This is my third posting in a series that unlike most of what I write here, can perhaps best be considered a shared and open-ended rumination. I began writing about the changing, broadening nature of citizenship, and of belonging and membership in Part 1: shareholder value, stakeholder value, and openly-sourced social value, with a discussion of how our increasing interconnectedness through direct and immediate point to point communications bring us together. And I began discussing some of the issues and forces that would push back against that and against perceived homogenization and loss of local group identity in Part 2: membership, citizenship, loyalty and belonging, there focusing on issues of political will and the drive to maintain local and geographically defined control and identity.
• I turn in this posting to consider a second major source of pushback, as grounded in cultural identity and the will to maintain historically and experientially grounded local, national and regional identity and individuality.
And I begin by considering my own country, the United States of America, as a source of working examples. The United States is a nation of immigrants, with our citizens and our ancestry coming from every country and region and culture on the entire planet. We are called and we think of ourselves as a melting pot, while at the same time striving to preserve our cultural and regional individualities and distinctions, as well as our distinctly national identity. We are all Americans but we are also Poles and Hispanics, and even there differently origined Hispanics, Chinese and Japanese, Italians and Irish and so much more. It is estimated that some 800 languages are spoken in the New York City metropolitan area alone. And here living in this country as a whole we are New Englanders and Southerners, West Coast and Californians and Midwesterners and more. And we are Conservatives, and Liberals and Progressives, and Independents and more and Catholics and Jews and followers of Hinduism and Jainism and Buddhists and Atheists and Agnostics and more. We are the great melting pot but when you look into that pot you see essentially anything but homogeneity and uniformity. And our ubiquitous interconnectedness has not changed that. In ways it has simply accentuated our differences. This is because we all too often look for and find online voices and information sources that highlight our own local and group perspectives, and that support and justify them for the mirroring and repetition of message known and expected that flows back to us through them.
Pick any socially or economically or politically dividing and contentious issue and there are news sources and opinion sharing channels online and in the overall range of immediately available media that support each contending view, and with each such partisan perspective at the heart of the communications and information sharing of its own particular local community.
• There, local does not necessarily mean geographically local though. It can mean geographically diffused, but united as a single community by shared perceived identity.
• And when much of this connectivity is through cyber space, geographic position or localization do not matter, and in fact more groups can form and meaningfully connect and find identity together than could be possible if we were all limited to immediate geographic reach.
I could just as easily have cited the big and globally obvious cultural divisions of Latin America and the Middle East, or dividing things a bit differently, the predominantly Catholic countries or predominantly Christian countries in general and the largely Islamic world – with countries such as Indonesia added into the group of nations that reside in the Middle East and much of Latin America, and I add some significantly large African countries aligned with their European peers. On economic lines I could still cite First, Second and Third World countries, even if the Second World is very different now than initially envisioned when the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact where still present. My point is that we are and remain distinctively members of local and localized groups and whether or not those groups are strictly geographically bound. And the tools of our increasing interconnectedness can also serve to maintain the boundaries that divide and define us, and on religious and socioeconomic and political and ethnic and linguistic grounds and more.
But for all of this, connectedness across those boundaries continues to leak through and the barriers and boundaries that I write of here and that I noted in Part 2 continue to become just that tiny incremental measure more porous every single day. What brands to people look for, everywhere and globally? What music and YouTube videos go viral and globally? We retain our group identities but we also seek to embrace and capture elements of an increasingly more global culture too. And the politically motivated isolationism of nation states such as Iran and North Korea, as noted in Part 2, simply makes those foreign and global alternatives that much more attractive when word of them does leak through – yes making those governments strive all that more actively to stop the inflow and the leaks.
I stated in Part 1 that:
• Our increasing interconnectedness brings us together and in ways that make those old borders transparent for more and more of our actual lives – and in our business lives and where monetizable value is concerned as much as in any other aspects of our lives.
And I noted in that context that I fully expect that the transformations we are still just viewing the start to here, will be viewed societally as a great historic shift as our descendants look back at this 21st century and define its historical meaning. I write that thinking of the little and simply assumed local barriers and distinctions that form and fade to be replaced by new as local social and political groups form and carry through and fade away. I write this thinking of the massive efforts of nations such as China with its Great Firewall, as their government seeks – ultimately futilely to isolate their peoples both from open communications with the outside world and with themselves.
• Our sense and understanding of belonging and of membership and alliance and allegiance and of citizenship are all at least beginning to shift and change, and will continue to do so, and in ways we can only partly guess at now.
I am going to end this short series here with this third installment but I am certain to keep coming back to issues raised here and by the changes and shifts that I write of here. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time and its continuation page, and also at my United Nations Global Alliance for ICT and Development (UN-GAID) directory page.
