Who Owns Crisis Data?

N.B. After investigating the compaint in detail (see this blogpost), we re-opened the resource doc containing the dataset discussed below later on 09 Feb.

This is one of several posts going up as a result of OpenCrisis investigations into a complaint about one of its datasets.  This post will concentrate on the ownership aspects of that complaint.

Please note that this is currently a ‘holding’ blogpost, so people affected can be updated on what’s happening (sadly, all work on this much-used dataset has ceased until we get this all straightened out) – we’ll be adding to it as we have time (we’re concentrating more on making sure the dataset isn’t breaking its stated objective of “first, do no harm”) and as we learn more about this important issue.

Some background:  starting late last year, OpenCrisis began assembling a dataset (South Sudan humanitarian data, geodatasets, Twitter, etc) for its own work, that it then shared with another group (lets call them “LovelyPeople’) that was collecting information for a journalism group (let’s call them ‘Z’) – this second collection was deemed sensitive by ‘Z’, so we carefully left their deployment off our list of groups working on this crisis (for the record, we do this a lot, and will continue to do it for anyone who asks us to).  OpenCrisis made some of its original data (anything considered sensitive was kept private) available to people working in South Sudan via a publicly-visible but not widely-advertised spreadsheet.

Unfortunately,  5 Twitter names  made their way  from ‘Z’s sheet into the new spreadsheet, and ‘Z’ or one of its representatives (it’s unclear which) is now threatening to sue two individuals in OpenCrisis for the reuse of ‘their’ data.  To put this in perspective, the contribution from OpenCrisis to ‘Z’ was roughly 20+ Facebook addresses, 20 blog addresses, 60 multimedia records,  virtually all the local media outlets cited by ‘Z’, virtually all the Twitter lists listed by ‘Z’, 50-70 Twitter names and a direct copy (credited) of the OpenCrisis crisis mapping page as it was at the time.  This is all made more confusing because a third group, LovelyPeople, were also involved, and the OpenCrisis member concerned (Brendan O’Hanrahan) believed that the work with LovelyPeople was on the basis of mutual benefit, because that was stated when he joined the project.

Just to be clear on the OpenCrisis position on this dataset: ‘Z’s specific problem appears to be with the list of Twitter users. There are many many Twitter lists containing the data in question now – so much so that OpenCrisis stopped updating their spreadsheet list back in January – and we have no problems with removing any content that we can’t prove is our own. 

But we don’t want to live in a world where data ownership and worrying about being sued is a concern for every mapper trying to improve the world.  We might get sued, but this isn’t about us.  The much more important thing is resolving (or starting to resolve) the issue of data ownership when that data has been generated collectively by multiple individuals and groups.

So, who owns crisis data?

The heart of this problem is ownership of community-generated data.  I have much reading and thinking to do before I can start to answer this question, but the use of agreements (even if it’s agreement that all data will be shared across the community) appears to be key.

The legal position in the US appears to be clear: “It is important to remember that even if a database or compilation is arranged with sufficient originality to qualify for copyright protection, the facts and data within that database are still in the public domain. Anyone can take those facts and reuse or republish them, as long as that person arranges them in a new way” (Uni of Michigan’s exceptions to copyrights page).  That’s actually a huge relief, because if verified (and IANAL), the constant work that we all do on existing crisis datasets will help us to keep them free to use.

So the issue now appears to be less of a legal one, and more of a moral and ethical one: when is it right to share data between groups, and when is it right to claim ownership?

Data Licences

Although ‘ownership’ of data for good is anathema to us, there is one reason why it can be good: reducing confusion about who can use what where, via licensing.  We often need to say that the data we produce can be used by anyone, and say it legally and publically, and that’s what open data licences do.  Fortunately, there are some good “you can go use this” licences out there (e.g. ODbL), but as OSM et al know from painful experience, picking the right data licence to be compatible with other people’s data gathering and use can be hard.


The privacy of individuals is extremely important in our community.  When we were working through another issue raised by ‘Z’, we considered locking down the spreadsheet to subscribers only – only to realise that that would mean making a list of people (and emails of people) engaged in this work.  Which we’d also have to protect.  We’re still thinking about that one.

