Ignite Talk: Sabina Carlson

This is a liveblog post from the International Conference on Crisis Mapping at Tufts University.  You can also follow tweets from the event’s many open laptops at the #ICCM10 hashtag.

Sabina Carlson takes the stage for an ignite talk.

“I’m not here because I speak PHP,” begins Carlson, “I’m here because I speak Creole.”

Carlson explains that for her, crisis mapping is crisis translation.  “How do you translate stories in response?  How do you decide?”  she asks.  “Humanitarians use tools,” she explains, “but people don’t speak in terms of data sets.  They say ‘I’m hungry.'”

She explains that data and every day stories, are two different languages sets.  “We harness regular stories and translate it into something that humanitarians can use.”

“People don’t speak in GPS coordinates, they speak in stories,” Carlson says, stating another example to explain the importance of translating everyday language into data sets for humanitarian workers.

Carlson also explains the importance of translating between different tools.  Although Haiti has large cell phone penetration, Internet access is low.  Because humanitarians are used to working online (in many cases), there’s a divide, thus it’s important to translate cell phone data into online data that humanitarians can access to do their jobs.

“Translation is about voices,” Carlson illustrates, “it’s not enough just to translate the response; you need to translate actionable information into action.”

“Crisis mapping is not just about translating from Creole into English or French; it’s about translating the language Haitians use in every day speech into response.”  Carlson asks, “How are we listening to these voices?”

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