A must-read paper! ‘Common Operating Picture as Collective Sensemaking’ by Wolbers and Boersma

The excellent researchers Jeroen Wolbers and Kees Boersma from Department of Organization Sciences, VU University Amsterdam, has published exciting work on how Common Operating Picture (‘Samlad lägesbild in Swedish’) could be understood as collective sensemaking (‘the Karl Weick version’).  What is exciting with this paper is that the authors have made impressive field work at a range of emergency response exercises and collected an impressive amount of micro-level data in form of conversations and observations. One could perhaps ask, why this is both exciting and impressive? The answer is that we often see papers on this topic (Common operating picture, COP) that gets stuck in overly complex theoretical arguments about if or if not COP is possible/meaningful/desireable. Wolbers an Boersma have in contrast provided beautiful accounts from the field and synthesised it into compelling and insightful analysis. Their study shows that Common Operating Picture is foremost about information sharing in what could be understood as trading zones, between different roles and between organizations. In these trading zones, information is never completely communicated or to a fully extent comprehended. Instead various forms of negotiations embody the infrastructure (my wording) for producing a common operating picture. The insights in the paper should be of particular interest for technology vendors in order for them to avoid too mechanistic approaches in dealing with this information management challenge.

This paper is vitalising the ongoing discussion regarding COPs and other researchers should follow their (Wolbers and Boersmas) lead into focusing on micro-level aspects of how professionals make sense of complex phenomena and how the underlying sense-making efforts is materialized in continuous conversations within and across organisational boundaries. More studies are needed to increase our understanding of how professionals craft and shape representations of response work and crisis phenomena. Wolbers and Boersma have with their paper challenged all of us to push forward on this topic.

Wolbers, J &  Boersma, K. (2013) The Common Operational Picture as Collective Sensemaking. Journal of Contingencies and Crisis Management, Wiley, Oct 2013

Abstract: [Link] The common operational picture is used to overcome coordination and information management problems during emergency response. Increasingly, this approach is incor- porated in more advanced information systems.This is rooted in an ‘information ware- house’ perspective, which implies information can be collected, sorted and exchanged in an accessible and univocal form. In practice, however, professionals interpret similar information differently.Therefore, we focus on how emergency responders develop col- lective sensemaking from information.We employ a ‘trading zone’ perspective, in which information is negotiated, to study information management in an ethnographic study of disaster exercises in the Netherlands. Our analysis shows how professionals attribute different meanings to information that distorts the coordination process. We end by stressing the importance of actionable knowledge and reflexivity.

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Three reading suggestions on Social media and Crisis/Emergencies/Mass Disruptions #ISCRAM

The ISCRAM 2012 conference is now on its second day in Vancouver Canada. The conference has been great both in terms of good research and in terms of networking opportunities with fellow researchers. So far, I would like to present three papers that could be of interest to look a bit deeper into. These papers cover aspects of social media and how the public and government agencies use social media. The papers also cover various aspects on how to make use of insights in social media to support and improve response work. In a few days, all papers from the conference will be published on the www.iscram.org website. Meanwhile, download, read and discuss the following papers with your friends at work.

[PDFLearning from the Crowd: Collaborative Filtering Techniques for Identifying On-the-Ground Twitterers during Mass Disruptions 
Kate Starbird, Grace Muzny, Leysia Palen

ABSTRACT:
Social media tools, including the microblogging platform Twitter, have been appropriated during mass disruption events by those affected as well as the digitally-convergent crowd. Though tweets sent by those local to an event could be a resource both for responders and those affected, most Twitter activity during mass disruption events is generated by the remote crowd. Tweets from the remote crowd can be seen as noise that must be filtered, but another perspective considers crowd activity as a filtering and recommendation mechanism. This paper tests the hypothesis that crowd behavior can serve as a collaborative filter for identifying people tweeting from the ground during a mass disruption event. We test two models for classifying on-the-ground Twitterers, finding that machine learning techniques using a Support Vector Machine with asymmetric soft margins can be effective in identifying those likely to be on the ground during a mass disruption event.

[PDFConnected Communications: Network Structures of Official Communications in a Technological Disaster 
Jeannette N. Sutton, Britta Johnson, Mathew Greczek, Emma S. Spiro, Sean M. Fitzhugh, and Carter T. Butts

ABSTRACT:
Informal online communication channels are being utilized for official communications in disaster contexts. Channels such as networked microblogging enable public officials to broadcast messages as well as engage in direct communication exchange with individuals. Here we investigate online information exchange behaviors of a set of state and federal organizations during the Deepwater Horizon 2010 oil spill disaster. Using data from the popular microblogging service Twitter, we analyze the roles individual organizations play in the dissemination of information to the general public online, and the conversational microstructure of official posts. We discuss characteristics and features of following networks, centrality, and conversational dynamics that may affect information exchange in disaster. This research provides insight into the use of networked communications during an event of heightened public concern, describes implications of conversational features, and suggests directions for future research.