Legal protection

We can’t stress this enough: if you’re running a crisis data group, then seriously consider creating a nonprofit company for it. We hate having hierarchies and official registrations too, but without the protection of being an NJ non-profit, those two individuals (and all that they and their family own) would be at risk instead of this being an organisation-to-organisation thing. We’ve started an OpenCrisis page, who owns crisis data, for links and discussion on the ownership issue.  We’d love contributions of useful links and analysis for it.


Verification Handbook Review

By: Rose Merritz

The European Centre of Journalism’s Verification Handbook [1] was released online at http://verificationhandbook.com this week, with PDF, Kindle and Print versions to be released on 7 February, and an Arabic version soon after that.

The handbook discusses the processes of verifying user-generated content (e.g. pictures or information gathered from social media accounts in emergencies). It’s targeted at emergency journalists and aid workers, but is also a great resource for anyone wanting to learn the modus operandi of verification: it covers the basics of verification, is filled with lessons learned and examples, and can assist the reader in creating a verification checklist.

The length is short, the contents are to-the-point, and the collaborators have covered various topics related to authentication of user generated content through the entirety of of the verification process in an attempt to help the reader determine the best possible way to answer the age-old question: “How do you know that?”

The handbook cites lessons learned, in-field experience, and analysis of past emergent events.  Events cited include the violence in Jos, Nigeria in 2010, London’s July 7 Bombings in 2005, the Ukrainian Parliamentary Elections in 2012, and the Boston Marathon Bombings in 2013.  Studies directly referenced were Harkin 2012 on Syria [2], and Castillo 2012 on Predicting Information Credibility [3].

The Verification Handbook is expected by the European Centre of Journalism to have a significant impact on emergency journalism and aid workers.


OpenCrisis Townhall Meeting 23rd January 2014

What’s This?

Meeting: OpenCrisis TownHall

Date: 23rd January 2014

Agenda: a roundup of what we’ve been doing and deployments we’ve heard about in the past month; a check on what groups and people needed; and a vague plan for the coming month.

Last month: 20 December 2014 minutes

What’s Happened?

Past month: Deployments


  • What: South Sudan crisis

    • who:  HOT OSM, GISCorps, Ushahidi, OpenCrisis (unofficially)

    • where:  South Sudan

    • what:  OpenCrisis set up coordination skypechat and googledoc (http://bit.ly/1f9C457) for groups mapping the South Sudan crisis. HOT OSM has mapped several affected areas, in collaboration with UNITAR/UNOSAT, HIU (State Dept)  with assistance from GIScorps and, for area identification, OpenCrisis (BOH). Info4Disasters helped Internews develop an inventory and overview of local media and social media. Ushahidi set up southsudanwatch.ushahidi.com, but this initiative was stopped almost immediately after Christmas (possibly because of security concerns? – BOH). DHN call went out later for mapping in South Sudan  (to be carried out later in the year?) – Joseph shared the OpenCrisis googledoc with SBTF, to avoid duplication of effort.

    • Deployment dates:  24th December – continuing (contact Brendan or Sara)


  • What: Central African Republic crisis

    • who:  HOT OSM

    • where:  CAR

    • what:  HOT has been doing a lot of mapping – both settlements and infrastructure, since the crisis began

    • Deployment dates:  HOT has been active for CAR/RCA for over a year, but this activity has intensified since mid-late December 2013


  • Events with monitoring but not deployments:

    • USA cold.

    • Kyiv (Kiev) demonstrations – concern and willingness to map seen online, but no deployments as yet.


Past month: Activities


  • OpenGoodHacks

    • who: RHOK, Geeklist, Pat, Sara

    • what: Helped RHOK, Geeklist etc.with naming and creating a central neutral space for listing hackathons for good. Thea Clay is spearheading.

    • where: online

    • when: 22nd January 2014


  • Accademics

    • who: Joseph

    • what: Creating discussions spaces for academics in crisismapping (to discuss grant opportunities, create online course etc) and the SBTF (to improve SBTF training). The idea with Accademics is to enlarge the group by posting on the crisismappers googlegroup, and to create courses that we can offer credits for – together, creating joint courses; creating research consortiums and getting ideas flowing between top researchers.

    • where: online

    • when: January 2014 – continuing


Other activities:

  • Info4 and SBTF have partnered – Info4 will be the provider of ET/HR activities to SBTF.

  • OpenCrisis incorporation: OpenCrisis is now incorporated as a nonprofit in New Jersey, USA.  Thanks to everyone who helped make this happen.

