Crisis Mapping Social Media

A typical Ushahidi Core Team

When people want to set up a Ushahidi platform they normally ask how many people they should plan to manage the platform. The number of the people in the core team for a Ushahidi project really depends on the size of the project and on the information flow you create for your platform.

For instance, you definitely need a manager to manage all the operations, finances, stakeholders, raising finance, reporting, and a PR person, for the marketing, feedback and response to user needs, in addition to the Technical person, which will be monitoring and resolving all technical issues.

But if you have volunteers processing the information in the platform, like geo-coding and categorizing, then you will need a volunteer coordinator to manage them and do the training, who can also be the person that check for mistakes and control the overall quality of your information.

If you also think about closing the loop by having a direct contact with the responders in the field, then you will need also someone that keep this contact and make sure that responders get IMMEDIATELY the urgent information that needs a fast and immediate response. If the messages requiring this process are not too many, than the volunteer coordinator can do this as well, but if this is not the case, you will need a person doing this.

In the Chile instance we were a core team of 7 people, and we managed it well, in Haiti I think they were more or less 15. It all depends on how many information you will receive and how active you wanna be in the processing of information. I will suggest to start small but be ready to enlarge your team if the situation require it, cause you may need to have a dedicated person for each task to be able to follow all the related issues.

An ideal team for a large project would include:

1. Director – Managing the operations, coordination, administrative stuff including managing money (if there is any money!)
2. A Crisis mappers coordinator – managing and training volunteers doing geo-codification and categorization
3. A media monitor coordinator – managing and coordinating media monitoring team and media coverage
4. A media coordinator – managing relationships with the media, but also following the articles of the media on the platform, and also managing the Facebook page the twitter account and the blog (to advertise your work)
5. A Tech person – managing all the technical issues, problems and bugs
6. A PR/Outreach coordinator – managing the contact with the responders, and with other groups in the field using the platform and with Diaspora if present
7. eventually an Emergency team – managing direct relationships with the responders and with the users for very urgent communications
8. Verification Coordinator – trying to verify information before they get sent to the responders and to make sure of the quality of the information posted especially for urgent needs

You don’t necessarily need all this people, but if you platform get larger, and you start having a lot of information coming in, then you may want to consider to built such a structure. As far as I can tell based on my experience, I think that 4 people is the best start, the manager, the PR, the tech person and a volunteer coordinator to manage the geo-location and categorization and functioning also as overall quality control, verification when needed and emergency point, and then see how it goes.

The larger your core team gets, the more you need to focus on good communication in between the member of the core team , good team dynamics and PERFECT trust. The secret of managing a Ushahidi platform is to have a good work flow in place, instant communication and shared information between all the members. if you have those characteristic, then you don’t even need to be all in the same place.

The example of the PakReport project is perfect here: we are all in a different country, from England to Cairo, from Pakistan to the US. How do we communicate? We have a Google Group, and a dedicated Skype Chat for the core team, and in addition to that we use lots of shared documents when we want people to contribute to the same documents. I personally coordinate more than 70 volunteers on line by using a dedicated Skype Chat and a Google Group: everyone can be trained on line in the skype chat, and all the documentation, mapping links, instructions and so on are stored in the Google Group.

There is no “easy way” to start a Ushahidi project, but there are lessons learned. COMMUNICATION is the first one. Then the number of people can also be 100, it doesn’t matter.

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