How not to engage

Originally posted here: http://collaborynth.com.au/blog/how-not-engage

Hot on the heals of the announced cuts to the US online transparency programme comes another example of “How not to do Gov2.0”

For those of you who may not be aware, the New Zealand city of Christchurch suffered a large earth quake (6.1 on the scale) back in late February, causing wide spread damage and taking the lives of 166 people. Very soon after the earthquake hit, the government went into action to manage the disaster, and number of volunteer groups stepped up to the plate to assist the people of Christchurch.

One such organisation was Crisis Commons, a loose global organisation of hackers and people who JFDI with a focus on crisis management technology and thinking. Through the hastily organised CrisisCampNZ they drew together people and volunteers from around New Zealand and around the world. Quickly they through up the site eq.org.nz, an aggregator of both official and unofficial channels of information regarding the disaster, it very quickly became an effective tool for informing the residents of Christchurch about the disaster and the details they needed to know.

Now as is almost inevitable in situations like this, the success of the Crisis Commons team lead to some concern within government agencies that there might be a conflict between eq.org.nz and “official” channels so Tim McNamara (one of the leads at CrisisCampNZ) was contacted. This is where the fail starts to set in.

According to this post by the excellent Nicholas Gruen over at Club Troppo what appears to have been a genuine contact requesting a briefing from Tim over the course of two days descended into “don’t call us, we’ll call you” (yes, even though they did the initial calling).


Sadly I think this is an excelent example of Government NIH (Not Invented Here) syndrome. If you read the post, you’ll note that unofficially Tim and Co. had been getting rave reviews from inside the departments working in Christchurch for the work that eq.org.nz was doing, however when it came to taking the time to bring eq.org.nz into the tent and providing the best service for the residents of Christchurch, things fell down in a screaming and confused heap.

Increasingly, Governments are going to find that in disaster situations like the Christchurch earthquake, there are going to be ad-hoc organisations that are going to spring up and offer assistance to those affected. Whether it’s diseminating information, setting up ad-hoc mobile communications networks or providing shelter and food, these networks are going to spring up and will need to be accounted for by the “official” teams. Governments would be well advised to encourage the development of networks like Crisis Commons and engaging with and utilising their services rather than adopting a “we know better because we’re from the government” attitude.

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