  • OpenCrisis platforms: Long discussions about platform choices, all of which included some form of WordPress site. OpenCrisis.org is being migrated to a wordpress site, to give more community members an easy way to contribute writings about crisismapping.  The original Drupal site remains at opencrisis.com and opencrisis.net; other platform choices remain (but are wider now that OC is incorporated, e.g. we can ask Confluence for a wiki like wiki.ushahidi.com).

  • OpenCrisis calendar http://opencrisis.org/calendar/ created – this is for the entire crisis mapping community – not just OpenCrisis. Anybody who participates in the OpenCrisis discussion space can (or should be able to..if not, ping Brendan) enter events on it.

News, Announcements etc


  • Next TownHall meeting: 14th February 2014.   TownHalls are on the second Friday of every month (formerly Wednesdays), at 12pm EST / 5pm GMT unless otherwise stated.  Townhalls for 2014 are: 17th January, 14th February, 14th March, 11th April, 9th May, 13th June, 11th July, 8th August, 12th September, 10th October, 14th November, 12th December.

  • GDELT, the conflict data warehouse, has closed. This is a massive loss to our community (it’s a legal fight about ownership between the GDELT team and uni). And something we should fight to stop happening across the rest of our domain. If we have data, we should work on open licenses for it. GDELT, the huge datastore of everything conflict related, has closed. Apparently conflict between those who ran it and the university that was hosting it, and lending its datastore (may be significantly more complicated than that, judging from legal files associated with this fight…). NB recent new standard on data licenses just came out.

  • Andy Gimma has started digital humanitarian tools training in new york – first session is 25th january 2014 – https://www.facebook.com/events/569211419828560/

  • DHN meetup in Boston on 25th january 2014 too. https://www.eventbrite.com/e/dhnetwork-meetup-boston-tickets-9936047987?utm_campaign=order_confirm&ref=eemailordconf&utm_medium=email&utm_source=eb_email&utm_term=eventname

  • CDAC network report on SMEM is out: http://www.cdacnetwork.org/public/resource/101-seminar-report-social-media-emergencies

  • The Global Disaster Alert and Coordination System (GDACS) is now providing an additional service: Overview of ongoing satellite mapping events.This service provides a short overview of the identified ongoing satellite mapping activities related to humanitarian disasters. It is intended for disaster managers, operations centres, desk officers and others that need syntheses of what goes on in this field. The service is operated by the GDACS mapping & satellite imagery coordination mechanism: UNITAR Operational Satellite Applications Programme (UNOSAT). See http://portal.gdacs.org/Portals/1/GDACS_SatMapOverview_01_4Jan2014.pdf


What do we need to do?

Last month’s plan

  • Sara to make list of all the people and groups who email her about crisismapping (ongoing)

  • Platform discussion (DONE)

  • Incorporation discussion (DONE)


  • Blogposts for the new website – please write them!


Next month’s plan

  • Create agenda for next month (use template)

  • Sara to make list of all the people and groups who email her about crisismapping

  • Launch new opencrisis.org site on Saturday 25th January… continue to populate this, and explore complementary platform options.

  • Sara – write a page about open data licenses and how to do them right

  • Lillian to write blogpost about the maze of finding open data in Thailand

  • Brendan writing blogpost about ‘Geolocation in context’

  • Rose – summary of verification handbook? Verification Handbook with guidelines to verify digital, user generated content.  Will have guidelines, tools, checklist, etc. Supposed to be released January 2014 (sometime this month), freely available.  Will write summary (REM)

  • Sara – post about open data cambodia (but only with permission from team)

  • Sara – run training session on open data.

Crisismapping Meetups Jan-Feb 2014

This weekend is going to be a busy one for in-person crisismapping events: Digital Humanitarian Training is launching its first meetup in New York, and the Digital Humanitarian Network is running its first in-person meeting in Boston USA (they’re both on our shiny new crisismapping calendar).

As someone who dedicated years to helping crisiscamps around the world and the CrisismappersNYC meetup (spawned from the CrisisCampNY meetups), this makes me both nostalgic and hopeful at the same time.

I’m nostalgic because even the most collaborative groups like CrisisCamp London & Crisismappers NYC are difficult to keep going from a distance (e.g. if you find yourself working 3500 miles from London or even 50 from NYC). Though distance may be short on the map, no amount of tech can fit the enormous gap of quality in meeting-people time. Keeping people engaged in training on crisis mapping, connecting them to other mappers in different cities and handling logistics is a lot for any one person to shoulder. Indeed, the planning, staffing & training work required at an event speak nothing of the ground work involved in identifying venues or maintaining networks and individual connections.

