International Crisis Mappers Conference

This past weekend in New York City was the International Conference of Crisis Mappers, which meant four days of workshops, panels, discussions and seminar style brainstorms for people working on humanitarian projects, people working in data, and others who are obsessed with maps and/or design.

The conference was very well organized — things ran smoothly, the tight scheduled they arranged for the “ignite” sessions had clearly been practiced and moved flawlessly. There were a lot of moving parts going into this conference, so this really was a feat! Nigel Snoad from Google was MCing the conference and he was an excellent fit for it. He was funny, charming and had the kind of track record that earns respect and admiration from the audience and the speakers alike.

It was a little weaker, however, in content. The speakers had clearly practiced but most of the content was not well packaged. A few of the key note speakers also seemed to be entirely unaware of the audience they were speaking to: instead of delivering detail rich talks about the work they were doing and pushing forward, they gave very generalized talks about data and the world and whatever else they decided to talk about. This was unfortunate, since the audience was so excited and ready to support them, and they were, overall, very impressive speakers.

The ignite talks were the strongest piece of the content. These were sessions of around 12-15 speakers who gave short talks about the specific projects they were working on. We heard about mapping programs in Indonesia, the trouble with crowdsourced maps, troubleshooting for maps where information is either missing or incorrectly displayed, maps for services and organizations working in Haiti, what Ushahidi was up to, etc. These were quick and very content driven talks; overall a great choice for a conference that wanted to cover many different methods and ways of working in a short period of time.

The audience, as you can image, was equally enthusiastic about all things related to mapping. I spent a long time talking to a guy who runs, in his free time, a mapping software that highlights specific issues after major disasters in the US and builds a sign up form for different organizations to sign up to handle a specific case and report their progress to the rest of the users. This project is called Crisis Clean Up. I was really excited about the possibilities this project offers for organizing communities and making the clean up process clearer to everyone involved!

There is a lot to be said about a room full of tech-savvy humanitarians. Overall, a very interesting weekend full of new ideas and creative thinkers. Really refreshing!