[PDFTowards a realtime Twitter analysis during crises for operational crisis management 
Teun Terpstra, R. Stronkman, A. de Vries, G.L. Paradies

ABSTRACT:
Today’ s  crises  attract  great  attention  on  social  media,  from  local  and  distant  citizens  as  well  as  from   news media. This study investigates the possibilities of real-time and automated analysis of Twitter messages during crises. The analysis was performed through application of an information extraction tool to nearly 97,000 tweets that were published shortly before, during and after a storm hit the Pukkelpop 2011 festival in Belgium. As soon as the storm hit the festival tweet activity increased exponentially, peaking at 576 tweets per minute. The extraction tool enabled analyzing tweets through predefined (geo)graphical displays, message content filters (damage, casualties) and tweet type filters (e.g., retweets). Important topics that emerged  were  ‘early  warning  tweets’,  ‘rumors’  and  the  ‘self- organization  of  disaster  relief’  on  Twitter .  Results  indicate  that  automated  filtering  of  information   provides valuable information for operational response and crisis communication. Steps for further research are discussed.

Emergency Response Work as a Sociomaterial Practice

On thursday night at 21:20, my cellphone beeped and an SMS was received informing that the situation room was about to be manned at the fire and rescue services in Gothenburg. A sports arena was on fire and the response work was estimated to continue all night. I arrived to the main fire station at 21:50 and started a field-study and ended at 02:30. My focus this night was oriented on how the people working in the situation-room and the technology in use were intertwined. This particular incident provided very good insights on how people, procedures, roles and technology could be understood as entanglement in practice. In addition, it was also clear that technology is hardly used according the designers intention but reinvented and restructured in situated action. In return, the actions by the human actors were shaped by the material properties of the technological actors. Trying to separate human actors and technological actors seems difficult. I believe that we must view emergency response work as sociomaterial practice in order to move beyond the less meaningful discussion of technology vs method when it comes to exploring innovative conduct in future emergency and crisis response work.

I am looking forward to discuss entanglement in practice and sociomateriality with my fellow researchers during the ISCRAM2012 conference in Vancouver, 22-25 april.

This blogpost is heavily inspired by the following text:
Orlikowski, W. J. “The sociomaterialty of organizational life: Considering technology in management research.” Cambridge Journal of Economics 34 (2009): 125-141

Users must have the app preinstalled in case of an emergency – or maybe not!

A well-known problem for everyone with a smart idea regarding how people could make use of innovative apps in case of an emergency or crisis, is the fact that people need to have these apps already installed ready to be used in critical situations. However, most people will never face an emergency or a crisis which means that most people will never bother to “pre-install” nice to have apps that most likely never will be used.

This means that app developers and solution providers must be come up with better solutions than just saying:

“People must understand that they have much to gain if they download our great app and have it ready at hand if they end up in a critical situation”.

Just recently, we have seen insightful approaches of solving this problem by designing apps that are made available when they are needed and only if they are needed. This means that app developers and solution providers have taken a new look at the well-known and standardized “sign-up -> receive user info -> get started and add details”.

Instead of using the above approach, innovations are emerging targeting what could be called a simplified user credentials approach. This means that apps could be designed using a range of new models concerning the role and need for user-id. When we design for “instant and short time use”, it opens up for radically different use cases and a potential for a much larger diffusion of apps in emergencies and crisis.

I hope that we at the Crisis Response Lab, in the near future, will be able to show a few examples of how these new approaches could be materialized.

Open positions at the Division of Interaction Design, Chalmers University of Technology

The Division of Interaction Design has three available positions at Chalmers University of Technology.

  • Associate Professor/Senior Lecturer in Graphical Interfaces (reference number 20120006).
  • Lecturer in Interaction Design (reference number20120005).
  • PhD student position in Computer Science: HCI and Visualization (reference number 20110141 ).

More information about the positions is available on:

http://www.chalmers.se/en/about-chalmers/vacancies/Pages/default.aspx.

Highlights from the CSCW2012 Conference

Directly from the CSCW2012 conference in Bellevue (WA) in United States, here is my list of the most interesting pieces of work related to my own research field. A majority of the papers are related to social media in crisis response, one on the use of online forums for coordination in crises and lastly an impressive study on mobile live video production. All these papers will soon be available via www.acm.org/portal

“Beacons of Hope” in Decentralized Coordination: Learning from On-the-Ground Medical Twitterers During the 2010 Haiti Earthquake  

Aleksandra Sarcevic (Drexel University)
Leysia Palen (University of Colorado, Boulder)
Joanne White (University of Colorado, Boulder)
Kate Starbird (University of Colorado, Boulder)
Mossaab Bagdouri (University of Colorado, Boulder)
Kenneth Anderson (University of Colorado, Boulder)

Abstract: We examine the public, social media communications of 110 emergency medical response teams and organizations in the immediate aftermath of the January 12, 2010 Haiti earthquake. We found the teams through an inductive analysis of Twitter communications acquired over the three-week emergency period from 89,114 Twitterers. We then analyzed the teams’ Twitter streams, as well as all digital media they generated and pointed to in their streams—blog posts, photographs, videos, status updates and field reports—to understand the medical coordination challenges they faced from pre-deployment readiness to onthe-ground action. Here we identify opportunities for improving coordination in a decentralized and distributed environment where staffing, disease trajectories, and other circumstances rapidly change. We extrapolate from these findings to theorize about how “beaconing” behavior is a sign of latent potential for coordination upon which mechanisms of coordination can capitalize.