This is my second posting in a series that unlike most of what I write here, can perhaps best be considered a shared and open-ended rumination. I began writing about the changing, broadening nature of citizenship, and of belonging and membership in Part 1: shareholder value, stakeholder value, and openly-sourced social value, with a discussion of how our increasing interconnectedness through direct and immediate point to point communications bring us together. And I wrote of how this is even serving to standardize and homogenize our understandings of belonging and of citizenship and on a more open and even global scale.
I turn here to consider sources of push-back to that and of boundary and distinction preservation, in the face of the challenge to come together that our increasingly ubiquitous interconnectedness is creating. And the primary forces that would bring us together are met by and will continue to be met by powerful forces and voices of difference and individuality too. I would at least tentatively divide those forces into two distinct, if interrelated spheres:
1. Political will and the drive to maintain local and geographically defined control and identity, and
2. Cultural identity and the will to maintain historically and experientially grounded identity.
And I begin with the first of those and with the personally, individually anecdotal example of my own experience with this blog. When I go to my blog admin dashboard I can see where my site visitors come from at least to the level of what country their IP addresses are associated with. And looking back over the past months and over the past year to where visitors come from by country, I see a very telling pattern emerge that I suspect will not prove all that surprising and certainly for its gaps.
I get at least occasional visitors from some 130 countries and consistent visitors and readers from a swath of them that are globally distributed. That is to be expected for any blog or web site that shows openly online and that conveys a significant volume of content of a type that would address general interests. So when I look at the map of the world on my visitors location listings, I see a significant range of coverage, color and shade coded as to how many have visited from which individually identified geographic areas. But I also see some very predictable gaps. I get a significant number of blog visitors from South Korea for example but to the best of my knowledge I have never had one from North Korea. I get visitors from virtually all of the countries of the Middle East and from the Islamic world in general – but never from Iran. There are a number of tiny population island nations that I at most rarely get visitors from, but I refer here to larger population countries and to countries where there is at least some online access – and for all of its poverty and backwardness that does include North Korea.
The leadership of countries such as Iran and North Korea see the potential for breaking down barriers in open online communications and information sharing, but they see this as dire threat. It is not just my blog that they block – a government such as the Kim dynasty regime of North Korea, or the orthodox religious leadership of Iran with its Ayatollahs in control seeks to block all unfiltered access to the outside world, and I add all unfiltered conversation within their borders too.
China provides an interesting if somewhat complex case in point that in many ways proves any points that I would make here, by the way its at least a partial exceptions to the principles I discuss. My blog is specifically blocked by the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) Great Firewall, or their Golden Shield Project as it is officially called, and it has been since I first started writing about China and its information control practices and policies. But I still get some blog visitors who specifically show as coming from mainland China and the PRC – and who can officially bypass their firewall. I get a lot more from Hong Kong and on a quite regular basis. They are formally a part of the PRC now, but Hong Kong is specifically excluded from the coverage area of the Golden Shield Project and from that level and form of centrally controlled and mandated censorship. I also get a lot of visitors from Taiwan – the Republic of China. And when my blog was first blocked in Mainland China itself, I suddenly started getting large numbers of visitors from places like Christmas Island. I feel free to cite that detail now as the anonymizer servers there, used to help people bypass censorship systems are long known of by the people who run the Golden Shield Project and blocked by it.
• Open governments that feel confidence in their holding truth and value and that hold to principles that can withstand scrutiny and comparison do not do this.
• Fragile governments that fear alternative views and the power of communication and knowledge do.
But my first numbered point at the top of this blog does not only refer to the extremes of repressive, frightened governments.
• One of the principle functions of any government is the protection and continuation of its own separate identity and existence, as the overall voice of authority over its territories and its citizens.
This holds for open and democratic governments that respect and support human rights and freedom of speech as much as any others. Open and democratic governments are simply more willing to embrace the challenge of open and free communications, connectivity and information and knowledge sharing. But even they tend to set limits, and that is where classified information and its position in national security enter this narrative. And considering the United States as a source of working examples for that, this is where:
My intent here is not to argue the case either way as to the merits of secrecy or confidentiality of information in general or of information that could be seen as holding national security value – or even to particularly discuss it. I simply note its existence here and the fact that governments and governmental leaders and voices of authority seek to defend their rights to hold information internal to their governments and to their countries. All of these examples I have noted in this posting from the most repressive to the most open hold one crucial point in common. They all represent centralized and governmental pushback against completely open homogenization and the breaking down of borders and boundaries.
