ISCRAM Summerschool phd-students innovate crisis response work

During this week, 10 phd-students have participated at the ISCRAM SUMMERSCHOOL organised by prof Caroline Rizza at Telecom Paris Tech. Today the different groups presented their work. Inspiring, fun and provocative ideas.

It was fun to see that the Design-camp that I held yesterday gave lots of input for their work.

Post-Doctoral Research Fellow Position Announcement

Post-Doctoral Research Fellow Position Announcement

The Social Policy Center at Koç University, Istanbul (Turkey) invites applications for a post-doctoral research fellow for EU Funded research project on the Use of New Media Technologies in Emergencies.

The successful candidate will provide general research and administrative support, assist with and conduct fieldwork interviews and document analysis, contribute to the preparation and dissemination of reports and papers, and participate in preparation of additional project proposals for national and international funding agencies. The appointee must possess a PhD in a media/communication studies, media technologies (particularly social media and mobile technologies), social studies of technology, sociology or related fields; be able to demonstrate a developing record of research; and will have excellent communication and organizational skills.

Interested applicants should submit inquiries and applications electronically to Lemi Baruh lbaruh@ku.edu.tr, by latest August 15, 2012 (applications will be processed on a rolling basis):

* Cover letter and a research statement
* Curriculum vitae
* Writing Samples (preferably copies of published work)
* Two reference letters (e-mailed directly by referees to the address above)

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

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.

Insights from disaster response could be used in emergency response?

This blogpost contains some reflections based on my attendance on the ISCRAM Summerschool 2011.

The ISCRAM Summerschool 2011 focus this year on the challenges and development opportunities in Humanitarian Response Operations.

When you listen to the stories and insights from people (in UNDAC, UNOCHA, BFAST, MapAction) with  long and rich experiences of humanitarian response work, they all seems to experience same fundamental problem, namely how to ensure efficient coordination based on smart information sharing. Based on their experiences, effecient coordination is the primary mean to obtain effective response work. The key to such coordination is found in smart information sharing. However, information sharing is not just a technical problem but also a procedural-, organizational-, and prestige-related problem. Many NGOs do apparently not their best to share what they know with the other organizations in their own cluster. Clusters do not always share information with other clusters. There are many examples and rich stories of how various UN-bodies and NGOs have debated and fought over really silly things, such as which truck from which organizations that should be first in a convoy. For me these are sad stories, but not on the other hand not surprising. Making organizations collaborating with each other is always difficult no matter sector or industry.

When these people give examples of the problems to share information during the early phase disaster response work, it sounds sometimes similar to the problems often expressed by professionals at local and regional agencies in Sweden. The primary difference is the scale of the problems. When you look at the cluster model used for organizing humanitarian response work, it seems to have some interesting similarities with the structural appearance of the Swedish crisis response system. There are probably good reasons to see how innovative solutions emerged in Humanitarian response community could be transferred to the national level as well as the reverse. It is evident that the difficulties to establish and maintain efficient information sharing is not primarily a technical problem but more related to attitude, incentives and competence.

Further, humanitarian response work rely heavily on good assessments of the local needs. Those need assessments inform what type of help that is needed and the volume of such help. It could be an interesting idea to explore how similar assessments could be done on a local level in Sweden in order to give the involved organisations more detailed insights in the early phase response work. Do we here in Sweden need a more developed and coherent process to conduct needs assessment when it comes to crisis response on a local and regional levels in Sweden? Would it be possible to outline a general need assessment procedure?

Inspiration from mobile phone use in Vietnam

When you go travelling far away from home, on roads that remotley confirm to western standards, you start to see old things in new ways. The adoption of mobile phones among everyday, and I mean everyday people in Vietnamn is increadible. When I go on a motobike, suddenly my driver flips up his mobile and answer a call. Even in the jungle-like-forest, our guide grab his mobile phone and calls the motorboat guide in order to coordinate the pick up location.

A mobile phone costs 20 USD and everyone, even what seems to be the very poorest have one. It is amazing and an eye-opener for me. This experience, perhaps not a revolutionary one but still, underlines the importance that any designer or solution-provider in the field of emergency and crisis response MUST and I mean MUST base their technology support on mobile consumer oriented technology. If we are able to question some of the taken for granted truths regarding emergency and crisis response plus strive for new innovative solutions that have the capability to reach out to people with clever but not complex diffusion mechanism, only then are we moving the frontier of global crisis response capabilities.

At the ISCRAM 2011 summerschool in Tilburg Netherlands, I hope we will be able to form and materialize some really radical and smart ideas to contribute to that mission. Finding material for inspiration is not best done in meeting rooms but in interactions with real people in real settings. So move out and start exploring. Join the ISCRAM community to further explore the role and use of IS/IT for improved emergency and crisis response on local, regional,
national and global levels.

Apply for the ISCRAM2011 Summerschool Now!

Please make sure that you have an extremely good reasons not to apply and attend for the ISCRAM2011 summerschool. The summerschool is the perfect place for phd-students and professionals in the emergency and crisis response domain to learn more about how information technology might be used to give you game-changing abilities.

The ISCRAM Summerschool will provide you with a valuable network of researchers and professionals, new insights, inspiration and ground breaking ambitions. Yes, I am a big fan of this Summerschool and Yes, I will be there to run a radical design camp where you and your team of new friends will explore cutting edge technology-use for crisis response and humanitarian response work.
People that attend the summerschool are willing to make their very best to push the boundaries of crisis response work. We hope that you will be one of them.
Deadline: 1st of june