Rebuilding Port au Prince (Part II): Technology, Informality, and a Qualitative Approach

This is the second half of a two part blog post by Grouspshot’s Adam White on Rebuilding Port au Prince. You can read the first half here. Adam completed his master’s degree at the London School of Economics in City Design and Social Science last year. For his master’s thesis he outlined the complexity of inclusive participation in the rebuilding process, in contrast to the issues of decentralization facing contemporary Haiti, and proposes a crowd-sourced SMS-based city design process to include in rebuilding.The last post illustrated the potential for existing social capital and organization to play a role in rebuilding and resolving the challenge of centralization in Haiti after the earthquake. This post will continue with the possibility for communication technology, like the technology used in the relief effort, to play an important role in the current challenges of rebuilding.
In the immediate aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti the creation and deployment of a series of technology driven projects is a brilliant proof of concept for the potential of technology to elicit a large citizen response—a participatory process. But some lessons learned from the results of this process raise some key questions on how this technology applies in more abstract and long-term agendas, such as a design or planning process.

Ushahidi Haiti, which is a public interface for viewing thousands of user-submitted reports relating to the earthquake in Haiti, is an aggregation of a large amount of participatory content. Without questioning the value or mechanisms that are best suited to collecting and interpreting humanitarian data, it is important to understand how the front end of the Ushahidi interface in Haiti is a visual, and in many ways quantitative, aggregation of the content. While they are plenty of cases, particularly in planning, that quantitative data is essential to informed decision making, open-ended volunteered geographic data is not usually one of them. What I mean by this, is that a collection of citizen submitted reports about how a city could be reshaped are not generally compatible data types. One report about improving a neighborhood in one way, and another report about adding a transit system in another way, cannot be arbitrarily added together to equal two reports that balance with any other two reports in a meaningful way. This isn’t to say that there isn’t something valuable to be said from integrating, counting, combining, or comparing these opinions—but instead that these must be aggregated in a qualitative way that takes into account the value and reality of each idea.

This idea of qualitative aggregation exists in modern technology in many ways—via certain social networking platforms for example. And the framework for this qualitative lens in the case of Haiti can be drafted from the informal social systems described previously. In any case, there is a need for Magliette Calcio A Poco Prezzo the technology to be more ingrained with informality from the get go. To me, this is where the complexity and value of the duality of informality comes into light. Informality is not just about engaging informal systems and making their formalization more sensitive, scalable and useful, but it is also about the in-formalization of the formal. It’s about the infusion of the informal principles, the guiding aspects of the myriad of informal systems we work with, into the rigid environments of the developed world and modern technology. This is a process which is happening in many ways, at times just as insensitively as the formalization of developing communities. These two processes are not isolated though, because they both rely fundamentally on the DNA of informality in the first place.  The DNA of natural and human systems that is so familiar, yet so under-utilized.

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