There’s a lot of similarities between traditional disaster management organizations and volunteer technical communities such as Sahana’s – especially when you look at our operations from a information management perspective. We collaborate on projects with partner organization, often breaking the work down into tasks that are worked on by numerous people. For this reason we’ve been experimenting with using Sahana as the Sahana Sunflower: Community Portal to coordinate between all the contributors to our community, managing both the technical and and non-technical tasks across multiple projects and showcasing Sahana deployments around the world. Not only does this give us a valuable tool, but it’s an opportunity to Eat Our Own Dog Food – to be put in the user’s seat, to be confronted with things that can be improved and to make those improvements which can benefit users of all Sahana deployments.
Sunflower is an ongoing development. Hitesh Sharma has been working on this throughout his internship with Sahana and I hope that we will have someone working on it during the 2015 Google Summer of Code Program. Here are the full Blue Prints for what is planned. Get in touch if you’re keen to contribute.
Sahana isn’t the only volunteer technical community community needed a coordination platform . I’ve recently had conversations with Helen Campbell and Roxanne Moore from the Digital Humanitarian Network (DHN). They’ve been doing great work leveraging digital networks for humanitarian response. To support their work they’ve developed a number of spreadsheet based tool, which track partner organizations, contacts, events, tasking, data sources and needs.
There’s lot of good things about spreadsheets: they’re easy to use, they’re flexible, they’re easy to change and can evolve very organically, they model very closely to a physical representation of data (a table on a piece of paper). But they have their limitations too: at a certain point they get too big to easily use (try printing a 30 column spreadsheet on one page!), they don’t show all the relationships between data, making reports/visualizations/maps can be tricky, they don’t support information management over workflows.
Helen and Roxanne both recognize the opportunity to implement a better solution and DHN are still going through their discovery process for this. I think it would be great for them to use Sahana to as their coordination platform. It would give DHN a better (open source) tool to manage their information and support workflows. It would help to have a bunch more tech-saavy people using the Sahana platform, suggesting improvements, piloting new features and maybe even becoming contributors. But most importantly it would mean that when a disaster management organization comes along needing a platform to manage their own operations, we have a mature, usable, open source solution that we’re all familiar with using to recommend: Sahana.