Towards an Understanding of Digital Disaster Response Workflow in Humanitarian Emergencies



Published Nov 4, 2019
Najeeb Gambo Abdulhamid


This paper examines the workflow of digital volunteers during disaster response operations. It reveals how digital volunteers go through sense-making activities to filter crowdsourced information to warrant confidence that the data satisfies the standard of engagement, production and analysis. We do so by studying a digital disaster response organisation - Humanity Road - through fifteen response operations across thirteen countries using digital ethnography over a period of sixteen months. This is a qualitative study using virtual ethnographic method. The data collection of this study incorporates a diverse range of sources such as Skype chat logs, field notes, social media postings, and official documents. Based on the findings of this study we proposed a framework that offers structured workflow for the communities of practice within the domain of Digital Humanitarian Networks. Our findings suggest practical implications for both the digital humanitarian organisations and governments of the disaster-prone countries.

Abstract 87 | Preprint Downloads 10


1. T Boellstorff, B Nardi, C Pearce, and TL Taylor. 2012. Ethnography and Virtual Worlds: A Handbook of Method. Princeton University Press.
2. Uwe M. Borghoff and Johann H. Schlichter. 2000. Computer-Supported Cooperative Work.
3. Neil R. Britton. 1988. Organised Behaviour in Disaster: A Review. International Journal of Mass Emergencies and Disasters 6, 3: 363–395.
4. Neil R. Britton. 1991. Permanent Disaster Volunteers: Where Do They Fit? Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly 20, 4: 395–414.
5. Tung Bui and Alex Tan. 2007. A template-based methodology for large-scale HA/DR involving ephemeral groups-A workflow perspective. In System Sciences, 2007. HICSS 2007. 40th Annual Hawaii International Conference on, 34.
6. Tung X Bui and Siva R Sankaran. 2001. Design considerations for a virtual information center for humanitarian assistance/disaster relief using workflow modeling. Decision support systems 31, 2: 165–179.
7. Camille Cobb, Ted McCarthy, Annuska Perkins, Ankitha Bharadwaj, Jared Comis, Brian Do, and Kate Starbird. 2014. Designing for the Deluge: Understanding & Supporting the Distributed, Collaborative Work of Crisis Volunteers. Proceedings of the Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW): 888–899.
8. Juliet Corbin and Anselm Strauss. 1990. Grounded Theory Research: Procedures, Canons, and Evaluative Criteria. Qualitative Sociology 13, t. Retrieved February 21, 2018 from
9. Dharma Dailey and Kate Starbird. 2014. Visible skepticism: Community vetting after Hurricane Irene. In ISCRAM 2014 Proceedings - 11th International Conference on Information Systems for Crisis Response and Management, 777–781.
10. Lise Ann St. Denis, Kenneth M Anderson, and Leysia Palen. 2014. Mastering Social Media : An Analysis of Jefferson County ’ s Communications during the 2013 Colorado Floods. Iscram, May: 737–746.
11. Lise Ann St. Denis, Amanda L. Hughes, and Leysia Palen. 2012. Trial by Fire: The Deployment of Trusted Digital Volunteers in the 2011 Shadow Lake Fire. 9th International ISCRAM Conference, April: 1–10.
12. Nicolas Ducheneaut and Robert J. Moore. 2004. The social side of gaming. In Proceedings of the 2004 ACM conference on Computer supported cooperative work - CSCW ’04, 360.
13. Neil Dufty. 2012. Using social media to build community disaster resilience. Australian Journal of Emergency Management, The 27, 1: 40.
14. B.A. Farshchian, T. Vilarinho, and M. Mikalsen. 2017. From Episodes to Continuity of Care: a Study of a Call Center for Supporting Independent Living. Computer Supported CooperativeWork (CSCW), 26: 309–343.
15. MP Mark P Foran, Paul G PG Greenough, Andrew Thow, Daniel Gilman, Andreas Schütz, Rahul Chandran, and Allegra Baiocchi. 2012. Identification of current priorities for research in humanitarian action: proceedings of the First Annual UN OCHA Policy and Research Conference. Prehospital and disaster medicine 27, 3: 260–6.
16. C. E. Fritz. 1961. Disasters. In Social Problems. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World pp. 651- 694.
