Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Open Source Spying and NGOs

The New York Times has a fascinating article on how the US intelligence community is struggling to replace antiquated analysis systems with Internet-style wikis, blogs, forums and chat rooms.

In reading the article I see a number of parallels with many large NGOs similarly being stuck in the IT stone-age, and not taking advantage of collaborative information tools commonly found on the Net. This is unfortunate because good information is a cornerstone of effective safety and security practice. Picture a wiki where anyone could post up-to-date security information organized by country and city, or an informal global network of security practitioners who could brainstorm evacuation plans through instant messaging, or just-in-time training that could be delivered over the Net to specific offices during an Avian Flu outbreak. This and more is all currently possible with present-day technology that's relatively inexpensive and easy to implement.

I think much of the resistance to using these types of tools comes from a lack of understanding of their potential as well as a fear of relinquishing control - from both IT departments and management. It's difficult to sell established bureaucracies on decentralized approaches. Especially those that encourage information to flow freely between staff, field offices and other NGOs without first passing through and receiving approval from headquarters.

We will eventually see wide scale use of wikis, blogs and forums by humanitarian organizations. But ultimately I believe it's going to be the progressive and smaller NGOs that drive adoption, coupled with a next generation of humanitarian workers who use these tools on a daily basis in their personal lives and expect them to be available in their professional lives.


Anonymous Paul C said...

Couldn't agree more with your analysis of the source of resistance inside existing NGO management structures. In addition, I think there aren't many people in these IT departments that really understand or use these tools - remember, most of our IT staff are recruited because they can set up a Local Area Network or troubleshoot LotusNotes, not because they're experts in Wiki herding.

I think that the use of these tools is actually going to be driven by individuals rather than organisations, and it will take a number of years before the organisations themselves are close to catching up.

2:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is clear that technical people are the ones leading the way in the adoption of new tools that streamline and improve oragnisational communication and other processes.

In many corporate / government and ngo's around the world you will find as an example the use of wiki's as the technical support knowledge base but often this will not then move into the realm of the more general office / management space.

Promotion of effective open tools to a wider audience is required.


5:35 AM  

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