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Online volunteers for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)

The online Libya Crisis Map was created by online volunteers in March 2011 at the request of OCHA. It displayed live online information relevant to humanitarian relief efforts in Libya. (OCHA/2011)The online Libya Crisis Map was created by online volunteers in March 2011 at the request of OCHA. It displayed live online information relevant to humanitarian relief efforts in Libya. (OCHA/2011)
15 December 2011

After the Libya crisis broke, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) relied on the service of hundreds of online volunteers who created and maintained a virtual map that showed live information about events in the country. The Libya Crisis Map provided relief organizations with information on health needs, security threats or refugee movements to help them plan their humanitarian response.

Together with the Stand By Task Force (SBTF), a group of online volunteers skilled in crisis mapping who launched the map, OCHA organized volunteers in teams with specific tasks. The media monitoring team, for example, extracted and edited information from traditional and social online media, including blogs, Twitter and Facebook, while the team of geo location volunteers identified the GPS (Global Positioning System) coordinates in order to plot the information on the map. The verification team was responsible for determining the accuracy and validity of reports and the analysis team produced trends analysis, charts and event clustering to provide the UN with regular updates.

The modular team structure, fully established work flows, processes and protocols ensured highest efficiency of the online collaboration, which was organized via Skype, Google Docs and a volunteer management website.

“These volunteers worked tirelessly under a great amount of stress to ensure the Libya Crisis Map was as good as possible. They provided a service that would not have been available without them,” says Andrej Verity, Information Manager at OCHA. A private version of the site was made available to the World Food Programme (WFP), the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNCHR) the Red Cross and USAID, and many other organizations.

Estella Reed was one of the online volunteers who coordinated the team of media monitors, trained new volunteers, organized schedules, helped define work flows and guidelines, and by the end of the project she also worked on the analysis team. “The work was eye-opening – a huge juxtaposition in terms of witnessing on the one hand the terrible human suffering and sadness caused by mankind, and on the other, the incredible use of new technologies, the way and speed in which technology evolves and can be put to such good use, and the incredible commitment of people – people who are prepared to dedicate a huge amount of time to helping others.”

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UNV is administered by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)