MSF & Christian Aid blaze podcast trail!

Is it our role to advocate for change, communicate needs on the ground, promote intellectual debate and ensure education and awareness of different communites of the challenges faced by others?

Fortunately there are trail blazers out there testing new media to and its effectiveness for the rest of us. Podcasts that can be accessed on i-tunes, or downloaded from websites, dramatically further communication and information sharing. MSF

MSF has demonstrated three prominent approaches. MSF Voice podcasts in the build up to the XVI Aids Conference in August 2006 along with daily discussions on key topics and demonstration of how MSF drives advocacy at such conferences. Regular advocacy and discussion of field activities and focus of programmes in different countries. Finally, MSF Frontline is a monthly podcast enabling individuals to catch up with MSF operations. programmes, facts, figures and personal testaments. MSF Voice and MSF Frontline are seamlessly integrated into the web site for ease of access.

CAChristian Aid after using podcasts for internal reporting opened their podcasts up to the public, as reported by humanitarian.info and Full Circle. Some examples include fascinating mini series on different campaigns, such as the Beat goes on a march against the policies of IMF, WB and the North in controlling the South and a demand for friendly and inclusive policies. Daily podcasts for a field visit to Haiti truly set a standard for everyone to match! It reflects the naevity of foreigners, gives a detailed awareness of challenges faced in the country and yet the character of people and their cultural legacy comes through. Finally like MSF, Christian Aid uses this medium to present interviews, debate and discussion on critical issues.

In a former piece I argued that podcasts should be taken into the office, Christian Aid and MSF have illustrated that staff with basic training can use podcasting instead of paper reports, perfect for disseminating information in an accessible form to staff, they also provide the perfect advocacy platform. Advocacy organisations take note!

Internal communication, information sharing and advocacy are critical elements of management in all humanitarian and development work. MSF and Christian Aid provide different exceptional examples of how podcasts can be applied in both settings… the race is on!

03/12/06 Editors note:

Apologies to UNICEF who have been operating podcasts since February 2006 with a mixture of UNICEF news and programme reports now in video and audio!

The UN also started a twice daily news podcast in November (sorry can’t find any show link), and but worry yee not this phenomena is catching on, UNESCO has put out bids for video podcast proposals!

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Photosynth, amazing 3D imagery from your snaps!

Typically those of us who travel a lot, whether it be for work or pleasure enjoy photography. How often have you looked over your photo’s from a trip and wished you could stitch them together digitally?Photosynth Vatican

In an urban setting this could mean stitching together all the images of the Taj Mahal or of the Vatican, giving spatial clarity to urban area or gardens, laying out the 3-D space and size and enable one to zoom in on detail. Indoors this might this might enable one to visually walk around a space choosing to zoom in on detail or pull back to the broader perspective. A series of photographs taken over time could show different stages of development of an art project. Take the interior concept further and it could become a virtual guide to a museum, enabling a viewer to zoom in on the detail of artifacts as they choose.

If the concept is extended to landscapes, it wouldn’t take many photographs to complete a broad 3-D image and might enable the viewer to zoom in on photographs of activity, say canoers advancing down rapids, golfers moving over a course or climbers scaling a cliff. And the more photographs the greater the experience would be, photographs from different angles would all add to the 3D experience improving depth, scale, spatial dimensions and detail.

Thanks to Microsoft labs and Photsnyth this possibility is already a reality, though not commercially available. Scoble has posted a video of a demo by Gary Flake at the O’Reilly Web 2.0 Summit, or go direct to demo’s online. Photosynth software takes a large collection of photos of a place or an object, analyzes them for similarities, then displays the photos in a reconstructed three-dimensional space, showing you how each one relates to the next.

There are clearly many interesting practical applications one can imagine from monitoring environmental degradation, to observing flooding across an area relative to normal state or visually recreating the image of the Buddhas at Bamiyan after their destruction from multiple photographs, also see The Bamiyan Project to recreate them using computer graphics. Of course given a few professional tools the ability to use such imagery for measuring distances, or combine it with available remotely sensed data could potentially transform this into a powerful tool for post disaster assessment.

This is truly exciting, the next time you are part of a team that mobilises to assess a disaster, perhaps all those holiday snaps uploaded by tourists will provide detailed baseline data, improving effectiveness of response.

RSS, delivering web site updates to your PC

Do you find yourself visiting alot of web sites to catch up on latest news… RSS or Real Simple Syndication (see the orange symbol to the right of this page … RSS Feed) is a simple mechanism to help you get this information without going to a web site.

Apparently Outlook has this built in, I find Google Reader to be intuitive, and structured like gmail, it also has a video explanation on the site. Very simple to use, you simply have to copy the URL for the web page (address typically http://www.name.org) into the tool you are using, it finds the RSS feeds on that specific page and lets you choose the ones you wish to see.

For advanced users humanitarian.info has looked at geoRSS feeds, and of course there are always audioRSS feeds (or to laymen like me – podcasts).

Online video sharing, lessons for development?

Have online tools for uploading video content finally come of age? Rather are they relevant to Humanitarian and Development work as opposed to teens in San Francisco? Or how far do they need to go before they can really start being used to support field work?

Of course bandwidth is as ever a problem, but these days there is content delivery technology that can solve that problem, enabling the uploading of files to be automated to specific times, only upload when prioritised usage (emails, voice) is curtailed, it can even be managed so that the same computer can upload or download digital information over different connections automatically as it is unplugged and replugged, such as moving from office to home or hotel at short notice.

Film from a video camera, normal digital camera or web cam is becoming the media of choice, new generations are reacting to this media the way some of us got excited over digital photo’s and MP3… no lets be honest emails! Google’s purchase of YouTube placed their number of unique visitors at 120 million in September, sure their communities of interest sit largely in the US, but the shift to view all content text, audio, photo, film as interchangeable, shareable content will quickly become standard.

