The Case for a Crisis Information Fund

“Noise becomes data when it has a cognitive pattern; data becomes information when its assembled into a coherent whole which can be related to other information; informationbecomes knowledge when its integrated with other information in a form that is useful for making decisions and determining actions; knowledge becomes understanding when related to other knowledge in a manner useful in anticipating, judging and acting; understanding becomes wisdom when its informed by purpose, ethics, principals, memory and projection”  

– Dee Hock – 1996

The former CEO of Visa Dee Hock fully understood the importance of information in making decisions and determining the appropriate action to perform in the business world. This is even more important when managing crisis because decisions you make can mean the difference between life or death.

The response organizations like UN, Red Cross and the NGOs know that by investing in information management they can improve and make their work on the ground more targeted and thereby eliminate duplication and avoid gaps. At the same time they are faced with the reality that information is currently stuck in silos that don’t span organizations. Investments in technologies to improve this are hard because ICT is seen as operational costs and the donor community has been on a crusade to lower overhead.

At the other end of the spectrum you have the private sector, especially technology companies which firmly believe that technology can play a role in making business processes more efficient and lower the cost of achieving the goals they go after. We need to leverage the power of technology and get it to help us improve crisis information management.

But how do we get there if funding is stopping us from investing in this space? In my mind, an I know I am not alone, we need to have a renewed focused on this crucial aspect of crisis management and it does take a change in mindset from the donor community but also from the humanitarian community itself.

We in the humanitarian community need to be willing to break down those barriers and stop competing when it comes to information. We need to collaborate more and make the information we gather public to each other.

If we do this we can also start leveraging the passionate crowd of people out there that are willing to help us in collecting, processing, analyzing and disseminating the information we gather.

Today donors are mainly focusing on individual information management improvement projects instead of pushing for these collaborative, shared and open approaches.

What if we had the International Crisis Information Fund, supported by not only some of the usual suspects like USAID, DFID, SIDA, CIDA, World Bank, etc. but if we also got the tech sector and institutional funds to pitch into a single fund which focus it would be to improve crisis information availability, analysis and management?

A fund like that would focus on supporting projects that spanned multiple humanitarian actors, projects which pushed for opening up the access to data and sharing of that data. But it would not stop there, it would support grassroots efforts in creating, maintaining and supporting technological solutions that enabled the humanitarian actors to do their work more effectively. This kind of fund could also support the development of crisis information management training material and curriculum which would be freely shared among the humanitarian community. The fund might even consider becoming the core funding source for volunteer communities like MapAction which provide information capability into the field in times of crisis.

A fund like this might be a big dream and the air up at 36000 feet in the plane I am sitting while writing this might make me think strangely, but I have always believed in dreaming big and thinking outside the box.

I know an idea like this will face opposition from some of the traditional actors that will see this as something that might take away their current funding sources, but it is my firm believe that this would actually strengthen the work they are doing and increase the overall availability of funding in this space.

If you believe something like this could become a reality and want to help make it one, then send me a line and lets create a disruption in the way crisis information is funded.

Published October 4th 2010 at DisasterExpert