InSTEDD: Humanitarian Collaboration Tales

Location: Salon A-F Level: Novice

InSTEDD is currently developing a free, open source software and services platform for early detection and more effective response to emerging infectious diseases and humanitarian crises. We are approaching public health challenges as problems in human interaction, and we are exploring ways that new technologies and approaches may facilitate the transition from a detected event to collaborative analysis to collective action. InSTEDD has developed a strong network of technical partners, and we are doing innovative work in a number of areas, including collaborative metadata, social networking, communications in austere environments, spatiotemporal analysis, autonomous agents, mesh synchronization, and geospatial visualization. InSTEDD is currently launching field operations in Cambodia as our first pilot site, where we will be working closely to support the work of the Cambodian government, community public health organizations, and other national and international NGOs.

In our presentation at Where 2.0, we’d like to discuss the unique challenges of humanitarian collaboration and the role that location-based technologies may play, and we’d like to demonstrate a few of the tools we’ve built and explain how they are being used in Southeast Asia. What we have to say will, we hope, be cautionary but inspiring, and it will be an invitation for anyone who wishes to get involved to contribute their energy and imagination to addressing the challenge of helping communities around the world develop greater resilience in the face of emerging infectious diseases and other threats.

A core focus of InSTEDD’s work involves assisting communities, public health experts, and first responders to discover one another, create virtual teams, track one another’s work, and coordinate their efforts. Central to this challenge is the “who’s doing what where” problem. Consequently, location-based collaboration and geospatial visualization are incorporated into the InSTEDD platform in a number of ways.

Since our official launch in January of this year, InSTEDD has explored several approaches to location-based collaboration. The first of these was FNB (Friends Nearby) – a service integrating Google Maps, Facebook, and a custom-built Twitter bot framework into a proof of concept for a system that could be used by humanitarian health workers to discover when friends of colleagues they trust are in their vicinity. We have conducted experiments with Urban Search and Rescue Taskforce-3 in the use of SPOT Trackers in a pneumonic plague outbreak simulation, and we are exploring a number of issues related to the use of SMS to convey location data.

Our work in combining geospatial visualization includes a prototype called GeoChat, which allows multiple users with cell phones in the field to interact with a coordinator on the surface of a map (e.g. GE, VE, Google Maps); we will be evolving this prototype into a public health hotline service for tracking disease outbreaks in rural Cambodia. We’re currently developing a new kind of collaboration technology designed to allow users to generate collaborative metadata around streams of data, and here as elsewhere, geospatial data will play and central role. We are also conducting research into the role that maps and imagery may play in supporting complex humanitarian operations – including those times when they are not appropriate.

Photo of Robert Kirkpatrick

Robert Kirkpatrick


Robert Kirkpatrick is an expert in the design and use of technology to facilitate cross-organizational collaboration in austere field environments, developing countries, and sudden-onset emergencies. He has spent more than 10 years in collaboration technology, supporting the use of ICT for health data collection, disaster relief, NGO field security, telemedicine, conflict mediation, and civil-military cooperation. Robert’s work with technology industry partners, government agencies, and international humanitarian organizations has explored ways that system design may impact trust- building and information sharing behavior across cultural, organizational, and linguistic boundaries. Robert co-founded and led solutions development for two pioneering humanitarian technology teams, first at Groove Networks, and later at Microsoft where he served as Lead Architect for Microsoft Humanitarian Systems (MHS).

While at Microsoft, he and the MHS team designed a set of tools for mesh-based collaboration and low-bandwidth data transport among humanitarian workers in Afghanistan. Following the Pakistan earthquake in 2006, Robert worked on humanitarian relief solutions for earthquake victims in Kashmir, and he later prototyped a telemedicine application in Afghanistan.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Robert spent more than a month working with NGOs, military, and first responders in New Orleans and Mississippi, where he designed a suite of applications for registration, medical treatment, and family reunification. In 2005, as Lead Architect for Groove Humanitarian Systems, he developed the GIS-enabled DPKO SatComms tracking system used by UN Peacekeeping to manage global UN satellite communications. At the onset of the Iraq War, Robert developed the Virtual Iraqi Health Logistics Center, a system used during and after the invasion by both humanitarian and military personnel. He later worked in Baghdad under US Ambassador Paul Bremer as an advisor to the Coalition Provisional Authority Executive Secretariat. Robert is a member of the Executive Committee for the Strong Angel series of humanitarian disaster-response demonstrations. In 2006, he directed application integration for Strong Angel III in San Diego, CA, and in 2004 for Strong Angel II in Kona, Hawai’i. Robert holds a B.A. in Greek and Latin from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and has done graduate work in social anthropology at Harvard University.

Photo of Eduardo Jezierski

Eduardo Jezierski


Eduardo is the CTO of InSTEDD – working to create a world where
communities everywhere design and use technology to continuously
improve their health, safety and development. InSTEDD does it with
agile design in the field, local Innovation Labs, and an open-source
platform of mobile and cloud technologies that have improved lives
around the world, from Haiti to villages in South East Asia.

  • Autodesk
  • Google
  • ESRI
  • Nokia
  • DigitalGlobe
  • Earthscape
  • LightPole
  • MapJack
  • MapQuest
  • MetaCarta
  • Microsoft
  • Poly9
  • Skyhook Wireless
  • TeleAtlas
  • Yahoo! Inc.
  • Zvents
  • BNet

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