How we use Skype (and Slack) in the Standby Task Force

Chit chat by Dano used under CC BY 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/oGCfp
Chit chat by Dano used under CC BY 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/oGCfp

The Standby Task Force is a digital humanitarian group. Our mission is to hep to improve the understanding of the situation on the ground following significant disasters. We have hundreds of members in the network and an individual deployment can involve anywhere between 60-400 of them.

Using Skype

SBTF was launched in 2010 and from the very start it used Skype chatrooms. This wasn’t, I’m fairly sure, based on a detailed review of the the available platforms. It was based on the fact that the founders used Skype. Indeed Skype is still a vital communications tool in international humanitarian work. It’s flexible. It’s reasonably open and works across platform.

When you signed up for the Standby Task Force you were added to the General chatroom. This was a fairly low traffic room but allowed for announcements to be made.

When the SBTF deployed we would create a new chat room just for that deployment. When volunteers signed up for a deployment they would need to be added to the chatroom. This created a degree of friction in the process: you needed to be connected to someone already in the chat room to be added in. Which meant you had to shout in the general chat, accept a connection request and then be added in. Given timezone differences this could lead to significant delays.

We also, though this wasn’t transparent to everyone, had a chat room for volunteers playing a coordinator role.

The deployment chatroom was designed to encourage volunteers working on a deployment somewhere to ask for assistance “Does anyone here read French?” “I’ve just found this photo, what should i do with it?” “What are the priorities right now?”.

It also forged a sense of team and shared mission.

The actual work was done on individual’s PCs and recorded on Google Documents (it’s amazing what you can achieve with Skype and Google Docs).

In big deployments a single chatroom would become unwieldy and we would then break out into smaller chatrooms focused on particular tasks.

In any deployment we have volunteers undertaking coordinator and deployment lead roles. These are team leader type roles, encouraging and supporting volunteers but also answering technical questions and (in the case of leads) liasing with other groups and agencies in on the ground.

Good things/bad things

Chatrooms can be surprisingly satisfactory ways of interacting and the record of discussions really helped get a sense of the work that had been going on.

They didn’t work for anyone. In fact in my first deployment I did nothing because I was unsure of what to do and, as a Brit, was too diffident to speak (type) up and ask for help. I know I’m not alone in this. Some of this is personal, some cultural and some is familiarity and comfort with the technology.

 

Emoji use is massive in SBTF chats. I think this is really important. We have people from across the world many of whom are communicating in their second (or third or fifth) language. We’re working under pressure in a heightened environment. The risk of misunderstanding is high. Emoji really help to emphasise the intent behind the words. It took a bit of getting used to for me but now I couldn’t be without them. Indeed I work with a client on emergency exercises and we use Skype chat for exercise control. Emoji are banned in that chat room and it feels like I’m communicating under water.

Advanced uses

Early on in the evolution of SBTF we recognised the real risk of stress for our volunteers and counsellors and an “empathy team” have always deployed with us. Coordinators work hard to spot signs of stress and to encourage volunteers to take breaks. It is amazing how you can get to know someone just through their typing and notice their mood change.

I think it was in the Nepal deployment when the empathy team set up a new chatroom badged as a cafe bar. It was inspired. People would spend time in that chatroom at the end of a shift. If you came across someone who seemed to be getting down in the deployment chat you could say “Let’s get a coffee (or a beer)” and start talking in the cafe chatroom. The mood would change instantly. I strongly recommend this approach to any groups working in similar circumstances.

Using Slack

We’ve moved to Slack. Slack is better for our purposes. It removes much of the friction that we encountered creating chatrooms and adding people (because our members can just join the channel). It also makes it easier to have chatrooms that persist between deployments (for specialist teams like GIS). We have a permanent cafe bar now. Slack works well because web are a defined team (thanks Slack for letting us use the full version for free).

We haven’t cracked the problem of dropping into a deployment chat being a bit like being dropped into a huge room of people shouting at each other (with emoji) but we’re working on it.

It’s not the perfect solution (there is no perfect solution). For people who don’t use Slack for anything else it is, in many ways, no different to the old Skype days: they have to remember their login details for Slack and then remember to check what’s happening. Because we deploy infrequently many of our volunteers don’t spend much time in our Slack team between deployments.

We can’t ditch Skype completely. Skype is still widely used in humanitarian assistance and so liaison with other groups still happens largely in that environment. Skype chatrooms remain very useful for more diffuse communities where people may need to drop in and out of conversations and projects.

