics as early as possible in order to plan and prepare for — and hopefully mitigate — their effects.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH), meanwhile, is undertaking its ” Big Data to Knowledge” (BD2K) initiative to develop a range of standards, tools, software, and other approaches to make use of massive amounts of data being generated by the health and medical research community….”
November 12, 2013 – Fact Sheet: Progress by Federal Agencies: Data to Knowledge to Action
November 12, 2013 – Fact Sheet: New Announcements: Data to Knowledge to Action
November 12, 2013 – Press Release: Data to Knowledge to Action Event
New report from The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism by Nigel Bowles, James T. Hamilton, and David A. L. Levy: “Increasingly governments around the world are experimenting with initiatives in transparency or ‘open government’.
These involve a variety of measures including the announcement of more user-friendly government websites, greater access to government data, the extension of freedom of information legislation and broader attempts to involve the public in government decision making.
However, the role of the media in these initiatives has not hitherto been examined. This new RISJ edited volume analyses the challenges and opportunities presented to journalists as they attempt to hold governments accountable in an era of professed transparency.
In examining how transparency and open government initiatives have affected the accountability role of the press in the US and the UK, it also explores how policies in these two countries could change in the future to help journalists hold governments more accountable.
This volume will be essential reading for all practising journalists, for students of journalism or politics, and for policymakers. This publication can be bought from I. B. Tauris
Download the Executive Summary and First Chapter”
Ars Technica: “Microsoft and Facebook are sponsoring a new program that pays big cash rewards to whitehat hackers who uncover security bugs threatening the stability of the Internet at large.
The Internet Bug Bounty program, which in some cases will pay $5,000 or more per vulnerability, is sponsored by Microsoft and Facebook. It will be jointly controlled by researchers from those companies along with their counterparts at Google, security firm iSec Partners, and e-commerce website Etsy. To qualify, the bugs must affect software implementations from a variety of companies, potentially result in severely negative consequences for the general public, and manifest themselves across a wide base of users. In addition to rewarding researchers for privately reporting the vulnerabilities, program managers will assist with coordinating disclosure and bug fixes involving large numbers of companies when necessary.
The program was unveiled Wednesday, and it builds off a growing number of similar initiatives. Last month, Google announced rewards as high as $3,133.70 for software updates that improve the security of OpenSSL, OpenSSH, BIND, and several other open-source packages. Additionally, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, eBay, Mozilla, and several other software or service providers pay cash in return for private reports of security vulnerabilities that threaten their users.”
The Guardian: “Nine experts offer their thoughts on making open data initiatives work for all citizens…
Tiago Peixoto, open government specialist, The World Bank, Washington DC, US. @participatory
Open data is an enabler – not a guarantee – of good participation: Participation implies creating legitimate channels of communication between citizens and governments, and opening up data does not create that channel. We need to consider which structures enable us to know about citizens’ needs and preferences.
Both governments and civil society are responsible for connecting governments to the people: If we assume institutional or regulatory reforms are needed, then clearly governments (at both the legislative and executive level) should take a big part of the responsibility. After that, it is civil society’s role (and individual citizens) to further promote and strengthen those institutions….
Ben Taylor, open data consultant, Twaweza, UK and Tanzania. @mtega
We need to put people before data: The OGP Summit raised some interesting questions on open data and open government in developing countries. In a particular session discussing how to harness data to drive citizens engagement, the consensus was that this was the wrong way around. It should instead be reversed, putting the real, everyday needs of citizens first, and then asking how can we use data to help meet these.
Open government is not all about technology: Often people assume that open government means technology, but I think that’s wrong. For me, open government is a simple idea: it’s about making the nuts and bolts of how government works visible to citizens. Even open data isn’t always just about technology, for example postings on noticeboards and in newspapers are also valuable. Technology has a lot to offer, but it has limitations as well…
Juan M Casanueva, director, SocialTIC, Mexico City, Mexico. @jm_casanueva
Closed working cultures stifle open government initiatives: It is interesting to think about why governments struggle to open up. While closed systems tend to foster corruption and other perverse practices, most government officials also follow a pre-established closed culture that has become ingrained in their working practices. There are sometimes few incentives and high risks for government officials that want to make career in the public service and some also lack capacities to handle technology and citizen involvement. It is very interesting to see government officials that overcome these challenges actually benefiting politically for doing innovative citizen-centered actions. Unfortunately, that is too much of a risk at higher levels of government.
NGOs in Mexico are leading the way with access to information and citizen involvement: Sonora Ciudana recently opened the state’s health payroll and approached the public staff so that they could compare what they earn with the state expense reports. Pacto por Juarez has created grassroots transparency and accountability schools and even have a bus tour that goes around the city explaining the city’s budget and how it is being spent….”
Press release: “Genetic Alliance and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) announced an initiative to explore the use of a technology-enabled, crowd-sourcing approach to patient engagement as a complement to ongoing patient-focused drug development efforts under the Prescription Drug User Fee Act (PDUFA V).
As part of the reauthorization of PDUFA, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) committed to gain the patient perspective on 20 disease areas in public meetings to be held between 2012 and 2017.
After issuing a Request for Proposals, Genetic Alliance chose advocacy organizations representing three disease areas that will be the focus of FDA patient-focused drug development public meetings in 2014 and 2015. The patient communities in these three disease areas will pilot a crowd-sourcing, technology-enabled approach to gathering input from a diverse set of patients on key benefit-risk questions.
“Using the Platform for Engaging Everyone Responsibly (PEER), there is an opportunity to demonstrate the power of a secure, crowd-sourced approach to provide additional insight into patients’ experience with a disease or condition,” stated Sharon Terry, President and CEO of Genetic Alliance. “The organizations we selected are expert at broad and diverse engagement from the very people that have a vested interest in patient-focused drug development. We are excited to engage these communities.”
For more information about this initiative, visit http://www.geneticalliance.org/pfdd.