17. R. L. Gold. 1958. Roles in sociological fieldwork gold. Social Forces 36, 3: 217–223.
18. Annemijn F Van Gorp. 2014. Integration of Volunteer and Technical Communities into the Humanitarian Aid Sector: Barriers to Collaboration. Proceedings of the Information Systems for Crisis Response and Management (ISCRAM), May: 620–629.
19. Erica Gralla, Jarrod Goentzel, and B V de Walle. 2015. Understanding the information needs of field-based decision-makers in humanitarian response to sudden onset disasters. Proceedings of the 12th International Conference on Information Systems for Crisis Response and Management (ISCRAM): 1–7.
20. Christine Hine. 2005. Virtual methods. Berg Publishers.
21. Amanda Lee Hughes and Andrea H. Tapia. 2015. Social Media in Crisis: When Professional Responders Meet Digital Volunteers. Journal of Homeland Security and Emergency Management 12, 3: 679–706.
22. Amanda Hughes, Leysa Palen, and Steve Peterson. 2008. Social media in emergency management: Academic perspective. Critical issues in Disaster Science and Management: A dialogue between researchers and emergency managers.
23. Muhammad Imran, Shady Elbassuoni, Carlos Castillo, Fernando Diaz, and Patrick Meier. 2013. Extracting Information Nuggets from Disaster- Related Messages in Social Media. Retrieved June 17, 2017 from
24. LC Irani, GR Hayes, P Dourish - Proceedings of the 2008 ACM, and undefined 2008. Situated practices of looking: visual practice in an online world. Retrieved July 19, 2018 from
25. Victor Kaptelinin, Bonnie A Nardi, and Catriona Macaulay. 1999. Methods & tools: The activity checklist: a tool for representing the “space” of context. interactions 6, 4: 27–39.
26. G A Kreps. 1984. Sociological Inquiry and Disaster Research. Annual Review of Sociology 10, 1: 309–330.
27. Luiz Eduardo Galvão Martins and Beatriz Mascia Daltrini. 1999. An approach to software requirements elicitation using precepts from activity theory. In Automated Software Engineering, 1999. 14th IEEE International Conference on., 15–23.
28. David A McEntire. 2004. The status of emergency management theory: Issues, barriers, and recommendations for improved scholarship. University of North Texas. Department of Public Administration. Emergency Administration and Planning.
29. Patrick Meier. 2011. New information technologies and their impact on the humanitarian sector. International Review of the Red Cross 93, 884: 1239–1263.
30. N. Morrow, N. Mock, A. Papendieck, and Kocmich N. 2011. Independent Evaluation of the Ushahidi Haiti Project. Retrieved April 23, 2017 from
31. Daisy Mwanza-Simwami. 2011. AODM as a framework and model for characterising learner experiences with technology. Journal of e-Learning and Knowledge Society 7, 3: 75–85.
32. Johnny Nhan, Laura Huey, and Ryan Broll. 2017. Digilantism: An analysis of crowdsourcing and the Boston marathon bombings. The British Journal of Criminology 57, 2: 341–361.
33. Frank O Ostermann and Laura Spinsanti. 2011. A conceptual workflow for automatically assessing the quality of volunteered geographic information for crisis management. In Proceedings of AGILE, 1–6.
34. Leysia Palen, Robert Soden, T Jennings Anderson, and Mario Barrenechea. 2015. Success & Scale in a Data-Producing Organization: The Socio-Technical Evolution of OpenStreetMap in Response to Humanitarian Events. Proceedings of the ACM CHI’15 Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems 1: 4113–4122.
35. Abdulfatai Popoola and Dmytro Krasnoshtan. 2013. Information verification during natural disasters. Proceedings of the 22nd international conference on World Wide Web: 1029–1032.
36. R. Procter, J. Wherton, T. Greenhalgh, P. Sugarhood, M Rouncefield, and Sue Hinder. 2016. Telecare Call Centre Work and Ageing in Place. Comput Supported Coop Work 25, 79: 9242–5.
37. E L Quarantelli and R R Dynes. 1977. Response to Social Crisis and Disaster. Annual Review of Sociology 3, 1: 23–49.
38. Amanda Quek and Hanifa Shah. 2004. A Comparative Survey of Activity-Based Methods for Information Systems Development. In ICEIS (5), 221–232.
