Blog

Why Hunchworks?

Chris Van Der Walt
Jun 28, 2011

Last December, Global Pulse convened Pulse Camp, a workshop to kick off technology and process design for real-time vulnerability awareness. We already understood that to rapidly identify emerging crises, we needed a mechanism or ecosystem that would create information flows from the bottom up.

Establishing in-country innovation labs would be an important first step in building out local networks and correctly contextualizing data. But labs alone would not be enough. We were still faced with the problem of how to grow an informal human sensor network around the labs as a mechanism for local government, other UN agencies, community groups, academia and citizenry to contribute meaningful information and analysis.

We realized that we needed a connective tissue that would allow us to leverage the social graph to assemble snapshots of ground truth out of dispersed and unstructured fragments of real-time data. We also wanted to be able to connect with UN staff in the field and beyond to leverage the tremendous expertise and situational awareness that is distributed throughout the organization (albeit in a disaggregated and sector-specific way). Finally we wanted to create a safe space for analysts to be able to propose hypotheses (“hunches”) based on partial or incomplete evidence in such a way that the hypotheses would act as attractors for data and analysis from other users in the network.

The concept was developed through the expert Working Groups convened at Pulse Camp, and then further refined and articulated here, on the Global Pulse wikisite by Jen Ziemke.

Thus Hunchworks was born.

Hunchworks is a tool to enable experts of all kinds to post hypotheses that might warrant further exploration. We hope that it will provide the ability to capture the intuition, gut knowledge and situational awareness of the experts. HunchWorks is also a mechanism to make the membranes between silos of knowledge both inside and outside of the UN more permeable, surfacing the hunches of other researchers and promoting the cross-pollination of ideas and evidence.

The hunch mechanism works as follows:

  1. A user proposes a hypothesis
  2. The user attaches evidence (datasets, video, photos, audio, anecdotes, tweets etc.) to the hunch
  3. The user shares the hunch with all or part of the network
  4. Invited users can then comment or vote on the hunch, or on individual pieces of evidence, supply new evidence or suggest experts with specific expertise for the hunch owner to invite into the conversation. 
  5. The hunch evolves through the contributions and conversations until there is a consensus that it is confirmed or refuted. Alternatively, the hunch originator may determine when the hypothesis is mature enough for action. (We have been in heavy discussion about the exact nature of a “proven” hunch and it is likely that this model will remain flexible to encourage debate and to make the tool as useful as possible.)
  6. Where appropriate, actions taken on the basis of the hunch may also be recorded

Obviously, the usefulness of Hunchworks will be heavily dependent on being able to leverage social and professional networks. We are designing the tool to allow users to quickly build communities from existing professional contacts and expand them by allowing contributors to suggest experts and reporters on a per need basis.

Privacy and security are also critical to the success of the tool and the safety of users. Users will be able to customize the security of the networks and hunches in two ways. First they will have very granular control over the visibility of their profile. Second, they will be able to specify whether each hunch is to be publicly available to all users of Hunchworks for maximum velocity; private for sharing within organizations or groups; or available by invitation only.
Trust and credibility mechanisms are at the core of all interactions between users and around hunches. These will enable users to quickly identify others with valuable expertise to help evolve hunches and provide feedback. It is also vital to mitigate against deliberately obstructive behavior, disinformation and conflict among users.

We are currently in the middle of the user experience design for Hunchworks and we are very fortunate to have a the support of a diverse group of contributors including an amazing team at Adaptive Path (see http://adaptivepath.com/ideas/global-pulse-hunchworks-project-week-3-challenge)

Currently we are wrestling with some of the complexities of hunches and their interactions with each other. The good folks at Adaptive Path team are leading the design process with weekly sprints.

Some of the challenges that we are working on right now:

  • What does a hunch actually look like? What are the key aspects of a hunch?
  • How does a hunch begin, evolve, become verified or cluster with other hunches to become a new hunch?
  • As a hunch changes over time, how is that reflected in the interface?

We hope this gives you some insight as to what a hunch could look like, and we’d welcome comments and suggestions on this. Here are some resources to get you started:

Feel free to post your thoughts and links to your ideas and sketches (from Flickr, Instagram, Dropbox, Google Docs, TwitPic, etc.) in the comments below or alternatively, email them to todd (at) adaptivepath (dot) com.

You can also join the ongoing discussion and brainstorm in the UN Global Pulse – User Interface Google Group

All the thinking and output generated in this project will be publicly available and Creative Commons licensed, and you can provide your submitted designs under a Attribution, Share Alike (CC-BY SA) license.

 

Chris Van Der Walt is Global Pulse's Strategic Communications Advisor.

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