Using Sahana to Support Volunteer Technical Communities

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.

2 Comments


  1. IMHO…
    are we not pitting one platform against another and letting one’s own vanity get in the way of helping those in real need?

    How did the reps from DHN receive the info presented by you?

    Sitting on the sidelines of the EM field and reading about of these seemingly disjointed efforts to enable volunteer communities I get the impression that people are seeking some magic bullet to solve the disaster response management issue.

    Should I go with this one? Or should I go with that one because they have more social marketing pull to it?
    I know that it is all about needs and satisfying some business-type justification to better decision making in response to an emergency, but,…
    I do not get the feel that all players in VTC or VOST or whatever other acronym want to come out and state: “Hey! We should put all of our joint (and somewhat scarce) resources into these projects X, Y, and Z, and now focus on the people in need”

    I believe that Sahana’s work and successes are not fully respected by enough of the supposed thought leaders in disaster management. Why?
    I can only speculate, and I think that some of the lack of respect comes from the reality that there is prejudice in Western societies to grass-roots development for today’s problems that originate in developing countries.
    How long has M-Pesa been around? Yet, now that Bill Gates has “discovered” it(similar to Columbus discovering Americas!) and has written about it, mobile banking is “it”.

    These are my own opinions.

    I wish Sahana continued successes and hope for its greater adoption in support of disaster management.

    thank you!

    Reply

    1. Many great thoughts here! Trying to tackle them one at a time:

      > are we not pitting one platform against another and letting one’s own vanity get in the way of helping those in real need?
      There is a risk of this. Huge investments of volunteer effort create biase – so it’s important to be able to step back and see the bigger picture.

      > How did the reps from DHN receive the info presented by you?
      They’ve been open to it!

      > Sitting on the sidelines of the EM field and reading about of these seemingly disjointed efforts to enable volunteer communities
      Such is the nature of an organic community!

      > I get the impression that people are seeking some magic bullet to solve the disaster response management issue.
      Slightly optimistic…

      > Should I go with this one? Or should I go with that one because they have more social marketing pull to it?
      Solutions have to a) make themselves known and b) clearly communicate what they do – for that reason marketing is important.

      > I know that it is all about needs and satisfying some business-type justification to better decision making in response to an emergency, but,…
      > I do not get the feel that all players in VTC or VOST or whatever other acronym want to come out and state: “Hey! We should put all of our joint (and somewhat scarce) resources into these projects X, Y, and Z, and now focus on the people in need”
      I certainly see the reinvention of wheels. But volunteers like to have ownership over their projects. And it’s much easier and more satisfying to build the first 80% than the last 20%.

      > I believe that Sahana’s work and successes are not fully respected by enough of the supposed thought leaders in disaster management. Why?
      I think that we could be more effective at networking and communicating what we do – hence this blog post!

      > I can only speculate, and I think that some of the lack of respect comes from the reality that there is prejudice in Western societies to grass-roots development for today’s problems that originate in developing countries.
      I disagree. Ushahidi came from Kenya.

      > How long has M-Pesa been around? Yet, now that Bill Gates has “discovered” it(similar to Columbus discovering Americas!) and has written about it, mobile banking is “it”.
      Perhaps we need Bill Gates to discover Sahana? 😉

      > I wish Sahana continued successes and hope for its greater adoption in support of disaster management.
      Thank you!

      Reply

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