We often work with local communities affected by disasters. Typically they will use whatever platform they were already using for discussion. Facebook is very common along with WhatsApp and Telegram.

Lessons for others

I was prompted to write this because of a discussion on Twitter about using Slack for multi-agency comms in emergencies in the UK. I definitely agree that using a text chat platform is a good idea (I wrote about this yesterday). Personally I’m not totally persuaded that Slack is the right solution for that use case. Because it is not so much a permanent team as a lose network, some of whom may work together in a particular emergency. If I were in that situation, I’d look at Skype first. It’s become easier to join chatrooms without being invited and you can access Skype via a web browser (which can be very helpful in a public sector IT environment).

Can we use slack for civil contingencies chat?

Phil Rumens was looking for examples of using Slack for cross-agency team chat.

Its sparked a nice discussion including examples of the use of WhatsApp and Microsoft Lync  I’m also familiar with the use of Skype by VOST teams and Skype (and more recently Slack) by The Standby Task Force.

Why do we need anything?

 

First. Let’s talk about the problem.

There is a beautifully simple and flexible framework across the UK for dealing with emergencies (everything from floods to terrorism to zombie-apocalypse). Essentially all the bits of the public sector are required to work together in a series of interlocking committees. It works really very well.

And for many people it means spending a lot of an emergency on a phone or glued to email.

As a comms professional in local government (not right now, but often) I have been one of those people. And as a geek I have always felt that there must be a better way.

Illustrate through analogy

Let’s take a hypothetical emergency: there’s a massive fire in a factory in a big city.

Clearly there will be a lot of firefighters at the scene, fighting the fire. There will also be some police officers. They’ll be setting up a cordon to make sure people don’t come into the factory. A crime may have been committed so the police will also want to make sure no-one walks off with crucial evidence. People may be injured so there will be paramedics and ambulances. They may have to evacuate surrounding areas in which case the local authority will be looking for places for people to stay temporarily. The Environment Agency will be there to help minimise pollution from the event. Other local authority staff might be called in to provide specialist advice on things like the structural integrity of the building.

You get the idea.

And that’s just the start. There’s the health service making sure people get treated and that the health of the general public is protected, what if a care home is affected, what about a school and so on…

This quickly involves a lot of people and a lot of organisations.

And from a comms point of view there’s a lot to keep on top of. The public need good, fast, information on what’s going on (and advice on what they should do). Journalists will have questions about what’s going on. Staff within organisations will want (and probably need) to know what’s going on.

And the managers of the people at the scene will be talking. They’ll be trying to work out what might happen next. What if the fire spreads? What if the wind shifts? Do we have enough fire tenders? Will we have to close roads to traffic and so on. And those people also need communications input.

Coordinate those cats

The good news is that, even in these straitened times, there should be quite a lot of comms people (or at least some) able to help between all the organisations involved. The bad news is that they will be in different parts of the country, probably dealing with lots of other things as well and they will have specialist knowledge of their organisations.

So as the situation evolves different people need to be consulted, need to be brought up to speed or to hand over their thoughts to people coming on shift.

And typically this involves emailing ever changing lists of people and sitting on telephone conferences. It typically leaves out organisations that have less direct involvement (even if that organisation might have valuable insight) and makes it very easy to lose track of where the situation has got to and where the comms messages stand.

If only there were a better way.

Well there is.

The situation I’ve just described is exactly the one faced by digital humanitarian groups like The Standby Task Force or VOST and they use Skype and Slack. Really successfully.

Chat

Text chat systems like this have some real advantages. When you come on shift you can read up the chat and quickly get updated not just on what’s happened but why some choices have been made. You can also leave links to latest documents and more structured updates in chatrooms for people to refer to. And you can talk in real time to the people who are online right then. Different chat rooms can focus on different aspects of the task to avoid overwhelming the main discussion. But people who are less involved in that area but are interested or might have things to contribute can monitor and chip in when necessary. In The Standby Task Force we can coordinate the work of hundreds of people in all timezones using Skype (or Slack) and Google Docs.

It’s not for us though

So why don’t we use these in civil contingencies in the UK?