I am going to continue this discussion in a next series installment where I will focus on that second numbered point at the top of this posting, and cultural identity-based pushback. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time and its continuation page, and also at my United Nations Global Alliance for ICT and Development (UN-GAID) directory page.
Citizenship in an increasingly global context 1: shareholder value, stakeholder value, and openly-sourced social value
I write a lot about the immediately here and now and about the near-term future where that would be measured in terms of coming fiscal quarters and years. I find myself thinking forward a bit further with this posting, and with an eye to things yet to be, but that I see as coming. One of them involves the complex set of issues that we think of as constituting citizenship, and how that is changing and will further change as our world becomes more and more interconnected, and more and more a single overarching community. I begin this discussion by at least briefly touching on issues of ownership and belonging, and there with two interrelated but distinct long-standing concepts: shareholder and stakeholder.
Shareholders – owners of corporate equity in the form of stock shares are often equated at least in a business context with stakeholders in those ventures and certainly for publically traded companies. This is not necessarily an indefensible position, as corporate shareholders have skin in the game when they have taken the risk of making an investment in that business’ future. Whether a shareholder is an individual or an organizational investor such as an investment fund, shareholders commit their own financial resources and accept the risk of possible loss of investment capital, when seeking out profits and gain. But ownership position of this type and I add direct business ownership in general, while important forms of stakeholder position, together only constitute one valid view of what it means to be a stakeholder, and for profit businesses are only one of many organizational constructs in which stakeholder positions can be taken, and where the concept of stakeholder makes sense.
I write this posting with a wider understanding and conceptualization of stakeholdership in mind and note in that context that there are a variety of nonmonetary ways that individuals, families, groups and organizations can meaningfully and significantly put skin in the game and hold vested interest. My focus here, more explicitly is on societal commitment and involvement and on investing of one’s life and its quality in pursuit of a greater more socially connected good.
The world that we live in is becoming more and more real-time connected every day, and with ubiquitous connectedness and capability of involvement from seemingly anywhere to seemingly anywhere and at any time. Our basic framework of borders and boundaries from before the Internet, and from before electronic communications per se still fundamentally remains unchanged and in place, frontier-defining anachronisms and all. For centuries, to cite a simple example of that, a country bounded by open ocean was, considered to hold national ownership of its off-shore waters to a distance of some three nautical miles – as that was the range that they could reach from shore battery positioned cannon fire. The specific ranges have changed but defensibility is still a significant measure of where nationally owned gives way to open waters and international rules of law for access, right of passage and ownership.
Functionally, and as a matter of day to day realities the political borders and boundaries that we see on our maps and read of in the news may still hold meaning to us. We still identify ourselves as being citizens of specific countries and as residing in or traveling through specific countries, and we still conduct explicitly intranational and international business. But every day and in an increasingly many number of ways we in effect go through those boundaries as if they did not exist, and certainly when acting and interacting in cyberspace. The servers and other hardware that we connect and interact through all have physical locations that map into that old boundary-defined grid. But we don’t even think about that or what our cyber passage across it means for most of our routine day to day activities and lives. And one consequence of this is that we take part in and join in and even take meaningful stakeholder positions and positions that we see as holding ownership value, that cut across those old divisions.
Some of this is financial and more aligned with a more traditional shareholder or investor conception of stakeholder, and I add home ownership and other more directly monetizable ownership positions to shareholder ownership there. Increasingly, more and more of this is less formally defined and non-monetizable in nature. We feel a sense of ownership as a matter of accepting responsibility for our online and global connectedness, and we see ourselves as stakeholders through that. Social networks come immediately to mind there, and that includes social networks that organize and sustain for essentially any reason and that might have been started by essentially any type of organization. Members become stakeholders and see themselves as co-owners, and particularly as they become more actively involved and invested through their networks.
I began this posting with the word and concept “citizen” and with the above stated, come back to that point of focus again. Citizenship has traditionally referred to a very local vision and understanding, and legal framework of belonging and responsibility. Citizenship has traditionally been bounded by traditional national boundaries. We still, as I noted above, may of us see ourselves and think of ourselves as being citizens of one country but in our day to day actions we are increasingly acting as if we were citizens of a larger and even global community.
I write this as a citizen of the West for a larger regional designator, and of an old boundary specified nation within that where financial ownership is a defining form of stakeholdership – as is the more nonmonetary skin in the game ownership of nationally oriented patriotism. I also write this as a citizen of this world who has traveled and lived and worked in other countries and who has participated in – and yes come to see stakeholder responsibilities and co-ownership in many other countries and regions and in ways that cut across the old boundaries too.
