Thursday, June 24, 2010

Trusted Spaces

In this post I will discuss the need for closed collaboration groups for disaster coordination

During a disaster the sharing of information is crucial. A large portion of that information is and should be publically available to everyone. Certain information, such as information about individual beneficiaries should however receive the appropriate privacy handling such sensitive material is entitled to.
In my previous post I described how crowds can play an increasingly important role in the information management aspect of disaster response. In this post I want to focus on a particular aspect of information management which deals with how you can segment information down into areas. There can be multiple reasons why you would want to segment information down into areas.

One example is that a particular agency/organization may be responding to a crisis. It may want to have the ability to share its internal coordination information among the field workers and headquarter staff working on that particular disaster. Another example is when members of a particular humanitarian cluster (education, health, early recovery, nutrition, etc.) want to share information that is specific to that particular cluster, but might not be of interest to others. Thirdly you might want to share particular information between just two organization, for example UN and IFRC.

Dealing with crisis in conflict areas is probably the most complex case where information might need to be shared on a confidential basis. With increased involvement of military organizations in humanitarian operations, there are often cases where they would like to be able to share information with NGOs without at the same time making those NGOs targets because of their interaction with the military community.

The term trusted spaces has been used to describe what is common to these examples. Within a trusted space you can invite those individuals that should have access to the information in question. These trusted spaces can include only a few members or they can span hundreds. Information shared inside a trusted space should not be accessible to those not within the trusted space and due to the sensitivity of the information it can also be argued that the information should be encrypted when sent between those participating in a trusted space.

For trusted spaces to work well in the humanitarian field they must also fulfill a few more requirements. One is that members of the trusted space will not always be on-line. As I discussed in my previous post humanitarian field workers are occasionally connected. The trusted space must be able to deal with this occasional connectivity.

To make things even more complex – one needs to deal with the situation that happens when two individuals update the same part of information at the same time. Solutions such as record-locking and transactions (commonly used by databases) do not work as easily in the occasionally connected world. This requires trusted spaces to have to deal with information conflict resolution. In 95% of cases automated conflict resolution processes can be applied but in the remaining cases human interaction is required. That is why trusted spaces must include the capability for humans to communicate directly with each other to solve the conflict.

In the past there have been multiple approaches taken to address this concept. One of the most commonly used solution in the humanitarian field has been to use Microsoft Groove and its concept of workspaces. Others have used password protected web sites, sometimes built on technologies such as Microsoft SharePoint. While both have been used successfully one could argue that in both cases Big World solutions are being used to solve issues in the Small World (see definition of Small World-Big World in my last post) and when doing so there are often issues that come up, such as how to deal with the limited and expensive bandwidth in the Small World.

What is needed is a way to create and maintain trusted spaces using cloud technologies while at the same time allowing for the occasionally connected nature of small worlds. Anyone interested on creating this?

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