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Investigating the boundaries and substance of humanitarian actors' information environments

Steve Lappenbusch, Technical Communications, University of Washington Randall B. Kemp, Information School, University of Washington

ASIS&T Annual Meeting - 2006 (ASIS&T 2006)
Austin, Texas, November 3-9, 2006


Humanitarian action organizations alleviate human suffering and prevent death. Understanding relief workers as information users and how they use (or choose not to use) information as part of a system could pay enormous dividends in human suffering reduced and lives saved. It is widely accepted in the humanitarian action arena that current information systems and work practices need considerable improvement. High-level decision makers in the humanitarian space now call for user-centered, theoretically firm, and empirical studies of their information. We articulate the boundaries and substance of the humanitarian actor's information environment by investigating which kinds of information actors choose to share, how actors prioritize different kinds of information, and who is responsible for the integrity of different kinds of information. Humanitarian actors often experience information impacts which simply can not be anticipated by developers and designers removed from user experience. Dervin's Sense-Making approach may help us explain how actors share, prioritize, and take responsibility for information. An NSF-funded collaborative workshop in Nairobi, Kenya in June, 2006, pointed towards creating a research agenda, provides a set of data related to these issues. Analysis of data gathered during these workshops form the basis for addressing the above three concerns of humanitarian actors' information environments.

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