Will we end up living under a one world government with all of us accepting membership and citizenship in a single planet-wide country? That is a dream many have considered, and as both a utopian and dystopian vision of a possible future. And as a working example of how that distinction plays out just consider how positively and negatively an organization such as the United Nations can be viewed. I do not know the answer to that question but I am certain that the question itself is likely to become moot and non sequitur, as our increasing interconnectedness brings us together and in ways that make those old borders transparent for more and more of our actual lives – and in our business lives and where monetizable value is concerned as much as in any other aspects of our lives. In effect, we will resolve that question by making it go away into irrelevance – and in ways we cannot yet fully see.
I am a shareholder in ways and in organizations and systems that do not fit the old monetizable forms or explanations and so are you and everyone else around you and we are all increasingly so, every single day. More to the point, I am increasingly a stakeholder in ways that transcend national or nationalistic boundaries and that is a reality we are all coming to face. What that means, we are still collectively working out, and that process I fully expect will be viewed societally as a great historic shift as our descendants look back at this 21st century and define its historical meaning.
I am sure to write further on this in future postings and have in fact set this posting up as a first in a new series. I will add more. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time and its continuation page, and also at my United Nations Global Alliance for ICT and Development (UN-GAID) directory page.
I have written a number of times about change management, with much of that appearing in my Business Strategy and Operations and its Part 2continuation page. I have also written about crisis management, with that primarily appearing in my directory: United Nations Global Alliance for ICT and Development (UN-GAID), where I have focused on crises in which I have been involved in remediation efforts, through participation with that agency.
I recently found myself citing the two sets of issues together in a posting on leadership: Re-Visioning Leadership 6 – finding new ways forward in addressing change management challenges 1 and its Re-Visioning Leadership 7 continuation. My goal for this posting is to explicitly address the gap between crisis and change management, and how they are related and interconnect, and how they differ too.
I begin by noting a crucial area of overlap:
• A need for change management develops over an extensive and even prolonged period of time. Change management addresses long term inefficiencies and organizational and operational disconnects that have collectively brought a business to a true crisis situation.
• So every crisis might not call for or necessarily lead to a need for explicit change management per se. But the situations that lead up to a need for change management frequently and even usually remain unaddressed until that business is directly facing impending crisis.
As a point of clarification here, I would divide crisis situations as falling into two basic and distinctive categories:
• An acute crisis is a crisis that comes about as a result of an unanticipated and even unpredictable event, and with sudden severity.
This might mean a sudden and unpredictable natural disaster such as a flood, hurricane or earthquake, or it might be more of a manmade event such as a fire in a neighboring building, brought about by human carelessness but with damage that extends outward. I am thinking of a specific incident there in which a nonprofit I was involved with lost their building too, when the building next door burned down.
• An emergent crisis is one that develops and builds up over a perhaps very extended period of time.
Once again, these crises might develop as a result of ongoing natural events or through human actions – or as a result of a combination of natural and manmade cause. But the nature and potential severity of potential crisis challenge is not seen, or if it is, it is not appreciated for its potential scale and significance. Change management becomes necessary when emergent crises develop and to the point of severity and immediacy that they can no longer be overlooked or downplayed, or seen as other than what they are: true crises.
And that is the point where this narrative becomes more complicated. A crisis trigger: an event that immediately brings about and causes a crisis and even a true acute crisis might not be individually predictable. But the possibility of that crisis event happening might be statistically predictable, even if the specific event isn’t, and with sufficient time it might even be viewed as likely. And here I think of an individually unpredictable event such as Hurricane Sandy. This specific storm could not be predicted on anything like a long-term basis, and its specific storm path and timing most definitely could not be, with a maximum storm surge pushing up the Hudson River and into lower Manhattan and adjacent New Jersey and Long Island coasts at a full moon and at a peak high tide. But with global warming an increasingly understood challenge and with increased risk of massive storms and storm damage an increasingly known reality coming from that, the possibility of such a storm hitting the Northeast of the United States has been known. So if flooding was known to be a real danger if such a storm were to develop, why did so many facilities close to the Hudson and East River locate their emergency backup generators and other crisis management equipment at ground level or below, at basement level?
So Hurricane Sandy was a true acute crisis and one immediately resulting from an individually unpredictable trigger event. But the possibility of acute crisis was known and even prepared for. The problem was and I add still is, that too much of this preparation can at best be considered a source of false security. And this is where the type of preparation and strategic planning that would go into preventing a need for change management enters this narrative.
• The same types of preparation can be developed and put in place for limiting the likelihood of an acute crisis, or at the very least lessening its impact, as would be used to prevent a need for change management.
