The Longtail of the Deployment

the longtail of the deployment

This is a quick infographic I made while thinking about a phenomenon that often occurs around Ushahidi deployments. You can sort of think of this as a ‘spectrum of interest’ over the life of a disaster or crisis event. I’ve mulled this over for a while, but the idea for the graphic came on a call this morning with Steven Longmire, Catherine Graham and Nicholas Bartlett (from GeoOp) who wanted to discuss the Christchurch quake deployment.

On one side you’ve got peak concern, enthusiasm and interest. An event occurs, the media explodes with coverage and people get involved. This is what I define as the attention stage. It also happens to be where the most data gathering or surveillance occurs. Participation, whether it be experts to experts, volunteers to volunteers or experts to volunteers is critical because everyone needs as much information as possible. Meanwhile, the public’s (the victim’s) needs are also at their peak. Urgency and momentum is highest here.

As the scenario unfolds, we move into what I call the advocacy stage. This is usually where public attention, and mass media coverage tends to stabilize and decline. The focus becomes less about what’s occurred, and more about mobilizing resources to do something. This is also where knowledge is transfered, groups tend to convene on the ground to begin the next phase.

The last stage is what I call the accountability stage. It’s where recovey happens, public attention was waned as people are drawn to whatever big event is now in the news. Groups who’ve made themselves accountable now deal with the real difficulties, the expectations of the public to do something with the data they’ve collected.

Now obviously, there is no clear linear separation between the three of these, it’s much more diffuse, and individual interactions or actions may move through all of these phases at different paces. For instance, the request from someone in the public for help, equally is urgent, requires analysis/action, and needs someone accountable for following through. Also, where these ‘stages’ meet, it’s important to consider the role of the technology in place. A tool in place to manage one process, may not be the same tool required to manage another. However, I’m well aware of efforts to make the Ushahidi platform more efficient at traversing each of these stages, if only to allow it to communicate with tools that were designed for each vertical (for instance GeoOp really shines in the Advocacy and Accountability stages).

Anyways, this is just my own visual brainstorming. I’d love the feedback from anyone who has thoughts on this and how I can improve the graphic.

9 Responses to “The Longtail of the Deployment”

  1. Spot on. Can we have a diagram like this every week?

    I particularly appreciate the transparency it brings to the common deployment. We are working with a platform that aggregates media, whether contributed by individuals or massive conglomerates. One could apply the same exact long tail view to the typical news cycle for major events, national or international, swapping those three main categories with “Two weeks, one month, two months,” the typical lifecycle for these events (if that much).

    While this model seems unavoidable it’s generally just fine if we’re talking about mapping media events like elections or larger scale protests. In the case for emergency response, what I appreciate the most is that this shows the need to close the communications loop with first responders and relief organizations, putting more attention toward understanding their workflows, their systems, and strengthening operational partnerships after the media is gone. At the very least, as you mention, coming up with sound and secure transition protocols for working with partners in those later stages.

    Well done, Jon, thank you.

  2. Emma S

    Great graphic.

    “Also, where these ‘stages’ meet, it’s important to consider the role of the technology in place. A tool in place to manage one process, may not be the same tool required to manage another.”

    Yes, I am thinking about this a lot recently too: How do you get your hourly twitter-ers to become your weekly / monthly e-mailers, to then become your quarterly newsletter contributors / readers. And while each of these modes of communication can be uni-directional (push out information), to really make them effective for each stage (attention, advocacy, Accountability) it is the exchange of information between the public and government / responders that adds value.

  3. Bruce S

    Hello Jon, I enjoyed your talk today at the HA/DR Workshop. I’ll play devil’s advocate and extend my question from the presentation. What if the tail is because people that initially contribute reports don’t receive feedback and therefore become disengaged? What can be done to flip the diagram around, so that you’re actually increasing engagement? Look for a follow-up email if you’re interested in discussing this a bit more.

    • That’s a fair question, however I think it’s a flawed assumption of where the value is in initial public participation and what the longtail chart above represents. Here’s why:

      1. Most of the data that’s used in situations like this isn’t coming from people who are directly asking for help. Some is, like the Text Messages and Emails, but the rest is coming from public channels (Twitter, Blogs, Articles from the Web, Facebook etc.) So the user never has any expectation of service to begin with. they’re simply making public observations about an occurrence, and the person collecting the data is making judgment calls about how to categorize that data.

      2. Engagement isn’t the goal. Primarily because there’s no cost-effective way to do two-way communication. So ruling out all those public declarations (because they don’t necessarily know you’re using their information to begin with) we’re left with direct communication via email and Text Message. For text messages, in most of the world it costs to send a message to someone but not to receive. So If you’re just receiving messages you have no delivery costs. However, once you start replying back, your costs grow with every message you respond to including all the bogus ones, the spam, and the observational ones (akin to public declarations like “This storm has ruined my day.”) So not only is it not cost effective, you also have to consider who is going to respond to these messages. It can’t be automated and be engaging at the same time, this means it needs to be humans. But humans don’t scale and the human cognition needed to read and respond to every message will cannibalize the ‘immediacy’ of anything. In other words, that requires either a lot of people, or a lot of time. Neither of which you have in the middle of a disaster.

      3. What we’re charting. The public’s attention for a singular event fades overtime because there are new, more urgent things to worry about. The only way to increase engagement by that standard is to create more panic or more events…and even that over time has it’s limits. What I’m illustrating here is that the use of these tools needs to evolve as the relationships of the public, victims, volunteers and responders change as a result of time and circumstance.

      So, that’s clarifying the perspective of the post, back to your question:

      If we were to flip this so that it points the other direction, you’d have a situation like the Rwandan Genocides or Hurricane Katrina: where initially no one is paying attention until slowly awareness is raised and people realize that they weren’t engaged at all during the most critical moments of the event. Then the crisis becomes dealing with our own inaction.

      Now, I know thats not what your intent or implication was, but that’s the inverse of what happens when we don’t have the public’s attention from the beginning. Also, in the inverse scenario you’d actually end up with a bell curve. As attention builds, you eventually end up at the above graph again, with attention, advocacy and accountability stages following until the attention dissipates with time.

  4. Kaushal


    Appreciate your inforgraphic but in my limited experience in this space I would think the most successful deployments of technology around a problem or a crisis follow a bell curve — explained below. This doesn’t discount your model above but just tweaks a little :)

    Where community approached responses are most successful is where communities build in awareness before AND after the event. This not only reduces the impact of blow but encourages informed actionable reporting during a crisis rather than sentimental overflow.

    Also, while agree with you that feedback mechanisms might not be central to the Ushahidi model, informed communities will have a way of disseminating information informally outside the platform as long as its actionable.

    Take that thought further, through the web informed communities have a way of sustaining themselves and imparting knowledge to other communities — and so rather than sharp peaks and declines in attention we have collective knowledge follow an exponential curve and communities ebb and flow depending on the need following a modular wave pattern. :)

    Anyway, thanks for sharing — it’s always great to read such posts — perhaps this is one way of disseminating information and ideas as on an exponential curve :P

  5. Awesome feedback guys, I’ll update the graphic and publish a new one with the points you’ve both raised!

  6. Very interesting. I came across this while trying to find out how to can get Ushahidi active for a current disaster that has occured in Mumbai, India. Three serial bomb blasts. Twitter is alive with all kinds of info and upates. I was thinking, why not ushahidi. But dont know how to go about it.