2016 June HumTechFest

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Ever wanted to know about, or work on, disaster and humanitarian response technology from a people-first perspective? Aspiration's #HumTechFest strives to build capacity for humanitarian aid and disaster response efforts through technology and community. These are participatory and community-driven convenings designed for field practitioners, media makers and storytellers, technology developers, information security practitioners, members of affected populations, researchers, and everyone in between. The agenda is co-developed with participants, facilitators, and partners in the time leading up and during the event.

Please check out our Participant Guidelines before the event.

Saturday June 4th and Sunday June 5th
Berkman Center for Internet and Society
2nd floor at 23 Everett St
Cambridge, MA

Event overview on the Aspiration site

Saturday June 4th, 2016

Universe of Topics


  • Information sharing to promote local actors' agency and hold non-governmental organization and accountability
  • How to better connect tech to local needs
  • the intersections of ad-hoc, NGOs and gov leadership (effective partnerships)
  • working with the UN
  • who takes ownership of leadership and how in crises?


  • How to create sustainable communities around a project
  • burnout/mental health

Actor power dynamics

  • Helping big NGOs be less bad (and doing so for for free) is problematic
  • How to empower local/ and/or grassroots
  • Supporting existing local in country capacity
  • how to engage non-traditional actors
  • expert knowledge versus community knowledge (folk, indigenous)
  • Right to connect versus "cyber sovereignty"
  • Decentralized personal battery powered AI

Human (social) organization

  • How to decentralize coordination, tech, power
  • How do we get socialists and anarchists on the same page?
  • Gender-responsive humanitarian solutions
  • How do you intro in new expertise without dominating coopting the convo
  • how do we negotiate what should/will be done
  • best practices for hyper-local prep (resilience!)
  • how do folks new to the area get involved (or deepen involvement)
  • Who's missing that should be here
  • how people plug into response efforts
  • bringing civic tech and digital humanitarians together
  • digital onboarding discourse
  • the difference between needs in response to civic versus natural disasters


  • all kinds of radio!
  • disaster directory (and dictionary)
  • using humanitarian tools for mutual aid purposes
  • tools for better interpersonal skills in crisis
  • how can w user-test crisis response tools?
  • early warning system/disaster risk management
  • virtual reality in crisis response
  • can tech tools help with the refugee crisis?
  • tools/code/network/clearinghouse to support co-creation (build with/in parallel)
  • using tech as a tool (not as an end in itself)_
  • community-sourced tools for disaster response
  • new financing mechanisms
  • messaging/high latency protocols versus web/low latency as fundamental comms architectures


  • How can the tools we create be more accessible, relevant, to the communities they're made for?
  • how can our social and tech responses be inclusive to the most people?
  • empowering entrepreneurs ethically
  • the relationship between 1st response and resilience
  • we need more use of existing open source software


  • Intelligent property rights versus open-sourced problem solving
  • Emergent citizen group manual (to share knowledge)
  • how to redirect tech ? duplicate (stuff we don't want) and abandonware
  • how to redirect action for "evidence" solutions

Media, Games, culture

  • Trans-media campaigns for shifting awareness
  • Gamificiation
  • Digital curriculum
  • re-application of lessons and insights in disaster to other spheres/fields


  • how do we keep people present when collecting data?
  • open data standards
  • data quality and data sharing
  • how to identify resources and needs
  • new economics and bitcoin currency have a role in economic resilience
  • is there an open source option for responder databases on a national/global scale?
  • mitigating security concerns of social messaging collected data
  • opening and sharing data (community ownership of data)
  • can open source ethics crisis response be security and privacy conscious
  • how to improve tech for more efficient needs assessment

resource organization and distribution

  • crowdsourcing in crisis and disaster
  • how can we organize and distribute resources more equitably?
  • how to distribute resources
  • alternative energy capture and storage
  • resdesign the needs evaluations assessment
  • how to fill resource gaps
  • decentralized distributed reputation


Statements read

  • Nonprofits can help in a crisis
  • Technological singularity will overtake human leadership of disaster response by 2040
  • We can't trust the government to respond in crisis situations
  • Everyone is responsible for their own recovery
  • You can't fix things without the government

Statements not read

  • Everybody who should be here is
  • Traditional (including agile) IT design works for this
  • We can model people like atoms / we can gain full control
  • In a disaster it is better to send money than items
  • Monetary donations in disaster should be spent as soon as possible
  • Money can solve humanitarian problems
  • Crisis will be the catalyst for positive social change
  • Humanitarians are irrelevant if people practice resilience
  • All NGOs are bad
  • Nation states are the primary actors in responding to global humanitarian crises.
  • Look to underlying social problems to make change
  • Outsiders are always helping
  • The most resources should go to the most vulnerable
  • Cash disbursement is the most important type of aid
  • Small solutions are better than big solutions
  • Development relief is intended to build the US economy
  • Rather than humanitarian intervention just give all cash
  • You don't need the internet to communicate effectively
  • Everyone can help in a crisis

Wind Farm tutorial

Nathan stepped us through an overview of ways to communicate when comms are down. Read more here.