• Both call for a deep and well considered understanding of where the business or organization is now, and what its overall risk profile actually is.
• And both call for a real understanding of the risks of occurrence as well as consequences in the event that a risk is realized. Prioritization of preparation as a first cut would in most cases be based on comparison of the relative numbers developed by multiplying the cost if an adverse event happening, by the likelihood of it happening.
Considering Hurricane Sandy, global warming’s increase in the likelihood of a massive storm hitting, with massive storm surge flooding, would increase the perceived need to prepare for that type of event, and with the costs of preparation required – here moving backup generators and other resources to higher floors.
So there are some real differences between crisis management and change management, and most definitely where there are no realistic bases for determining likelihood of an acute triggering event occurring. But in many cases, and even when a specific event cannot be predicted, change and crisis have a great deal in common, besides both calling for significant response to what has become a significant source of problems.
You can find this and related postings at Business Strategy and Operations and its Part 2 continuation page, and also at United Nations Global Alliance for ICT and Development (UN-GAID).
I frequently find myself looking at disaster and recovery management from the perspective of information and communications systems and the role they need to play. I want to step back from that orientation of focus in this posting to look at the larger picture, and in this I start with Haiti and the example it sets as to how much can go wrong and how rapidly that can happen and for so may basic systems and resources.
I would start with a basic guideline:
• You should plan as if all of the infrastructure that supports and sustains communities and society in the afflicted area are down, and that no infrastructure is left standing.
• Then any resources that remain can simply be added in as serendipitous and as making the emergency response and recovery easier and faster than the worst case planned and prepared for.
• Then you are ready to deal with any systems and resources that are significantly degraded or completely down, and hopefully without any major gaps in what you have planned to develop and provide. Surprises can kill in this so you need to be ready for as much of anything as realistic and possible.
What was brought down or at least significantly degraded in capacity and functionality in Haiti in the earthquake?
What was already significantly impaired even before the earthquake and from what? For this later question and with Haiti in mind that would include but not be limited to agricultural systems and food production due to virtually complete deforestation with resulting soil erosion problems and from recent massive hurricanes.
Putting together the laundry list of resource systems generates a long list, some of which would be:
1. Food production and distribution systems.
2. Potable water and water quality assurance testing.
3. Emergency medical supplies and their distribution.
4. Longer term medical care resources (which would include medical resources necessary for people with diabetes and high blood pressure, and other chronic conditions, and capabilities and resources like vaccination programs which can become of immediate pressing need very quickly.)
5. Housing and shelter.
6. Police and Fire, and other emergency services.
7. Schools and educational systems and resources.
8. Government infrastructure necessary for local and national governments in afflicted areas to reestablish process and order, and rule of law.
9. Social support systems.
There are, of course a lot of other possible entries for a list like this, and I explicitly note that I did not put communications systems or information and communications systems into this list. That is for a reason.
These systems are important and even crucial resources in and of themselves, but they are also key enablers for making any of the rest work. In this, information and communications services are necessary to:
• Understanding the current and changing situation and its requirements and current capabilities and ideally in real time and with a fine granularity for place.
• Knowing the key needs and priorities for setting schedules and for carrying out strategically effective operations.
• Benchmarking progress and identifying early where a plan B is needed and what it should be.
I will add that a quick review of the resource needs list above includes ones like emergency medical support that are obviously going to be needed early and with as wide and deep an implementation as possible. This list also includes points like number 7 – educational systems and resources. Establishing order and the comfort of orderliness and support is important and that does not just mean posting police with guns by the bank or pharmacy with all their windows gone. This means establishing and reestablishing livable societal systems and educational systems are an important part of that. So I add a fourth basic guideline bullet point to the three I started with, towards the top of this posting:
• Opportunistically develop and contribute to parts of the overall response and recovery that might not in and of themselves be highest priority where this can be done with resources already at hand, and where this effort would not delay or interfere with meeting the immediate, high priority tasks and goals at hand. Look for opportunities to do this and jump on them where they arise.
I will add that these efforts and initiatives, even if just gestures of more widespread immediate response can have a very positive impact of individuals, families and communities. This can help develop and maintain community support and stave off the despair, fear and anger that lead to violence and organized violence. So this can in fact significantly help get the higher immediate needs tasks and priorities moving and in the right direction from their contributions to community morale and support.
• Focus in this on the add-ons that will more effectively contribute to restoring community morale and building community support.
