Collaboration: From HQ to the Field, and back

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Imagine that you are a humanitarian NGO manager, and you've just been informed of an emergency on the other side of the world. From the outset, you will be dealing with information in dozens of categories: planning, logistics, coordination with UN/USAID, travel plans, team orientation, working with on-the-ground partners, internal messaging, and much more.

The volume of information will quickly overwhelm your email inbox. You need a system that will help you manage the information flow within your organization, and with other NGOs, local agencies and regional/national governments throughout the response and reconstruction efforts. But it has to be easy-to-use, easy-to-learn, and fit into your existing workflows.

HumaniNet is researching and testing best practices for online collaboration and information sharing, so that we can better assist not only NGO managers, but field staff, like those pictured in this internet café in Banda Aceh, Indonesia.

We are currently operating several prototype collaborative workspaces using Plone, an open-source content management system (CMS). Our goal is to implement flexible, adaptible tools to collect and share critical information, and make them as useful and usable in the field as they are from a desk at headquarters.

As part of our 'release early and often' strategy, we have already demonstrated the system to several NGOs to get their feedback and input, and have invited more than a dozen individual field partners to participate in using the systems directly.

Future areas of exploration include shared calendars, group blogging tools, email notifications and updates, rich media (photos and video) management and custom data collection.

Making sure the right information is available to the right people, at the right time, with minimal distraction and disruption, is not an easy task. Through our research and testing, HumaniNet will do the 'heavy lifting', so our field partners can be more informed and effective than ever as they meet humanitarian challenges around the world.

Click the image to the right for a full-size screenshot of our tsunami relief coordination prototype in action.




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