Metacafe has developed an interesting approach where they use it to help talent thrive. Unlike YouTube they reject duplicate films and use 100,000 volunteers to peer review content, then like Wikipedia have them write and vet articles. Finally of course they use algorithms to analyse, sort and rank video’s and over time develop the highly valuable database linking customers to content. Individuals can use this as an effective medium to show their talents in film-making or acting, by licensing video’s to Metacafe indiviuals have successfully used this to become noticed, and make revenue from their work.

The development community has long depended on peer review and participation to ensure that ‘best practice’ rises to the top and can be shared easily, however we have been poor at introducing the use of technology. Of course I am being slightly unfair, IRC (Water and Sanitation Centre) for example is one of many that has been using the internet for many years to share content with specialist research, training and advisory centres around the world for many years, seeking to build capacity through joint projects. To a certain extent its distributed organisational structure depends on the internet and members are investigating possibilities to work with participatory new media approaches. Similarly The Provention Consortium depends on a thiving networked organisational approach, in this case encouraging institutions to support each other in furthering disaster risk reduction.

However we have to recognise that new tools require new approaches, there is increased attention in the western world on humanitarian and development issues. Not least because technology entrepreneurs have turned multi-millionaire Philanthropists.

I for one believe that we should find means to garner the talent, ideas and community experience of these entrepreneurs and the young to engage them in development and humanitarian work beyond merely interest, concern and fund raising.

Whether this means more formal approaches such as linking schools and organising for raw footage from developing countries to be made available for editing as they choose into documentary footage by youngsters in the west. Supporting artists and small businesses getting their skills and wares to western audiences or highly informal approaches that simply enable families to make their own camera footage, and tell their stories so that they may be uploaded to commercial sites in country and shared online.

Alternatively video and audio diaries or weblogs and podcasts could form part of the remit of professional staff as they undergo operations as a monitoring, assessment or evaluation tool humanitarian.info comments on such an approach by Christian Aid in Tajikistan. Heck for the sake of transparency why not put this in the public domain, uploading as possible. Have you ever thrown you heart and sole into a monitoring report, only to discover that the important recommendations were passed over?

There is alot we can learn from the increased openness in sharing information publically, I trust the entrepreneurs and enthusiasts riding this wave, look to broader horizons. Their experience and skills are needed lets see how we can open their eyes to another exciting, challenging and rewarding world in humanitarian and development work.

Nomadic bloggers need each other… & bloggers in the communities they serve.

I suspect this is a ritual undertaken by most blog novices… a very early stab at blogging about blogging, which inevitably falls far short of the mark! Fortunately humanitarian and development workers are fascinating people that makes such a compilation a true pleasure.

Forgetting the numerous blogs that appear to be acting more as portals to information on a specific place or organisation there are an ever increasing number of single issue or single interest blogs clearly designed to change attitudes and help drive advocacy. Anita Roddick has an interesting advocacy blog at HIV is everyones problem, then there are the informative NGO blogs for example Aids Orphans Rising. What concerns me more is that since we are purportedly focused on supporting self reliance, local response, sustainability in development, humanitarian and development bloggers need to find a way to proactively support local advocacy initiatives, lets at least conciously seek out and promote the best!

Of course it is a pleasure to surf the numerous personal blogs from those starting out in their careers Erika in Lanka, to professionals on the ground Dili-Dallying, and mozamblog from a US physician. Then there are nuggets tucked away like delightful child stories by Sahelsteve at Voice in the Desert and the entertaining Lucky White Girl. Sadly these can be temporal affairs, Sleepless in Sudan shutdown in February 2006 on the authors departure, this just demonstrates one way in which the blogging humanitarian community can gain by keeping close and in touch. We need each other like any nomadic population.

Sadly, or rather fortunately we also work, dedicated blogs will become ever more valuable sources of networking and information, and encourage non-tech familiar workers to set up support sites. Tsunami is a good example, others seem to be more organisation focused, but they are not the worse for it, te comprehensive ODI site is now complimented by a blog. Although I note it is questionable whether an edited organisational blog is just that.

Of course the true stalwarts of blogging must be those individuals who singlehandedly mix work and prose craft through dogedly registering essential documents, updating us on exiting developments and keeping us informed of trends. Humanitarian.info by Paul Currion gets my award for now… but I am only just out of Afghanistan so it may get knocked off my top spot in the next few months!

I have no doubt that participatory media in its many forms from blogs and wiki’s to podcasts (and thats just for now!) will transform the way the humanitarian and development communities communicate, share and manage information and advocate on critical issues. We are really just at the start of this shift, ever the optimist, I am confident it it will also ensure a better understanding and closer relationships between nomadic humanitarian and development workers and the communities they seek to serve.

Commercial Online collaborative tools are ‘aid’ ready

Despite huge advances in the useability and functionality of online tools to support working remotely whether it be from home, on the road, between offices or between country. There has been minimal adoption of such tools beyond the obvious by humanitarian and development workers. Of course there are a number of dedicated organisations serving the humanitarian workers (see future blog XXX) however it is time to take a fresh look at commercially available off-the-self-software.

Remote Meetings: gotomeetings online service designed to support any remote meetings with collaborative presentation options and a few extras. Such meeting tools can tansform the regularity of meetings and of course let us know if others are not online as with chat services.

Sharing documents and folders: Foldermail is a new online service that is designed for the simple transfer of folders (and contained files) with a range of options that suit the needs of individuals, organisations or global corporations sending or updating documents remotely. This neat application integrates into Outlook (MS Office) and can be operated stand alone.