When I work with people at UN-GAID and when I write of this organization and my participation in it here in this blog I usually find myself thinking, speaking, writing and taking action with a distinct information and communications technology (ICT) and systems perspective. UN-GAID is not and cannot be the only organized voice or response for ICT in any disaster or recovery response, and both local and national organizations and efforts have to be taken into account, and with nonprofit and NGO (non-governmental organization) inclusion, private sector for-profit inclusion and governmental and international inclusion of many sorts. But even that cannot be enough if it would mean simply looking at ICT problems and opportunities as if in a vacuum.
This has to be done both in coordination with, and in support of every aspect of the larger, comprehensive effort and in coordination with the full range of contributing partners in all efforts. And we have to collectively work on developing ICT capabilities that facilitate, enable, and accelerate the implementation of response to everything else. This has to potential to save many, many lies and not just from the immediate impact of the disaster – from longer term and even chronic problems and deficiencies too.
Following is an extensive excerpt from a letter I sent out to the UN-GAID Champions Network and select others, as part of an ongoing discussion of emergency relief and disaster recovery planning.
I have seen emails discussing specific ICT components and other hardware and software elements that could be added into a more comprehensive response — in an early post-event emergency response or a longer term recovery and rebuilding response or both. I have also seen some very interesting and provocative response scenario documents that have been developed with specific types of disasters in mind as planning tools.
I first got seriously involved in this area in the mid 1990′s and from the perspective of healthcare systems. I was, for example an official observer in the New York City ICE (the Interagency Chemical Exercise testing capacity of emergency responder systems to respond to a simulated nerve gas attack as part of the then US Domestic Preparedness Program). I was already involved with planning committees and initiatives that come together to develop loose leaf binders of scenario testing with conclusions, and generally with planning proposals in case the real thing ever happened. Unfortunately, most of these documents simply ended up on shelves collecting dust so they would not have been helpful if those real events had happened. They did not in any way enter into ongoing thinking, planning or practice after the exercises were over.
• We need to know what system components are available, and where and in what numbers and in what time frames.
• This inventory level information has to be both updatable and updated, and it should be maintained in more than one location so as to avoid single point of failure problems in the event a repository site itself be affected by a disaster. (Remember the NYC emergency preparedness command center located in one of the World Trade Center towers as proof that can happen.)
• At the same time we need updatable, flexible, scalable planning that would inform assembling systems on the fly, and checking and updating them as needed.
• Scalable is incredibly important here, and the devil, to cite an old expression, really is in the details. So for example, it is really helpful to have and to learn from planning related to local events that do not necessarily affect the surrounding support infrastructure — consider the fire/explosion in a key tunnel scenario and planning as an example. But we also need to be able to incorporate lessons learned at that scale to one where damage is just as profound and on all support systems on both ends of that tunnel and extending to and beyond the horizon from there.
Planning for flexibility and scalability are everything and this is definitely a case where ICT would play the pivotal role as you need to reestablish communications and information flow, and you need to be able to convert raw data to actionable knowledge to make any type of response work, for food or water, or medical relief efforts or any of the rest.
This becomes an issue of logistics and of supply chain, and if I were to recommend a background reading reference here that is probably not on the average ICT or emergency preparedness reference desks it would be:
• Fung, Victor K, Fung, William K. and Y. Wind. (2008) Competing in a Flat World: building enterprises for a borderless world. Wharton School Publishing.
I cite this book for the way it discusses dynamic sourcing and supply chains, noting that much of the underlying approach developed for a business context as in this book would apply to building a rapid emergency response system too.
We need to look to best practices and to ongoing experiences and lessons learned from ICT and from emergency responses and recovery effort. We also need to think outside of those particular boxes as there are other systems that have had to go through the learning curves of speed, flexibility and efficiency.
As a request to members of the Champions Network as well as to UN-GAID and associated, please share those white papers and Powerpoints, but be sure to include enough details so a reader could pick up all the key points without having been there for the original presentation. This is particularly important for Powerpoints where they are often developed as visual aids and not as complete stand-alone documents. That would make them a lot more helpful and especially where scalability and adjustability to meet specific local conditions are important, and for more general planning and discussion.
I would propose as a high priority agenda item that we begin to really focus on the big picture and in developing a framework that the individual technology and other components could be flexibly connected into. This would then be reality checked as issues like staging areas and sites for resources access and warehousing are considered. This would also be reality checked and adjusted as insights from Haiti and other events and places are brought to bear. This would be adjusted as well, as more participants and partners become involved, as national and regional and international organizations and from other supportive entities.
I will point out that other components of the United Nations would also have to be involved, and certainly as sources of insight and best practices. One that comes immediately to mind for me is the UN Peacekeeping Force. The longer the delay in responding to a disaster, the more societal dislocation, distress and anger has to be dealt with and worked around and through. Disruption can become a lot more organized too, and a lot more dangerous as a result. Real world experience identifying and dealing with issues here, and with knowing how to more effectively identify and work with local authority in the midst of chaos would be invaluable and for the people focusing on developing ICT solutions in the midst of that too.
