Become a Digital Humanitarian Open Data and Open Source for Good

Moderated by:
Kate Chapman (Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team)
Heather Leson (Ushahidi), Thea Aldrich (SecondMuse ), Pat Tressel (Sahana Software Foundation), Lindsay Oliver (Geeks Without Bounds), sara-jayne Terp (AppNexus)
Location: E144 Level: Novice
Average rating: ***..
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The idea of open source has now been around for decades. Open source software has spread all around the world. There is a specific subset of this movement known as Humanitarian Free and Open Source Software (HFOSS). HFOSS software isn’t always different from regular FOSS, often the very same tools are modified or utilized in new ways for humanitarian efforts. Sometimes software written for one purpose is remixed in ways that save lives, help governments respond to a disaster more quickly or even prevent the impact of a crisis from being as great. Today there are a variety of organizations and individuals that do this to help other people.

For example Ushahidi began during the violence following the Kenyan elections in 2008. It has since been modified, improved and remixed to report people who needed help after the earthquake in Haiti, reports of violence in Syria and to assist the United Nations by providing situation awareness in Libya. Random Hacks of Kindness (RHoK) is a series of weekend hackathons to bring developers together to help modify, develop and deploy software to help humanitarians. Software such as “I’m OK” has come from RHoK and been used to inform colleagues that people were okay after an event. MapMill is an open source project built originally by the Public Laboratory for Open Science, the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT) was able to modify it so that FEMA and the Civil Air Patrol of the United States could use it to focus efforts after hurricane Sandy by asking thousands of volunteers to look at photographs. HOT also helped communities use OpenStreetMap all over the world to better plan for disasters, not the original goal of OSM; the original goal being a free map of the entire world. Sahana Eden (Emergency Development ENvironment) is used by groups ranging from Occupy Sandy, to organize their distribution of relief supplies, to the IFRC Asia-Pacific, for managing inventory and personnel.

This panel will look at some of the successes and challenges of HFOSS, as well as how other can get involved. For example the data behind OpenStreetMap is entirely in English, how do you begin to use that in communities where English is not widely spoken. When reporting information in platforms such as Ushahidi how do you ensure the accuracy of the data when the purpose moves from an awareness tool to into a mechanism that people us to look for help? Random Hacks of Kindness(RHoK) brings developers together for quarterly hackathons to pair them with organizations that have technical problems. Geeks without Bounds and RHoK are now working together to make the software developed through these weekend events sustainable and useful for the organizations they are met to help. Do these problems and solutions sound exciting? Anyone can be involved in HFOSS in some way, this panel will help them get started.

Photo of Kate Chapman

Kate Chapman

Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team

Over the past 10 years Kate has mapped all sorts of things. Everything from mosquitoes, to individual houses for e911 to hurricanes and occasionally even things that don’t exist such as augmented reality games. A traditional geographer by training, switched to the “neogeography” realm a couple years ago.

Currently she is one of the individuals behind the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT). HOT utilizes the tools and techniques of OpenStreetMap to help communities prepare for disaster and rebuild when a disaster does strike.

Photo of Heather Leson

Heather Leson


Maps and hacks are Heather’s passion. Building on her over 10 years Internet technology background (IP, DNS and Incident Management), Heather is keen to connect people to solve real world problems. She is Director of Community at Ushahidi, a Kenyan free and open source company that builds information collection, data visualization and interactive mapping software. On any given day she could be supporting map projects ranging from elections to protests to anti-corruption to environmental topics.

Heather has been instrumental organizing in a number of open source communities including Random Hacks of Kindness and the Crisismappers Network.

Thea Aldrich


Thea serves as community manager for Random Hacks of Kindness.

Pat Tressel

Sahana Software Foundation

Way back in Ye Olde Days, when I was 16, my dad handed me a FORTRAN 4 manual — I’ve been programming ever since. After a detour through physics, I escaped from the University of Washington with an MS in Computer Science. I currently do tech support, software development, and student mentoring for the Sahana Software Foundation; work on autonomous mobile robots; and teach programming.

Photo of Lindsay Oliver

Lindsay Oliver

Geeks Without Bounds

Lindsay Oliver is the Content Creator for Geeks Without Bounds. A writer with a background in marketing, fashion, education, and technology, she wields her red pen with impunity for the purposes of making the highly technical more legible, the conceptual more grounded, and communication more clear. Highly involved in the hacker/maker community, Lindsay cares deeply about DIY and self-reliance, social engineering for good, with open communication as the founding principle to further these causes. She is located in Seattle and can be found dithering on about fashion and projects on her style blog, Rosalind Of Arden.

Photo of sara-jayne Terp

sara-jayne Terp


Data strategy, science, community.


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