Game / Scenario / LARP

2016 HumTechFest LARP

Sunday June 5th, 2016

Discussion Topics/Breakouts Morning

  • Engaging responsibly with tech folk: Too much tech, not much designed for communities. Designing with a community can be difficult, how to set aside technical bias and listen to how people are doing, what knowledge they have. How do you build tech up from that versus "here is a solution for a problem I'm not even sure you have." Embedding yourself into communities. Cannot do a quick fix. Tool makers shouldn't get the glory. Difficult for people to do, to be humble, wash up, make coffee. Don't fall into a "rockstar" role especially when people keep trying to slot you into that. Also onboarding, how do you get folk to join an orga already doing things. People have ideas of what is the best to do, which might not be what is actually needed. Do something tha thelps you understand the organizational structure and needs. Doing this at scale... maybe context and specificity means scale isn't so important. Get the right people involved in the right way.
  • Community groups in crisis: How to get the community groups involved in the existing response system. Understanding how the system actually works in order to utilize it. Organizations in the community didn't have the tools they needed, weren't prepared. Our experience in Queens to help keep money and power locally, which is against how it's laid out in the network. Started on a chart in our small piece of the puzzle. Line funders up in advance for if something happens. Understanding the context in which you're functioning. Understanding money flows, how to fight for themselves within a system. Someone is going to get the funding, how do we attract it to the places that need it most. Toxic people are a big deal, feedback processes to come back to the table. Didn't pool resources.
  • Data sharing ecosystem without org buy-in: Lowest common denominator tools. Also how to raise capacity to a lowest common denominator. Humanitarian Data Exchange, HXL, CCAN. Awesome Table, Air Table. How do you take a bunch of different spreadsheets documenting a certain thing, analyze them to create a shared data model, show people that we're all recording the same thing and then share it under the same mnemonics (without imposing). Showing the artifacts and templates from those processes into a usable template, then play with things like Awesome Table to do all sorts of things, something a developer could use for a web app.
  • Reincorporating disaster lessons into the everyday: Tools used in rhetoric to transfer information. Documents, thresholds, file structures, work flows that we care about in everyday life, bring into crisis situations, iterate, take back out. Overall capacity building. Also about objective truth not being enough, have to message it in such a way that folk understand and can act. Some practices around how to act on data including Co-Ops, maker spaces, and community mastery board used by Agile Learning Centers. Going from an assessed need into a community practice.

Farmer's Knowledge Market

Focused on the Digital response ecosystem map

Discussion Topics/Breakouts Afternoon

  • Mapping overview: Worked on CartoDB, some web tools to map some lesbian bars in NYC. Talked about OSM data collection process that she led the Red Cross data collecting. Maps are created by information coming into the map. If no one has mapped it yet, there isn't any data. So when Ebola broke out, there was no data on where infrastructure was. People collected the data and added it to OSM. Tools to make it happen.
  • What would we do with an ecosystem map?: Talked about the previous actors in this place of trying to make this map. Documentation of who is in this space. What people, organizations, institutions that have tried to document this before. What has failed? What could this look like? Is this a wikipedia project? Are we looking at previous iterations? Are we looking at civic infrastructure? Are we building a Yelp of response groups? Data cleanup is a big problem in this. Knowing if we're tracking the people? Can that be secure? What sort of project this could be or become if we or Aspiration wanted to make it a project. How to make it last and work for us and others in a crisis?
  • A handbook for digital response: Handbook for onboarding. Diverged into two areas: 1) organizations need to know to help others onboard (info about staying healthy and how the org is structured and how decisions are made etc), and 2) what individuals need to know (checklist for when you're thinking about what orga to join, what question to ask them, what should you know before getting into a volunteer thing, skills to do work for an org). Lots of lists etc to build on.
  • Inroads to formal organizations: Why would you even want to? Problems of management within institutions, bureaucracy, sherpa like roles to help folk from outside play with them. Dealing with structures at a human level. Need for standardization and interoperability. Example from Digital Public Libraries of America of 0 data practices (cleanup and massage), system where they were providing a service, get their data back all nice. Therefore contributing to a standardized space. People are humans and have motivations, making them happy is helpful. Documentation, how relationships are managed is often a blackbox. Tell stories about successes (not even case study level). Things don't happen between orgs, they happen between people. Focus on relationships. How did you achieve success? Threw a dinner party. Structure for folk to step forward and take initiative to support others.

Where to from here

2016 HumTechFest I will We should Don't forget


We touched on

Things to Peruse Further