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Featured Expert: Patrick Meier

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As we enter our Atrocity Prevention Challenge Prototyping phase – we checked in with Patrick Meier (PhD) from our challenge expert panel. Patrick is an internationally recognised thought leader in the application of new technologies for crisis early warning, humanitarian response and resilience. A pioneer in the emerging field of crisis mapping, he makes mapped information available, accessible and free to humanitarian organisations plus volunteers across the globe. He has served as the Director of Crisis Mapping for Ushahidi and co-founded Crisis-Mappers, Digital Humanitarians and the award winning Standby Taskforce. His current position is as Director of Social Innovation at the Qatar Foundation’s Computing Research Institute where he develops next-generation humanitarian technologies.
Tell us about your work around crisis mapping
Maps have always played an important role in humanitarian response. Today, these maps are digital and updated in real-time. These crisis maps provide disaster responders with an immediate at-a-glance understanding of who has been affected, how badly, where and what the resulting needs are. Crises are anything but static, so crisis mapping is about tracking these situations as they evolve over time and space.
What are the main insights you'd like to share with our community – around technology and the contexts of mass violence?
In my opinion, external, top-down and centralised approaches to the prevention of violent conflict do not work. More information on the early signs of violence in no way implies that preventive action will follow. In fact, in the field of conflict, early warning and rapid response has largely failed in preventing violent conflict. This explains why new approaches are necessary – such as human-centered solutions that empower at-risk communities to get out of harm's way. Unless our technologies are designed to increase a community's capacity for conflict preparedness and self-organisation, then we can't expect to have any meaningful impact in this space.
As we enter our Prototyping phase – can you share a story around how one of your projects has been shaped?
I noted that the humanitarian community seems completely unprepared and incapable of managing the rise of Big Data in contexts of crisis – that is, user-generated content posted on social media. To solve this challenge, I met several humanitarian practitioners in person to understand their information needs. We then co-defined the scope of our joint research and development project. The findings from this R&D phase were used to inform the development of a prototype. I remained in close contact with our humanitarian partners throughout this phase to ensure that our design continued to meet their information needs.
Do you have some words of encouragement for folks participating in our Atrocity Prevention Challenge Prototyping phase?
We need all the help we can get to prevent atrocities. And you can make a difference. Simply put yourself in the shoes of at-risk communities. You want to survive mass violence. Now what kinds of information and technologies would allow you to do that, to evade conflict and remain safe?
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