Noticed it’s been a while since a post here, thought I’d write and introduce some of the citizen-centric work we’ve been doing in Australia in response to the 2019-2020 #AustraliaFires whilst the lessons learnt are searingly fresh. As a regular hackathon host, I put together ausfirehack.info as a rolling hackathon to try and catch the edge-cases as they flew past in the flurry of shout-outs from affected communities. I’ve been progressively building up a series of challenge topics for people to pile onto if they’re interested in formulating responses or digging deeper. Am sure it will prompt some interesting emergency standards chats.
One of the most notable things that I’ve seen changed materially since last active posts in 2013 is the increased weaponisation of social media platforms as a vector for disinformation. It’s a pervasive pattern we saw across a broad range of fronts, which took some time for a select few media agencies to pick up on, but by then the damage was done, and a counter-narrative embedded, which is driving polarised views, making it harder to agree on commons that bind us all. I’ve attempted to capture some of the flavour of it in our #FairDinkumFacts challenge, but welcome input into thinking about how standards work can support development of counter-measures to deliberate misinformation. Its something I’ll be exploring in more detail later this year as part of the 2020 eLife Science Innovators program, but I’d welcome collaborators on this.
We’ve also seen crowdsourced initiatives emerge ahead of formal agency responses. FindABed sprang to life, looking to connect fire evacuees with willing hosts; CrisisApp emerged from that group as a larger volunteer effort to aggregate + geolocate offers of help for people needing resources. Both are still very much works in progress, which would benefit from increasing alignment with W3C standards bodies as we grapple with better ways to rinse, lather, repeat and build on this initial emergent capability. Interestingly, the spirit of volunteering in both teams has been driven in part by the frustration of cycle response times from state bodies. We’ve had to explore how, in the face of platform ToS obligations, we can deal with the glaringly obvious need to connect public domain calls for help from individuals with services or generous individuals that can help, in real time. Here’s just one example:
As someone who’s worked in both private + public settings, I know how long it can take to scale up an initiative within government, but have been struck by the generosity of the tech community wanting to lean-in and help make a difference during this catastrophic fire season. I’ve seen good friends lose everything, agencies get pushed past their capacity to service demand and initiatives struggle with data modelling as demand outstripped capacity for structured digital delivery. Our work in Crisis App has been bolstered by strong contributions from US based digital humanitarians who crowdsourced responses in the last few destructive hurricane seasons. So many lessons that we’ll be reflecting on as we move into recovery cycle and adapt our stance to detect, surface and validate changing needs of fire affected communities.
I’ll welcome collaboration focussed chats and engagement on some of the things we’ve seen in a fire season that I wish to never see again. The odds are we’re in for more of it as part of an evolving climate emergency. Happy to respond here or in public domain exchanges on Twitter.