Well (as the WhatsApp example shows, sometimes we do). I think there are several reasons:

  • insufficient clarity on security. In fact on Twitter my instant reaction was that Slack would be unsuitable for this use because of operational security, Matt Hogan (who frankly knows an awful lot more about this sort of thing than me) thought this probably isn’t a barrier. Someone must know for sure…
  • operational friction. Email and phone conferences are extremely flexible and use extremely widely understood protocols. You can ask for a phone number and an email address with absolute confidence that everyone will have one. Ask for a Skype handle and you may be disappointed. And even if people use Skype, will it get through the Firewall? Exercise Watermark in 2010 highlighted that technical issues like Agency A not being able to use the WiFi in Agency B’s headquarters were a significant problem. I am aware this continue to be a problem in 2016. How many agencies not being able to take part in the chatroom would it take before the whole thing falls over.
  • innate conservatism. Emergency planning isn’t an area that encourages risk taking. When I was trained in emergency control centre operation (a few years ago I confess) we were shown how to run a control centre on pens and paper. That’s sensible because pens and paper work in power cuts and don’t suffer from WiFi incompatibility. But most of the time there isn’t a power cut and there are much better tools.
  • the LRF problem. Planning for emergencies is tasked to a partnership at police force level called the Local Resilience Forum. Each LRF is different but it can be hard to get new ideas adopted by the partnership bodies and, even if they are, to get each partner to implement them. No-one is in charge. This leads to flexibility in emergency response and, often, inaction outside of the response phase.

Slack may not be the best solution. I mean I love it but really it is designed for teams, it is not so good, to my mind, in the more ad-hoc situation of an emerging multiagency response. Skype probably would be my favourite solution. I can see why people might use WhatsApp (and I have used it myself in an event management role) but it’s a bit to mobile device -specific for me.

What do we need?

What we could do with is:

  • some nice clear guidance on what you can and can’t do in terms of emergency management on, let’s say, Skype, Slack and WhatsApp
  • some nice clear advice on how to make it work “we suggest you set up a chat room for the comms team” type stuff. There’s plenty of experience out there. Maybe I’ll write up how it works for us at the Standby Task Force.
  • a couple of LRFs to pilot it to reassure everyone else it’s a good plan
Any volunteers?

An open source Brexit?

Open
Open Sign by Andy Wright used under CC BY 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/okaQ

David Allen Green has always been worth following on Twitter (if that’s your sort of thing). He’s been particularly interesting on the Brexit mess/process/glory (delete according to your inclination). He wrote a lengthy series of Tweets today, essentially critiquing the government’s failure to introduce a Bill to give it the power to trigger Article 50 (don’t argue with me, read what he said). One of these Tweets jumped out at me.

Now that is interesting. What would an open and collaborative Brexit process look like?

Well.

The UK Government already has an Open Policy Making toolkit. Brexit clearly is going to require new trade, immigration, foreign, data protection and environmental policy (that’s just off the top of my head, smarter people can probably think of many more). So at the very least the development of these new policies could be undertaken in an open and collaborative way.

The government is already committed to publishing Open Data. So the data (read evidence) upon which policy ideas are based should already be public and available to use. It would be really helpful if this could be brought together in one place. So that we can all see what the evidence is (and then argue about what it means).

Open modelling. The government is going to have to make estimates about the impact of different aspects of policy and legislative changes on the UK as a whole, on particular parts of the UK (in terms of geography and in terms of sectors of the economy) and on the rest of the EU (and probably on individual member states like the Irish Republic). Those assessments could usefully be made public (along with the models that underpin them). This would help everyone understand the trade-offs that are being made and (perhaps of more practical use) allow academics, companies and other stakeholder groups the opportunity to suggest improvements. They’d also help businesses (and communities) make sensible contingency plans.

None of this is hard or expensive to do. In fact there are loads of really useful tools to facilitate this. Why not maintain Brexit on Git?

The Government is arguing that it can’t reveal its hand in the negotiations. The idea of Brexit as poker is seductive but superficial. This is a negotiation between nation states not a high stakes card game. In fact useful negotiations can be undertaken in open environments. In fact having a shared picture of the facts and the implications of decisions would be likely to lead to better, more solid and long lasting agreements.

In fact we could use this process to as the start of a new, open, relationship with the EU and the rest of the world.

And it would go a long way to improve the level of trust between communities and people within the United Kingdom.

 [updated 21:44 on 7 November to remove a stray apostrophe and add a link]

23:45 gamesmanship

It’s 19:28 and I haven’t written anything today. But I’m at a thing on Citizen (or Basic) income.

At 11.38 I still haven’t written anything but my views on Basic Income have shifted. It’s still any exciting idea that might have social benefits. But I don’t believe it’s a solution to more pressing issues in our society like the spiralling costs of housing and income inequality.

