The Documentalist

Summary of MobileActive’s Mobile Data Resources

Posted in Uncategorized by Sarah on December 7, 2010

On December 6, published a summary of the various mobile data collection resources they’ve collected and organized.  The data they’ve collected all focus on the role of mobile devices in the creation of digital documentation in humanitarian aid and human rights, and have been organized at the MobileActive site as follows:

  • Web content: A compilation of blog posts, case studies, and regular posts that focuses on data collection.
  • Peer Reviewed Research: A collection of journal articles, research papers, and literature reviews related to mobile data collection.
  • Reports and Evaluations: A matrix of 20+ case studies, broken down by issue, area of practice, target country, and type of evaluation.
  • How-Tos: Instructions for setting up many of the most popular data collection tools, such as ODK, RapidSMS, and EpiCollect.
  • Inventory: An inventory of current data collection projects around the world, compiled through user submissions and MobileActive’s research. Thanks to all who contributed!

Visit the complete post to access and review the “Ultimate Resource Guide” and associated spreadsheet that serve as navigation tools for MobileActive’s highly useful collection of product reviews, academic and technology research, reports on digital data projects and in the field, and much more.  These resources are constantly updated as the MobileActive team learns more, so take a visit and if you know of a resource they haven’t covered, let them know and they’ll add it to their resources lists, reviews, and databases.


HURIDOCS & IHRDA Collaborate on Caselaw Analyzer

Posted in Reviews, technology by Sarah on November 17, 2010

HURIDOCS has been working with the Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa (IHRDA) to develop a on-line tool called the Caselaw Analyzer, which will allow IHRDA (and other groups in the future) to “easily browse inter-related court decisions, to quickly access the primary caselaw for a given type of [human rights] violation, to highlight and comment relevant sections of a decision, and to share their commentary with their colleagues and work collaboratively on case research” (see the full description of the program and project here).  The goal of the project was to help IHRDA have quick access to both the body of court decisions the organization has collected from the African Commission for Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR), and to provide a means of quickly and efficiently accessing caselaw research lawyers have already done in order to apply that research to new cases that the organization takes on.  You can access IHRDA’s Caselaw Analyzer connection here.  As stated in HURIDOCS’ description of the program, there is a particular challenge associated with using and managing caselaw that this new program will help organizations like IHRDA address:

Court decisions often reference specific paragraphs of other decisions, which in turn reference other decisions. Caselaw Analyser allows you to easily navigate from one decision to the next. And because it uses inline-browsing to jump stright to the quoted paragraph, you don’t even lose your page. Also, all incoming and outgoing citations are listed next to the text of the decision.

Also, CaseLaw Analyser will use a specifically designed CaseRank algorythm, meaning that the decisions that are the most often referenced, will appear first (like Google’s PageRank). This gives the user an indication of which cases are the most important: the primary caselaw.

In addition to assisting in the organization and management of such data, in the future, the program will also offer a social networking and collaboration feature that will allow multiple individuals within an organization to develop a case together on-line.  This feature will permit organization members working over a broad geographic area to consolidate notes, caselaw, and opinions as they develop new cases.

Now On-line: International Thesaurus of Refugee Terminology

Posted in Resources by Sarah on November 16, 2010


The International Thesaurus of Refugee Terminology (ITRT) is designed to facilitate information retrieval and exchange. In print since 1988, the Thesaurus has proven an essential resource for librarians and information workers. However, the specialized nature of and ongoing evolution in refugee terminology meant that the print editions were soon outdated. In 2002, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Library and Forced Migration Online (FMO) began discussing how to create a web-based version of the Thesaurus that would be more responsive to the needs of its users.

The Thesaurus is now available as an interactive and searchable tool online, in English, French and Spanish. The editors hope that this new version will serve as a more efficient medium for identifying relevant indexing terminology and as a value-added mechanism for managing refugee- and forced migration-related information.

This on-line resource should be an important tool for organizations seeking to categorize and catalog refugee cases as they are documented.

Human Rights Resources Profiles at CRL

Posted in Resources by Sarah on October 26, 2010

Image courtesy of

As part of the Human Rights Electronic Evidence Study at CRL, we have been revamping our project Webpage to incorporate a variety of materials and resources.  A key feature of the Webpage is a series of Human Rights Resources Profiles, of which there are currently two (you will have to scroll down to the bottom of the Webpage to find the links).  More will be coming as our research progresses!  These profiles take a close look at different approaches that human rights groups take to digital archiving, as well as different archiving tools that are available to help practitioners establish their own digital archiving practices.  At this point, we have profiled the Web Ecology Project (WEP–also see an early blog post here) and WITNESS.   WEP offers a method for capturing and archiving ephemeral digital reports represented in Twitter tweets, while the WITNESS profile describes an integrated system for training activists in digital documentation and a model for archiving digital materials for human rights work.    Please visit the site and see how the project is progressing!

Check out–Networked Activism

Posted in Resources by Sarah on October 14, 2010

Image courtesy of is a Website maintained by the Alliance for Youth Movements (AYM), a “non-profit organization dedicated to promoting, connecting, and supporting digital activists from around the world.”  The organization hosts a number of conferences and events around the world with an eye toward linking leaders in the technology industry with some of the world’s most influential digital activists (see About AYM for a more detailed discussion).    As stated in the mission statement:

Through the use of new technologies, grassroots activists have more capacity than ever to make change in their communities. Yet wired social movements continue to grapple with the challenges of scaling and sustaining themselves over time.  The Alliance for Youth Movements (AYM) is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to helping grassroots activists to build their capacity and make a greater impact on the world.