Relief Work after the 2010 Haiti Earthquake: Leadership in an Online Resource Coordination Network
Sean P. Goggins (Drexel University)
 Christopher Mascaro (Drexel University)
Stephanie Mascaro (Atlas Research)

Abstract: The US Navy directed its vast resources at the relief effort following the Haiti Earthquake on January 12, 2010. To coordinate with non-governmental-organizations (NGOs) participating in the relief effort, the US Navy used an online discussion forum. What follows is an examination of the emergence, rise, on-the-ground utility and decline of this “walled-garden” style discussion forum. Our findings show that most site activity is broadcast oriented and does not result in discussion, but in the small percentage of cases where discussion emerges, participants are focused on the exchange of medical, Global Information Systems (GIS) and equipment on the ground oriented information. We show how activity on the discussion forum changes over time, and corresponds with events on the ground in Haiti. Four archetypical users are profiled to demonstrate how invisible brokerage style leadership, identified through grounded theory analysis of posts, can be made visible through network analysis of interaction traces. Our findings have implications for the use of forum style, “walled garden” technology for coordination and information sharing in future crises.

(How) Will the Revolution be Retweeted?: Information Diffusion and the 2011 Egyptian Uprising 
Kate Starbird (University of Colorado, Boulder)
Leysia Palen (University of Colorado, Boulder)

Abstract: This paper examines microblogging information diffusion activity during the 2011 Egyptian political uprisings. Specifically, we examine the use of the retweet mechanism on Twitter, using empirical evidence of information propagation to reveal aspects of work that the crowd conducts. Analysis of the widespread contagion of a popular meme reveals interaction between those who were “on the ground” in Cairo and those who were not. However, differences between information that appeals to the larger crowd and those who were doing on-the-ground work reveal important interplay between the two realms. Through both qualitative and statistical description, we show how the crowd expresses solidarity and does the work of information processing through recommendation and filtering. We discuss how these aspects of work mutually sustain crowd interaction in a politically sensitive context. In addition, we show how features of this retweetrecommendation behavior could be used in combination with other indicators to identify information that is new and likely coming from the ground.

Amateur Vision and Recreational Orientation: Creating Live Video Together 
Arvid Engström (MobileLife at Interactive Institute)
Mark Perry (Brunel University & MobileLife at Interactive Institute)
Oskar Juhlin (MobileLife at Interactive Institute)

Abstract: We explore the use of a live video broadcast system by a group of amateur camera operators to film an event on networked cameraphones. Using an interaction analysis of physical interactions and orientations to the work of others, we examine their choice of camera angles and positions in their filming as they attempt to provide interesting visual content and a coherent narrative. Findings illustrate how users adapt their behaviour as co-ordination problems occur by drawing from a set of everyday visual practices (‘amateur vision’). They also show how the specifically temporal aspect of live video requires extended attention on its production, and that this is at odds with the ‘recreational orientation’ of amateur film crews who simultaneously participate in events for their own enjoyment and film them on behalf of other viewers. Implications for the design of collaborative live broadcast media are made, focusing on approaches to interaction design that augment users’ visual practices and allow users to look on behalf of others while experiencing places and events themselves.

What do we mean when we say crisis? Get ready for ISCRAM2012

Over time, when professional, commercial and researcher communities have been talking about crisis and the many different strategies, policies, methods and tools to prevent and mitigate crisis, I start to wonder what do we mean when we say crisis.

The terms, accident, emergency, disaster and crisis do not address the same phenomena but on different scales. They have fundamental differences but are at the same time somewhat related. I would like to see some theoretical work trying to make the differences of these concepts explicit and clear. Especially if we are truly interested in developing IS/IT-artifacts that will have even a remote chance of actually provide agency. There are some seminal work on this topic by researchers in disaster sociology, but perhaps we are in need for some re-modeled versions for the IS/IT field.

Too often a large scale accident is talked about in terms of a crisis. Too often these large scale accidents are just very simple events but on  a large scale. The casual relationships between actions and effects are clear. These accidents are solved by the use of standard operating procedures and efficient resource management. Large scale accidents are per se not a crisis. However, a poorly managed large-scale accident could develop into a crisis, not in terms of the physical dimensions of the accident, but the political dimensions.

A definition of crisis, should according to my view cover these critical dimenions:
* the temporal ambiguity
* the cascading dynamics
* the unclear causalities
* the boundary-spanning effects

I hope that the ISCRAM 2012 conference in the US will be the place where these important aspects are discussed and where the ISCRAM-community trigger discussions about crisis theory so we can start to make descriptive, predictive and normative models of how crisis grow, spread, and change form.

So before you submit to ISCRAM 2012, the deadline is approach fast, have a look in the book “What is a Disaster? – new answers to old questions” edited by Ronald W. Perry & E.L. Quarentelli (2005), and make an honest attempt to clarify your position. Chapter 11 by Arjen Boin is very valuable.