How Technology Can Enable Collaboration for the Common Good



Our Director of Research and Analysis, Dr. Andrew Schroeder, recently attended the Clinton Global Initiative winter meeting held Feb. 20 in New York City. He reflects on the conference below:

Toward the end of this year’s Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) winter meeting, President Clinton asserted that most global problems have solutions, however the politics of special interests get in the way of making changes for the common good.

While he used the example of how specific interests are preventing Caribbean countries from switching their energy source from imported petroleum to zero-carbon emissions (despite a clear path to the latter), I was reminded of how this problem of specific interests is often all too true in the aftermath of a natural disaster.

Clinton urged the crowd to “re-imagine impact” – the theme of the meeting – by adopting the solution of applying a multi-interest approach in prioritizing the common good. Though this idea may seem idealistic, technology is allowing Direct Relief, in collaboration with software company Palantir and local partner organizations, to do just that.

Following a disaster, like Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, the need for accurate information and efficient coordination is greatest in the immediate days after the event – precisely the moment when the difficulty and cost of acquiring accurate data and impairment of information infrastructure is most costly and challenging. It’s often a challenge to get groups to share information on situational awareness and response activities, even though it’s beneficial for all involved in the response.

Through a 2013 CGI commitment along with Palantir Technologies and Team Rubicon, we sought to strengthen information infrastructure for disaster response based upon our experience during and after Hurricane Sandy and the creative use of Palantir Gotham and Palantir Mobile to integrate massive amounts of data into a single location to improve situational analysis and volunteer coordination.

This year, the commitment expanded internationally through the development and deployment of Palantir MIMOSA (MIniature MObile SAtellite), an entirely satellite-based version of Palantir mobile, used in the Philippines following Typhoon Haiyan. Having spent the better part of a month working in the affected area of the Philippines training in-country partners including the Philippine Red Cross, Gawad Kalinga and the Tacloban Health Cluster, I was excited to be able to share lessons learned and new ideas about ways that improved information management can in turn help us to re-conceive the efficiency, integration and impact of international disaster relief.

Palantir MIMOSA was conceived as an answer to the post-disaster information dilemma. By allowing individuals within and across critical response organizations to collect data regardless of terrestrial network conditions, and to share that information in real time via a common application and portal containing the best open source information available, we have seen gains in coordinated activities and contextualized knowledge within some of the most remote areas of the response.

In this way, we hope to drive disaster response steadily and increasingly toward effective promotion of the common good, particularly for the most vulnerable, and ultimately, toward a better, more integrated, transparent and impactful, set of social structures governing how we as a world community respond to extreme events.

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