And I’m hopeful to see the next generation of crisismapper meetup organisers come through.  They’ll learn, like we did, about the things that do and don’t work, and hopefully will find some of the things we left behind for them, like the Crisiscamp-in-a-box packs describing everything from what stationery is good to have (post-it notes are always useful) to how to organise training (backstory: Crisiscamp London had a real cardboard box that they stored all their stuff in between meetings).   But hopefully, unlike many of us old ‘uns, they won’t burn out trying to train and map and organise meets all at the same time.

I wish you both luck, Andy and Willow – and if you ever want to drink a pint and talk about all the things that did and didn’t work in the past, I’ll see you sometime in New York!


Welcome to OpenCrisis

Welcome to the Open Crisis website: a repository for crisis data scientists to find humanitarian and development data, news and ideas.

OpenCrisis manages online lists of deployments needing help and crisis data-related events, monthly townhall meetings, and skypechats to attract and create conversations between crisis data responders who aren’t part of any formal VTCs. It also creates information and training materials on crisis data related topics, is involved where appropriate in encouraging crisis data technology creation, setup and use.

OpenCrisis started as a link between UK crisismappers and response organisations – it’s now a link between people who want to help with crisis data worldwide, people with technical, data and mapping expertise, and the organisations and communities that need that help.

If you want to come join us – Register!

If you want to go help someone – Volunteer!

OpenCrisis Townhall meeting 20th December 2013

What’s This?

Meeting: OpenCrisis TownHall

Date: 20th December 2013

Agenda: a roundup of what we’ve been doing and deployments we’ve heard about in the past month; a check on what groups and people needed; and a vague plan for the coming month.

Last month: November 13th 2013 minutes.


What’s Happened?

Past month: Deployments

Big news this month was the Yolanda typhoon across the Philippines. Mapping work there is still ongoing for HOT OSM, MapAction, DRL and newer/smaller mapping groups.


  • What: Typhoon Yolanda

    • who:  DHN (SBTF, HOT, MapAction etc), Geeklist, and pretty much every aid agency on the planet.

    • where:  Philippines

    • what:  Various map creation, list creation etc tasks. Bert Brugghemans doing field research with Disaster Resilience Lab.  Sahana Eden deployment for matching donations to requests by agencies.

    • Deployment dates:  November 2013-ongoing.


  • What: Media mapping in Philippines

    • who:  Info4Disasters

    • where:  Philippines

    • what:  Creating lists of active media across the Philippines for Internews.

    • Deployment dates:  13th November 2013-.


  • What: UK/Netherlands storm surge event

    • who:  Jus Mckinnon (UK) / Netherlands

    • where:  UK and Netherlands

    • what:  Monitoring twitter feeds as unusual storm tide approached East Coast UK and Netherlands (both low-lying areas). UK spreadsheet and instructions; UK ushahidi page.

    • Deployment dates:  5th December 2013.

  • Events with monitoring but not deployments:

    • .


Past month: Activities


  • Humanitarian Data Project

    • who: Gabriele Almon et al

    • what: plan to create a repository of crisis datasets from lists by Karen Payne et al. OC (Sara/Pat) wrote code to port existing google spreadsheet data into CKAN instance datahub.io… look for the “HDP” organisation in it.

    • where: skypechat (ask Luis, Sara, Gabriele, Hemant, Joseph, Brendan to get in)

    • when: ongoing


  • Actionable Needs Project

    • who: Hemant Purohit leading

    • what: seems to have gone quiet (will ping Hemant and see if still ongoing – BOH)


  • Wikimapia API

    • who: Svend-Jonas Schelhorn investigating

    • what: Wikimapia API seems to work, with some minor questions left (e.g. does it contain all the data that’s visible on-screen). (that’s kinda a big question!! BOH).

    • Biggest problem perhaps is limit on no. of results that can be thrown out from api (BOH)


  • RHOK

    • Supported RHOK DC and RHOK Southampton, including linking them up with Philippines-based teams.


Other activities:

  • Talk on crisismapping given to DataKind NYC meetup (Sara).

  • OpenCrisis applied to the Digital Humanitarian Network. No response (or acknowledgement) seen since.