I am literally writing this to get something up before midnight and so not have to perform a forfeit.

Which may not be entirely within the spirit of the challenge.

But is, I submit, within the letter of the challenge.

 

 

Blogvember 1. Not recommended.

misia listening

I’ve been stuck in a writing rut for a bit. So when Dan Slee said he was going to write a post a day in November it seemed like an excellent idea to join in. We even agreed a forfeit (a fact I note he has not mentioned in his post).
So now I’m stuck in a writing rut but with added pressure.
I know what lies at the heart of this rut.
Brexit.
I don’t really want to write about anything else.
And all I really want to write about that is a long list of swear words.
But the world is not yet ready for my Barry Manilow cover so I have to write something.
So this is all I can offer right now.
It seems to me that we are not listening to each other.
And the reasons for this are obvious.
Lots of people are angry. Lots of people are triumphant. Lots of people are just a bit confused and worried.
People who really care about this issue recognise that very little has actually been decided yet. So we all want to do a lot of talking, persuading, arguing. I know that I don’t really want to listen to people who I believe are profoundly wrong and have voted against the interests of the country, Europe and, you know, everyone. And I’m very sure they don’t want to listen to me.
But we’re all stuck in this country together. And there are a lot of us. On both sides.
We don’t have a lot of a tradition of listening to each other in the UK. We tend to just muddle along, brushing our differences under the carpet and hoping they go away.
Which they often do.
But I don’t think these divisions will.
(And yes, I am aware of the irony in using a broadcast medium to exhort others to listen but, hey, no forfeit for me today)

“Has the milk tanker been yet..? I’m waiting for the Internet”

Photo of the tank of a Milk Tanker which prominently shows United Dairies
United Dairies glass-lined milk tank – freight train tanker carriage by David Precious. https://flic.kr/p/f1MQTB used under CC-BY-2.0

 

So this afternoon I went to a conference about highways.

Despite what you might imagine, this was geeky even for me. But I had been persuaded to run a workshop on “Smart Rural” a half-formed idea I (and other rural types) have that smart city initiatives may not have that much to offer the countryside.

I thought we would be talking about autonomous vehicles and intelligent tractors. But in fact we ended up talking about internet connectivity.

This was slightly galling because I try not to talk about internet connectivity. It’s a big problem in rural areas but it’s not going to be resolved at the sort of scale and speeds that would make a lot of smart city type projects viable.

But it does seem to sit at the heart of many issues in this space.

So what, I asked the group, are solutions that don’t involve the answer “Gigabit fibre”.

And one of our participants told us the story of a hack used in Cuba to get round the fact that Internet access is not available. People move files (video, magazines, books) physically. By regular courier or truck. It’s an obvious solution. And actually in the west we move very large files (or collections of files) physically because of the time taken to stream across the Internet.

So, this got me thinking, could we do something similar in rural areas? Could we arrange local (in village) caching of, for example, the BBC iPlayer. The BBC already uses Content Delivery Networks to cache files locally to your ISP.  This would be an iteration of that approach. The data could be distributed across a local network: say a WAN or a mesh. The files could be updated over the internet pipe into the village or physically brought to the location, or a combination of the two.

And maybe the same system could serve other content. Unlike the Cuba model there is likely to be a connection to the network, just one of limited bandwidth. So the server could be intelligent about what data it pulled (and sent) down the pipe and what data stored for physical transport.

There are a range of vehicles that visit rural communities on a regular basis: most obviously (and, in this context, pleasingly) the Royal Mail, but milk tankers, feed transport, the cars of commuters, buses, refuse lorries and so on.

Maybe as the connection enabled Royal Mail van enters the village it connects to the WAN, handshakes and starts pulling the data off the network as it travels around. Then it stores it on-board and handshakes with a server connected to a (bigger, faster) pipe back at the depot. What the Royal Mail didn’t have time to capture can be loaded to the Milk Tanker a bit later.

I can’t decide if this is a good idea (in which case it’s probably already being used somewhere) or over-engineered silliness (in which case someone in my network will probably met me know.

For completeness here are photos of the flipcharts that we created in our discussion.

 

 

A quick thought experiment about Article 50

Dog apparently lost in thought
Deep Thought by Jan Tik used under CC-BY-2.0

Over the weekend I went on a nature ramble in an attempt to get all this Brexit stuff out of my head.

The attempt failed. Instead I started to think about the limits to the mandate provided by the referendum.

Take this thought experiment:

It is 10 September 2016 and, freshly elected by Conservative party members, the new Prime Minister is being briefed on the negotiating options.

