Sahana Workhop: New York

Last Saturday I headed back to the Occupy Sandy center at 520 Clinton St in Brooklyn to run a workshop for some new volunteers who were interested in supporting the Sahana solution which Occupy Sandy was using.

Celia La, Chris Lui and Robert M getting started in Sahana

I helped them get their development environments set up and gave them an introduction to the basics of developing in Sahana Eden.  One of the advantages to having the workshop at the Occupy Sandy center was that there were a number of people around to show us how they’d been using Sahana on the ground which is really valuable for engaging new developers.

Jess Fuest explaining to Chris, Robert and Celia about how they use Sahana Eden

520 Clinton St is a dispatch center, where donations such as cleaning products, toiletries, diapers, baby formula and blankets are collected. People on the “comms” team such as Jenny Akchin and dispatchers such as Jess Fuest use Sahana to record requests  and track them as they are committed and dispatched. To date, Sahana has been used to record 314 requests from 212 different facilities

Jess, Me and Jenny
Sparky using Sahana Eden on a tablet
An example of the supply requests they receive via text message

It was great to see Occupy Sandy using some of the features which I had developed for request and inventory management – which was based on my experience working with NGOs in Indonesia during the Tsunami recovery. It was also interesting to see how they adapted their workflows and used Sahana in their context.

Because of the high turn over of supplies, they did not try to keep track of stock levels at the dispatch center. This would have required additional overhead. Fortunately Sahana is able to automatically generate reports based on the recorded and dispatched requests that can report on exactly what has been distributed to which hubs  throughout the relief effort.

Typically requests would come in for supplies without specifying any quantity. The dispatchers would send a quantity of supplies based on their knowledge of how many families the requesting hub was serving, the current stock of those supplies, other requests and any expected new deliveries of these supplies.  Working with volunteers in this context where both the needs and the capacity are in such a state of flux, it makes sense to rely on human intuition for this. There could be value in supporting more intelligent pipelining of supplies and optimizing the supply chain through bulk deliveries, but this would require more rigorous training and data collection.

These lessons will continue to guide the ongoing development of Sahana so that we can ensure that the next time it needs to be used we can provide an even more valuable solution.

As so much of our development work is done remotely, it was great to send time with users of Sahana. Observing people use Sahana give us so many ideas of how to could improve it. One observation was seeing the users always scroll through the many search options when viewing these reports. Upon seeing these, Chris was able to modify the request search page to include a short list of basic search options and allow the rest of the search, fixing a bug in the Search Framework in the process!

Request Search – BEFORE
Request Search – AFTER

He pushed this code on Saturday and it’s already in the Sahana Eden trunk. It was fantastic to see him making contributions so quickly and Celia is already talking about spending another day to code at Occupy Sandy.

As I write this post, I’m on a flight back home to New Zealand and I’ll continue to support this work virtually, but it’s great to leave knowing that there’s some more people in New York who can provide the in person technical support that is so critical to making a deployment successful.


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