I have been adding some of my thoughts on all of this into my blog and offer a link here to my new category page where I have all of this brought together in one place:
Share your ideas and proposals, and information on resources that could be added to this mix. Collectively we have a lot to offer that would really offer benefit and to a great many people — but only if we can bring this collective knowledge and insight together to build from it.
One of my colleagues in the UN-GAID networking group, their Champions Network raised some interesting and even disturbing questions in an email to me regarding our collective effort to more effectively respond to disasters. We have been discussing how to better organize within the UN-GAID community and we have discussed issues related to working more effectively in the UN context and as a component to its overall emergency response and relief efforts. This discussion has also started to explore issues related to reaching out to NGO’s and other organizations and to local and national governments. But the United Nations is geared almost entirely towards working with nations and their governments, and as sovereign entities that are and that remain firmly in control of their territory and of events taking place within it.
When the Port au Prince earthquake hit virtually every government building was damaged if not destroyed. Fortunately, the President of Haiti was able to announce soon after the earthquake that while the presidential palace was heavily damaged and even currently uninhabitable he was still alive and able to carry out his duties and responsibilities. But what would have happened if he and his senior governmental leadership were suddenly absent, or at least out of communication and unreachable? I would raise this as a question of importance for a lot more than just the one small part of the overall United Nations organization that I happen to participate with.
Quite simply I do not know that any UN agency or organization has plans ready and in place for dealing with that level and type of situation, and add that any such planning would have to come from the level of the Secretary General and with the approval and involvement of the Security Council and probably the entire General Assembly. Quite simply, the more severe the dislocation to ongoing governance and chain of command and authority in the area affected by a disaster, the more important that there be close coordination in responses taken, and preplanning as to what would be done and by whom and under what authority. Coordination and organization would make all the difference and for a great many lives.
I drafted the following list of discussion points with a much more focused and preliminary intent than attempting to outline the processes for a comprehensive and leading response to disaster, and did so with UN-GAID and its Champions Network in mind. I share these notes here in this context of pointing out a need for a much more comprehensive and much more collective planning effort.
1. “When the government that would have to be worked with is itself so significantly affected as to be unable to function, one key role that outside services could provide would be assistance reestablishing communications, etc. The issue here would not be one of “this is what needs to be done and this is how we are doing it” but rather one of “here are communications and other resources to help you get back on your feet and online and in control of the situation. Now, what can we do to help you?”
2. “I am fairly sure that the UN leadership at its senior level would be more than just reluctant to in any way act in a manner that could be viewed as usurping sovereign national authority, but acting in support of such authority and helping it reestablish itself as a working entity would be supported so long as actions taken met UN charter, treaty and other guidelines. The signatory member nations that are part of the UN and that constitute its authority would all side with supporting and against supplanting national authority and would err on the side of not even allowing for possible perception of trying to take over.
3. “I would like to learn more about the ITU and its response to this crisis. My interest definitely involves better understanding that organization and its capabilities and its area of effective action. I also see this as a potential source of best practices for UN-GAID and the Champions Network to learn from. (N.B. The ITU is actively involved in this relief effort and it is important for all groups and organizations to learn from each other in preparing to more effectively contribute.)
4. “Whatever else might be said about a military organization stepping in to manage a crisis and restore order, and this can be a tender topic for some countries, the Pakistani army is a Pakistani organization, internal to that country. That gives it an entirely different standing and both within the country and outside of it than any external effort would engender. (N.B. This point was added in response to notes shared regarding that organization’s role in assisting and resolving disaster in their country and as a military organization.)
5. “Timing is everything here, and both for start of assistance and for duration of assistance. I will add that how any authority or control is handed over to local and national authority is very important in all of this, as the goal has to transparently in services rendered and their effectiveness, and in restoring local management and control.
6. “The real problem would be where devastation was so complete as to effectively decapitate the government. The president of Haiti lost both his own home and the presidential palace but he was at least still there to share word of this with the world — and quickly after the quake happened.
7. “Any steering committee from the UN-GAID Champions Network has to work closely with both GAID leadership and with the larger organization as it is all but certain that no one has really planned for anything even beginning to approach worst case, and even with more limited disasters there are a lot of gaps. Just look at the delays for recent disasters we have all seen.
8. “I understand how the official position for an organization – an alliance like UN-GAID would focus its efforts in the direction of facilitating efforts by the Champions Network, but we need to coordinate and not just on ICT issues, as ICT cannot make any sense or offer any value if simply considered and provided in an otherwise vacuum. This connects directly with my point 7, above.