“It’s bad news I’m afraid Prime Minister”

says a civil servant

“All 27 EU countries are going to fail to agree to any terms in the negotiation. Our covert intelligence confirms that they are all very serious on this point.”

“That’s a surprising and perhaps somewhat unbelievable show of unity between the fractious EU”

says the Prime Minister

“Well yes”

explains the civil servant

“but this is a thought experiment.”

“What are the consequences then?”

“Well, as you know Prime Minister, once Article 50 is triggered if we fail to agree a deal we exit the EU on WTO terms, which means no access to the single market tariffs on any trade with the EU, no agreement on the status of British citizens in the EU and a host of other things none of them, from a trade position, ideal”.

“This seems very bad”

“Well yes Prime Minister, this is literally the worst thing that could happen if Article 50 is triggered. That’s why it’s useful for a thought experiment”.

So, knowing that we will exit with no deal, should she trigger Article 50?

Mandate:

Does the referendum give the Prime Minister (or conceivably Parliament) the mandate to trigger Article 50 under these circumstances?

There’s a legitimate argument that it does. This was a foreseeable outcome when people voted so they could and should have taken it to account when casting their vote.

There is a legitimate argument that it doesn’t. The referendum was advisory, we have a parliament to deal with the detail. One of the protections of a representative democracy is we expect our representatives not to undertake actions even if they have public support if they are profoundly against the national interest.

Of course the EU is going to negotiate with us. We’re not going to crash out on WTO terms.

Probably.

But when we press the Article 50 button we don’t know, for sure, what will happen.

So does the referendum mandate the pressing of the button regardless of the consequences? And how can those consequences be reasonably assessed?

For the 48 there is plenty of work still to do

I, like 1 in every 2 of you, (strictly 1 in every 2.09 of you) voted remain on Thursday. I was gutted that we lost. Bereft. Angry. Depressed. This was not the future that I wanted for my country.

I understand why so many people have signed a petition asking for another referendum. I won’t sign though. It seems to me to be wrong in principle.

The people of the United Kingdom were asked a simple question. They voted in large numbers. They answered the question.

The United Kingdom must leave the European Union.

But, whatever the politicians say, nothing else was decided by that referendum.

48% of us voted for a United Kingdom that was international, outward looking and rejected the hateful rhetoric that blamed our problems on faceless, nameless immigrants.

We lost the argument about remaining in. We will have a transactional relationship with the EU. This has yet to be negotiated. That’s a fairly urgent task for the government.

Politicians who do not share our values, who do not want for our country the future that we want for our county will use the result to legitimise a closed, insular, scared country shut off from our own continent.

We must not let them.

Negotiations are going to begin with the EU. They’ll be tough. We do not have a strong hand and the EU has every reason to ensure our exit package is unpalatable. Compromises will have to be made.

The Tories want to focus on immigration. They will do everything they can to prevent the UK being bound by the EU freedom of movement rules. Who knows what a future prime minister will be prepared to give away to get agreement on that.

But we know that 1 in 2 of us voted for a future in which UK citizens are free to live, work and study across Europe and in which European citizens are free to live and work here. That is actively what we want.

If the UK accepts freedom of movement: we’ll get a lot more of what we want out of the negotiations. If we end up like Norway we’ll be out but still have freedom of movement and access to the single market. That feels like a suitably British compromise. Maybe even good enough to satisfy the Scots (maybe not).

We, the 48%, need to make sure that the UK-EU deal we end up with is one that we want, not one that a few government ministers want.

And we have one, crucial, unusual strength. We know we are not alone.

If you are in the 48% (or in the 52% but don’t want to cut the country off fundamentally). Let’s encourage the Tories to elect a leader who can represent the mainstream of the country not the extremists. Let’s encourage the Labour party to look to its internationalist and progressive traditions. Let’s encourage every political party to advocate for the UK we want to see.

Join a political party now and start advocating for free movement and a close relationship. Write to your MP and point out how many votes there are on the remain side. Talk to your friends and your co-workers. Post amusing gifs on Facebook whatever. But don’t leave the field to the Brexiters.

Let’s respect the views of the 1 in 2 (strictly 1.09 in 2) who voted to leave the EU.

And let’s make sure they respect our views too.

 

It’s time to get to work.