  • GIS and Geolocation section added to the OpenCrisis “book” (http://www.opencrisis.org/gisandgeolocation)

  • Rebuilt OpenCrisis.org website front-end.

  • 4th December was Eliana Zemmer’s birthday. Eliana Day has now happened on the 4th of every month since we heard about her death.

  • DisasterNet weekly roundups look interesting (Brandon Greenberg) – worth looking at? http://disasternet.co/newsletter/

  • New SBTF core team – congratulations to everyone who applied for and now have posts in the SBTF core team.  Work well, guys!


News, Announcements etc


  • Next TownHall meeting: 17th January 2014.   TownHalls are on the second Friday of every month (formerly Wednesdays), at 12pm EST / 5pm GMT unless otherwise stated.  Townhalls for 2014 are: 17th January, 14th February, 14th March, 11th April, 9th May, 13th June, 11th July, 8th August, 12th September, 10th October, 14th November, 12th December.

  • Drupal site – is it working for us?  Would a wordpress + wiki work better?  Features needed include easy to search, usable for both visitors and contributors, easy to manage. What we’ve done to date is a) maintain skype and online alerts about new deployments, b) kept logs of crisismapping activity month-by-month, c) written advice sheets about various aspects of crisismapping, d) mentored other crisismapping teams, and e) generally acted as glue between established and establishing crisismapping groups, with a particular emphasis on data-related service.  Our best role seems to be as a connector between users, builders etc. and information service about what’s out there etc.

  • Incorporation. OC incorporation in New Jersey is going slowly, but it will happen. Also need to think about structure and incorporation options.

  • Going to meetings as “Open Crisis”.  Please do – we work under “commander’s intent” – e.g. you do what you think is sensible, nobody takes the piss, and if we’re not sure about something, we ask each other for advice.


What do we need to do?

Last month’s plan


  • Long discussion about OC incorporation. will have a separate OC meeting about this… Brendan setting up Doodle for it (DONE)

  • Long discussion about OC platform – needs, and suitable platform alternatives. Brendan setting up Doodle for it. (DONE)


Next month’s plan

  • Sara to make list of all the people and groups who email her about crisismapping.

  • Platform discussion.

  • Incorporation discussion.

OpenCrisis Townhall 13th November 2013

What’s This?

Meeting: OpenCrisis TownHall

Date: 13th November 2013

Agenda: a roundup of what we’ve been doing and deployments we’ve heard about in the past month; a check on what groups and people needed; and a vague plan for the coming month.

Last month: 14th October 2013 minutes

What’s Happened?

This townhall was held midway through Typhoon Yolanda mapping and monitoring.  It was a bit rushed, everyone was exhausted and several people had to rush off to another Yolanda-related meeting at the end.

Past month: Deployments

  •   Australia bushfires – Tomnod tagging burnt buildings, active fires etc
  • India typhoon – Hemant team finding data for use in google crisismap
  • UKStorm – Portsmouth university team populating a crisismap
  • Typhoon Yolanda, Philippines.  Still ongoing. DigitalHumanitarianNetwork populating crisismaps (SBTF, Micromappers, Translators Without Borders, ESRI, GIScorps, Statistics Without Borders); HOT OSM producing basemaps; Svend-Jonas and team mapping celltower outages; Tomnod mapping damage, VISOV running crisismap on facebook data, Rebecca Goolsby et al tracking hashtags; forgot to add Knoe.si.s to the DHN list above; Rappler mapping celltower signals; Heidelburg uni producing maps inc elements at risk; nobody getting much sleep since last Thursday.  Geekli.st hackathon needs help trimming out the projects-we’ve-seen-before from their things-to-do list (OC has linked them to SBTF and RHOK – Pat helping with this).  Google Crisismap – not sure who’s providing the data for it. Om keeping lists of active deployments, active projects, maps, volunteer project opportunities, sources, what’s needed etc at http://opencrisis.org/typhoon-yolanda

NB. people who’ve worked deployments, and *especially* people who’ve worked in the field should be persuaded to engage with them, to get things that are relevant and needed built.

News, Announcements etc


Coming up in the next month:

  • ICCM: is anyone thinking of having a “stay-at-home” party to watch the video stream for this?
  • Digital Humanitarian Summit right after ICCM.
  • UN SPIDER is coming up with final recommendations for best practices this month (Rose to add to library)