Pulse Camp and beyond…

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We headed into our first 3-day Pulse Camp with high hopes that we would emerge with an understanding of some of the potential users of our technology platform and what they might like said platform to be able to do.  Stretch goals included sketching out a high-level architecture for the platform and identifying existing technologies that could be adapted to meet our needs. What we ended up with, however, exceeded our expectations by any measure.

Many of our participants came from quite far away to join us; we had participants from Sudan, Italy, Sri Lanka, Uganda, the UK, Nepal, Switzerland, Kenya, Ethiopia and Kosovo.  We ended up with exactly 100, drawn from many walks of life: 

  • Our UN colleagues made up nearly a third of the participants, with staff from UNDP, WFP, FAO, OCHA, UNHCR, UNGAID, UNOPS, UNICEF, the World Bank, and DPI all joining us. 
  • Apple, Microsoft and Google were all represented, as well as Sahana, PSFK, SimpleGeo, the Open Geospatial Consortium, Continuum, CrisisMappers, Crisis Commons, MobileActive, Frog Design, InSTEDD, NiGeL, OpenGeo, Ground Lab, and Adaptive Path. 
  • There were researchers from The Earth Institute (Columbia), NYU (ITP), UCLA, Carnegie Mellon, UN University (Bonn), Addis Ababa University, Harvard, MIT, the University of Pennsylvania, NDI, The Institute for Development Studies (Brighton, UK), and the New School.
  • We are particularly grateful to the excellent team from ThoughtWorks who facilitated the entire event.

We were expecting to spend about the 1st day and a half getting everyone on the same page, but as it turned out, everyone grokked what we were trying to do well enough within the first few hours to roll up their sleeves and get right to work. The group chemistry was first rate, resulting a high volume of creative ideation (thank you Katherine Maher!) and expert guidance.  This amazing team grasped the enormity of both the opportunity represented by Global Pulse as well the significant technical, methodological and political challenges before us, so they dove in with a combination of hard-working professionalism and humor that got us through the tougher parts.  There were, of course, the inevitable you-had-to-be-there moments, such as the unanticipated emergence of the Pulse-icorn.

Some of the products-in-a-box used to develop value propositions around requirements for the platform.

The process involved a number of creative exercises designed to take us from requirements to design. First we had to identify potential users.  Global Pulse must operate at local, national, and global levels; unsurprisingly, we ended up with 9 different user personas.  One of the more remarkable sessions was a Product-in-a-Box exercise where groups worked on articulating the value proposition of our future platform to each of our different users.  Pulse Camp was punctuated by some excellent Ignite Talks and an exciting presentation by PSFK on The Future of Real Time and wrapped up with a number of self-organized open spaces.

We now have a great foundation of requirements, designs and ideas on which to begin building the technology platform for Global Pulse.  Yet the most important outcome of Pulse Camp 1.0 is that we’ve begun to build a community around this initiative.  The initial outputs of Pulse Camp are now captured in our wiki, which we will be using to engage with the global community on requirements and design of our platform; code repositories will follow soon.  We’ve now identified some key features related to social data and information flow, and begun mining for useful models.

Pulse Camp 1.0 came to an end with an evening reception for the weekend-long Random Hacks of Kindness hackathon in New York, co-hosted by Global Pulse. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon spoke to the mixed audience of UN officials, Pulse Camp attendees, and RHoK hackers about the importance of open source software, and leaders from NASA, Microsoft, Google and the Parsons School of Design made remarks as well.  Perhaps re-energized by what was said at the reception, many Pulse Camp participants went straight into the 2-day hackathon and produced some remarkable results; I had the privilege of serving as a judge for the New York entries. NPR did an excellent piece on the event quoting Pulse Camp participant Sara Farmer of OpenCrisis.

Since Pulse Camp, we’ve created 4 different working groups, each with a corresponding Google group: Platform Architecture, Workspace Capabilities, Data Providers, and User Interface.  We’re now looking for community leads for several of these working groups.  Jen Ziemke of CrisisMappers has put together an excellent synthesis of ideas on the Hunch Lab concept.  Nadav Aharony of MIT and Jon Camfield of Ahoka’s Changemakers have shared some their post-Pulse Camp reflections here and here, respectively.  Sara Farmer, Graham Brooks and a team at RHoK NYC started hacking over the weekend and managed to bang out some working code for the Application Connection Manager.


In the next few weeks, we’ll be uploading lots of videos from Pulse Camp, capturing many of the outputs in diagrams and sketches on our wiki, and engaging actively with our 4 working groups.  If you’re interested in joining one or more the working groups, please sign up here: http://sites.google.com/site/unglobalpulse/home

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