MEDIATOR is an upcoming project closely related to my PhD thesis. It is meant to bridge the gap in communication and information sharing that exists between disaster relief organisations and self-organised efforts of the public.
The project aims to improve communication between existing as well as emergent communities and official emergency relief organisations. By introducing an additional communication layer between these two parties, self-organization processes in the public can be supported and directed by official crisis managers. As a result, the population's resilience will be improved effectively during all stages of crisis management.
An application for the funding of MEDIATOR has been submitted. I am currently awaiting a response concerning the committee's decision. If granted, this project would allow me to carry out the research for my PhD thesis in a well connected and environment that offers a lot of know-how concerning the use of ICT in disaster situations.
Area of Research
The project contributes to the research field of "crisis informatics", which deals with the application of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) to crisis and disaster management, as well as the evaluation of their usability and impact. So far, most of the research in this area has been focused on developing tools to aid first responder organisations, mostly leaving aside the public. Current approaches include the community in their considerations, but are mostly limited to examining self-organising efforts by members of the public through the use of new media. Project MEDIATOR takes the next step and investigates how to mediate between communities of the public and emergency response agencies. This will not be limited to immediate disaster response, but also encompasses measures for awareness and preparedness before and after such events. The primary use cases consist of natural disasters that may affect Central European regions, such as floods, draughts, avalanches, or severe storms.
Aims and Methodological Approach
The main goal of the project is to improve communication and information exchange between communities of general populace and formal organisations involved in crisis mitigation. The development will utilise qualitative research methods and follow a user-centred process. Starting point shall be the examination and analysis of best practices and routines that are already in place, describing the status quo. Based on that, the design of new approaches and possible improvements will be described in depth in a process model. Interviews and focus groups involving prospect users, experts and stakeholders are instruments that will be used for this. To evaluate the process model, a prototype will be implemented and improved iteratively during the project. The implementation will be done in the form of a web-based middleware between the structured communications of formal organisations and the emergent or established communities of the public. The resulting prototype will be evaluated through observation of user interaction under field conditions and methodological analysis of the obtained records.
Several milestones will be partial to this project. The first step will be an examination of best practices and status quo as well as the analysis and modelling of communication between members of the public during disasters as it is currently employed in Austria. Following that, a process model will be developed, describing new workflows to manage communication with the public in times of crisis and being based on as well as improving the status quo. On the foundation of this process model, a functional prototype will be implemented. It serves as a proof of concept for technological viability as well as a means to provide hands-on evaluation of core concepts. Which brings up the last step in the process: evaluation both in the field and under laboratory conditions, serving as conclusion to the project and measure of success.