“Please feel free to share this email with others as you see fit and thank you for your thoughtful participation in this and for reaching out to include others in it. Right now, my concern is in getting this steering committee set up and running. What are your thoughts as to first/next steps? I will call Roberto on Monday and see what I can do in coordination with his office.”
The basic thrust of this posting is a need to consider and prepare for the events and possibilities that we would most wish to avoid, least we be overcome by events if anything like them were to happen. Planning and preparation are crucial in advance of any such event and communications and networking would be of central importance in making any such plans work. Here, the key would be in wireless and satellite communications and in ubiquitous computing and communications. Consider Haiti here where the main undersea communications cable to the country was lost to a turbidity current that resulted directly and immediately from the earthquake that did so much damage on land. Many of the buildings housing satellite uplink-capable resources were lost with all in them. It has to be assumed that wires in place will not work and that wireless would be the only rapidly deployable option. But any such implementation would require effectively resolving some very difficult and complex issues of jurisdiction and governance. That is what I set out to at least touch upon with this posting as an area needing detailed discussion and decision.
Words are important and the fact that the A in GAID stands for Alliance rather than Agency is important. Nevertheless, we are in a crisis and as Sinclair Stockman has so ably put it, we need to work together in an organized effort to have beneficial impact.
I have touched on some of the issues where a lack of coordination would create difficulties and simply add that it is the “none of the above” ones that blind side us from disconnected, independent effort that will really hurt.
But UN-GAID is an alliance of independent individuals, groups and organizations that come together in shared appreciation for the value and importance of the UN-GAID mission. That is just part of our reality, even if I tend to short-hand call the organization an agency where it is just a component of one as far as agency per se is concerned. This is not the important issue right now. The really important issue is in how we can best work together to more effectively address this crisis where we are the group with a clear and distinct ICT focus.
I spoke with Roberto yesterday afternoon and he mentioned two things I would share here – one was that he would like to meet with me and to be actively involved with the Champions Network and the community that has formed around GAID and its mission. The other thing is that he mentioned the term “steering committee”.
If UN-GAID is going to primarily serve as a clearing house and a networking node for members of the Champions Network to come together through, for developing a shared, collective response as a community, then that might be an answer, with a group of people who are willing to devote blocks of time and effort to helping us all get and stay connected serving on the committee. I would be happy to so contribute and ask that others who have been actively involved in the discussion and in follow through join in too.
• Members of this group would work together to help make sure that people preparing to provide ICT pieces of the relief and recovery puzzle connect so as to avoid unproductive duplications in effort, close gaps in effort and that resources brought to bear work together smoothly, and effectively for the Haitian context as it now stands. This will definitely involve due diligence analysis of potential issues that might help or hinder the ongoing effort and sharing the results of this analysis and discussion with the GAID community as a whole. Here, the focus would be on how the individual contributions fit together both in planning and as plan B’s become necessary in execution.
• This would require openness and transparency in discussion and in its follow through.
• One really important goal for this steering committee, that unfortunately has not been effectively carried out in the past is the development of best practices knowledge that could go into accelerating a response to any future disaster event. After the smoke clears on the disaster in Haiti, we need to stay there to help with the rebuilding, and after this is no longer a hot news topic. Just as importantly we need to set up a new steering committee to work on planning for the next one and for developing faster, more effective short-time frame capabilities – an emergency response planning and preparations steering committee.
None of these efforts can come strictly from otherwise primarily disconnected efforts, however motivated or effective in and of themselves.
I will add with this as context that we have to think on two very distinct time frames here – the immediate here and now of Haiti and its crisis and the longer term one of learning from it as a group and as an organization. And as a preview note on that, many groups and organizations within the UN, among NGO’s that affiliate with it, etc have at least some ICT capabilities – but for most all of them this is not their core mission or central to it. They develop and maintain ICT such as they do on an ad hoc basis and with their own perhaps large, perhaps small part to any overall emergency relief or recovery effort in mind and that means disconnects will happen, slowing everything down. As an alliance so connected to the United Nations and with ICT as its one central mission and focus, UN-GAID should be in a position to develop and disseminate ICT best practices to a wider organizational audience and community. This in and of itself would help make any future emergency response faster and more effective as the shared best practices and common standards so developed and used would limit some of our current bottlenecks and barriers.
If someone would like to propose an alternative to the alliance-oriented steering committee approach I suggest, please share it with the group but how ever we do this, we should do something pretty quickly to make sure we put together the best collective effort and contribution of resources that we can.