Public bodies that use Google Analytics do hold the data collected

The dangers of email mail-merge

A long time ago I rather rashly made an FOIA request for website usage data from every principal local authority in the UK. Things got a bit fuzzy in Northern Ireland owing to their local government reorganisation but in general most people handed over the information. Sometimes incredibly swiftly (take a bow Cardiff), sometimes with a bit of nagging (I’ll spare your blushes).

Two councils refused my request on the grounds that they don’t hold the data. Being the suspicious type I investigated their home pages. One of them did not appear to be running any tracking script which (though eccentric) seemed to be in line with their response. The other was running the Google Analytics tracking script. I pointed this out and following a brief email exchange my request was rejected[changed from reviewed which was a typo] and this had been upheld by an internal review.

So I referred the matter to the ico.

The ico investigates

I have to say the investigating officer was a remarkably nice and helpful man, despite my erratic phone answering and the comparative nerdiness of my request. After some discussions and contemplation the ICO issued a decision notice in which, you will not be surprised to learn, my appeal was upheld.

The decision notice has been published. They’ve taken my name out, which is nice, and you can read the decision notice in a PDF.

So apart from crowing at my (let’s face it: pretty minor) victory why else am I here?

Well though I always thought the council was wrong I could kind of see where they were coming from and so I think aspects of the ICO decision notice are helpful to note.

Things to note

The ico decided:

17. Having considered the above, it is evident that Google Analytics holds the usage data because the council has previously instructed it to do so (i.e. by actively placing a tracking script within the code of its webpages). Whilst the council has explained that it no longer needs this usage data for any business reason, it is clear that Google Analytics continues to collate and store the usage data because it has not received instruction from the council not to (i.e. through the removal of the tracking script). On this basis, the Commissioner has concluded that the raw usage data is held on behalf of the council by Google Analytics.

The Council also pointed out that they would need to run a report to answer the question which would be the creation of new data: something they are not obliged to do. The ico has given them quite a lot to consider on this point but concludes:

22. Having considered the above, it would appear to the Commissioner that running a report on the electronically held raw usage data would result in a statistical summary. It would also appear that it may be reasonably practicable for the council to provide such a summary, due to it having both the Google Analytics tool and council officers with the necessary skill to use it. On this basis the Commissioner would be likely to conclude that the provision of a summary based on the raw usage data would not represent the creation of new information.

So. If you collect the data, you hold the data. If someone asks you for a statistical summary of the data you hold that is (within limits) covered.

(I haven’t actually received the data yet mind).

What should define a Multi Agency Information Cell?

Why the gripping headline?

I’m not sure I’m getting the hang of writing click-bait headlines. But this is a significant question for some people. And some of those people read this blog.

What’s it all about?

Version 2 of the JESIP doctrine has been published for consultation. JESIP is the Joint Emergency Services Interoperability Programme and the JESIP Doctrine lays out how the emergency services should work together around major incidents.

Though JESIP is about the emergency services the doctrine actually affects hundreds more organisations because they (local authorities, heath bodies, utility companies and so on) have a duty to work with the emergency services (and each other) to sort out emergencies.

The original JESIP doctrine was pretty clear and sensible. Version 2 builds on these pragmatic and sensible foundations but adds in a couple of years of learning since the original. You can see the draft JESIP Doctrine here.

Get to the point Ben

Section 5 of the draft doctrine covers Information Assessment and Management. It touches on a range of things that will be of interest to people in my network (like essentially recommending ResilienceDirect as the way you should exchange data).

Section 5.4 issues a “Framework for Information Assessment” which is really saying “let’s be consistent in when talking about how reliable information is”. The question of how you assess the reliability of publicly available information (like reports on social media) is something VOST and Digital Humanitarian groups have some considerable expertise in.

Most exciting is section 5.5 which mandates a Multi-Agency Information Cell. This is a dashed good idea. In fact many people might think it sounds rather like a Virtual Operational Support Team (or VOST). In the current draft though the MAIC does seem a bit inward looking, pooling the geographic data that agencies have.

This sparked a bit of a discussion on Twitter and I said I would fire something up to see if we can get some sort of consensus from the VOST/BlueLight and possible CrisisMapping community.

Responding

The consultation is open to anyone to respond. responses have to be sent in a fairly structured way (using an Excel spreadsheet – I’ll park the discussion on the use of open formats for a more appropriate time). So anyone can (and probably should) respond in their own right.

 

I’d really appreciate the insight of the wider digital and emergencies community specifically on the sections about the Framework for Information Assessment and the Multi-Agency Information Cell. I’ve pulled those sections (and only those sections) into a Google Doc.