The report is "a snapshot of an ongoing discussion" and one of several initiatives under the $30m "Mobilising Development" collaboration between the UN Foundation, and the Vodafone Foundation. The report also involves OCHA (the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) and the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative.
Apparently the humanitarian response to the 2010 earthquake in Haiti was different. For the first time, members of the community affected by the disaster issues pleas for help directly to those who could help. Also citizens around the world mobilised to plot and organise these pleas and help coordinate the humanitarian technical response.
So far so good. But the international humanitarian system is not equipped to handle these new voices and actors. The Report is a first attempt to help these worlds--old and new--come together to find ways of strengthening humanitarian initiatives. The seasoned humanitarian community relies on techniques that are tried and tested, that have been subject to scrutiny in the harshest of contexts and have come through and is understandably cautious when it comes to new technologies and armies of laptop volunteers.
The report does a good job of convincing people like me (i.e. not very well informed enthusiasts) that generating signals from people in distress via SMS technologies is only one part of the needed enabling technology. Also needed: (1) tools for viewing and processing high resolution aerial imagery, (2) geospatial wiki platforms (like OpenStreetMap) that allow many people to co-construct maps, (3) regular wikis for building up narratives of what is happening and needed, (4) collaborative platforms like Google Docs to allow people to share data and reports, and (5) bandwidth to allow Skype and other types of video conversation.
I feel that the report is a bit too pessimistic in how long it will take this technology to become useful and therefore used by people working in the humanitarian space. In a sector with many young people, they surely will be the champions of this new way of seeing, listening, analysing and acting. There is no substitute for experience, but experience is no defense against resisting innovation. This Report and the initiative seems like a good safe space to explore and learn. It is raising more questions than it is answering but, for now, that seems OK.