39. Elizabeth Resor. 2016. The Neo-Humanitarians: Assessing the Credibility of Organized Volunteer Crisis Mappers. Policy and Internet 8, 1: 34–54.
40. Christian Reuter, Thomas Ludwig, Marc-André Kaufhold, and Thomas Spielhofer. 2016. Emergency services׳ attitudes towards social media: A quantitative and qualitative survey across Europe. International Journal of Human-Computer Studies 95: 96–111.
41. J Sabou and S Videlov. 2016. An Analysis on the Role of Trust in Digital Humanitarian Actor Networks. In ISCRAM.
42. John Sabou and Stefan Klein. 2016. How Virtual and Technical Communities Can Contribute to U.N. Led Humanitarian Relief Operations – Boundary Spanning and The Exploration of Collaborative Information Practices. In PACIS 2016 Proceedings, 17.
43. Kristin Bergtora Sandvik, Maria Gabrielsen Jumbert, John Karlsrud, and Mareile Kaufmann. 2014. Humanitarian technology: a critical research agenda. International Review of the Red Cross 96, 893: 219–242.
44. Sven Schade, Gianluca Luraschi, Bertrand De Longueville, Simon Cox, and Laura Díaz. 2010. Citizens as sensors for crisis events: Sensor web enablement for volunteered geographic information.
45. Ina M Sebastian and Tung X Bui. 2009. Emergent Groups for Emergency Response – Theoretical Foundations and Information Design Implications. In AMCIS 2009 Proceedings, 638.
46. Christian Sell and Iris Braun. 2009. Using a workflow management system to manage emergency plans. In Proceedings of the 6th International ISCRAM Conference, 43.
47. Irina Shklovski, Leysia Palen, and Jeannette Sutton. 2008. Finding community through information and communication technology in disaster response. In Proceedings of the ACM 2008 conference on Computer supported cooperative work - CSCW ’08, 127.
48. JH Sorensen and BV Sorensen. 2007. Community processes: Warning and evacuation. In Handbook of disaster research. Springer, New York, NY., 183–199.
49. Standby Task Force. 2011. Why We Need a Disaster 2.1 Report. Retrieved April 19, 2017 from
50. Kate Starbird. 2013. Delivering Patients to Sacré Coeur : Collective Intelligence in Digital Volunteer Communities. Proceedings of the Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI): 801–810.
51. Kate Starbird, Grace Muzny, and Leysia Palen. 2012. Learning from the Crowd: Collaborative Filtering Techniques for Identifying On-the-Ground Twitterers during Mass Disruptions. Proceedings of 9th International Conference on Information Systems for Crisis Response and Management, ISCRAM 2011, April: 1–10.
52. Kate Starbird and Leysia Palen. 2013. Working and sustaining the virtual “Disaster Desk.” In Proceedings of the 2013 conference on Computer supported cooperative work - CSCW ’13, 491–502.
53. Andrea H Tapia, Nicolas J LaLone, and Hyun-Woo Kim. 2014. Run amok: Group crowd participation in identifying the bomb and bomber from the Boston marathon bombing. In ISCRAM, 265–274.
54. Andrea H Tapia, Kathleen a Moore, and Nichloas J Nicholas Johnson. 2013. Beyond the Trustworthy Tweet: A Deeper Understanding of Microblogged Data Use by Disaster Response and Humanitarian Relief Organizations. In Proceedings of the 10th International ISCRAM Conference, 770–779.
55. Jonathan. G Taylor, Shana. C Gillette, Ronald. W Hodgson, and Judith. L Downing. 2005. Communicating with wildland interface communities during wildfire.
56. Mel Taylor, Garrett Wells, Gwyneth Howell, Beverley Raphael, and others. 2012. The role of social media as psychological first aid as a support to community resilience building. Australian Journal of Emergency Management, The 27, 1: 20.
57. Peter Walker, Karen Hein, Catherine Russ, Greg Bertleff, and Dan Caspersz. 2010. A Blueprint For Professionalizing Humanitarian Assistance. Health Affairs 29, 12: 2223–2230.
58. TJ Weinandy. 2016. Volunteer and Technical Communities in Humanitarian Response: Lessons in Digital Humanitarianism from Typhoon Haiyan. Retrieved March 15, 2017 from