As part of it’s awareness-building effort, AYM maintains a blog at that covers recent developments and events related to digital activism.  A subsection of that blog, called  “Networked Activism, ” is dedicated to the role of digital technology and social media in activism.  Recent posts consider the impact of Facebook’s recent revamp on the platform’s use for activism, the emergence of group texting as a mobile app, and digital activism in Egypt, just to name a few topics.  This Website offers a wealth of information for digital activism and is a good resource for helping activists to establish or enhance digital tools in their efforts.  It is well worth a read.

Causecast–an on-line community dedicated to using media in social justice

Posted in Resources by Sarah on September 20, 2010

Today, during my web crawling endeavors, I ran across the site for Causecast, a space created specifically for a variety of social cause groups–including human rights organizations–to network and share media.  The site features video footage presented by member groups and organized under the broad categories of Animlas, Arts, Enviornment, Health, and Human Rights.  As the two text quotes below demonstrate, Causecast is a tech start up company that seeks to create awareness of and attract financial support to serious non-profit initiatives in the areas listed.  The site also offers links to resources for becoming a volunteer with organizations or community actions that you support.   –Sarah


What is Causecast?

We are a newly-launched technology startup that aims to drastically increase online giving by providing cause-based knowledge, tools and social connections in a fun, rewarding environment. Located in sunny Santa Monica, CA, Causecast promises to be the first sustainable online platform for change.

It’s a startup environment, so you’re joining a team of passionate people who are “all hands in” to continue growing this exciting company! The job requires dedication and hard work, and extended evening hours will be necessary from time to time. We work hard and we play hard, and we’re looking for the same from our applicants! (from Job Opportunities at Causecast)

Who is Causecast?

Causecast, dubbed “a one stop philanthropy shop” by TechCrunch, is a platform where media, philanthropy, social networking, entertainment and education converge to serve a greater purpose.

People want to do good, want to be inspired, and want to inspire others to join them in giving back. Causecast makes this easy by providing users with means to CONNECT with people, leaders, charities, nonprofit organizations, and brands that inspire them.  (from Who We Are at Causecast)

Inventories of Mobile Data Collection Resources

Posted in Resources by Sarah on September 15, 2010

image via

MobileActive’s “Ultimate Go-To Resource on Mobile Data Collection” has releasedits “Ultimate Go-To Resource on Mobile Data Collection”.  The organization has complied a multi-tabbed on-line spreadsheet available here that pulls together all sorts of information concerning the resources themselves, the organizations that created them, and the purposes they serve. The plan is to update this spreadsheet as folks at MobileActive learn of new resources.  It is well worth a look!

Resource Guides for Digital #activism

Via John Postill’s blog media/anthropology, we have a list he pulled from a course syllabus he found focusing on on-line tools for supporting digital activism:

Cyberspace Ethnography: Political Activism and the Internet
Dr. Maximilian C. Forte, Concordia University, Winter 2010

Mr. Postill’s post lists several links to a variety on-line resources drawn from the course cited above.  One of them is the “Quick ‘n Easy Guide to online advocacy” published by the Tactical Technology Collective.  This introductory guide shows newbies in digital activism how to take advantage of existing Web resources to get a short-term campaign up and running with little or no cost.

However, The “Quick ‘n Easy Guide”  raises one very important caveat–“They [the cited on-line resources] require a broadband connection and are not recommended for dial-up connections.”  This is a perennial challenge to on-line advocacy outside of the “developed” world–though the on-line resources themselves are free or cost very little, access to them can be prohibitively expensive.  As the field of digital activism continues to grow, we need to constantly think about this problem and devise ways of ensuring that the people who need access to these tools the most can get a hold of them, as they are often prevented from using them because of financial barriers.

Facebook and Digital Activism

Posted in Reviews by Sarah on September 13, 2010

As part of my work on the Human Rights Electronic Evidence Study here at CRL, I spend a certain portion of my days searching the Web for instances and examples of how people use social media to organize activism.  Over the last couple of weeks, I have run across a couple of pieces about using Facebook in human rights. One looks at ways of informing the public of human ribelow.


How Facebook got involved in human rights film

By Alex Ben BlockThu Sep 9, 6:18 am ET on Yahoo! News

Image courtesy of

Though the article “How Facebook got involved in human rights film” does not provide a useful link to actual human rights content on Facebook, it does describe the work of Michealene Cristini Risley, a documentary film maker who traveled to Zimbabwe in 2007 “to make a documentary exposing sexual abuse by men who believed raping virgin girls would cure their HIV/AIDS”.  Early in her trip, Ms. Risley was arrested and detained–see the article for more details on her experiences–and perhaps one of the most striking features of her detainment was the central role that Facebook played in her release:

After three days, an American journalist who read about Risley’s predicament on her Facebook page alerted a CIA agent, who made a call to Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe. She was released unharmed and fled the country with her HD footage.

Upon returning to the US, Ms. Risley followed through on making her film in defense of women and girls in Zimbabwe–“Tapestries of Hope.”  The film is launching on September 28, 2010 with extensive support from social media, not least, Facebook:

On September 28, Risley will be at Facebook headquarters in Palo Alto, Calif., to thank its employees for the company’s role in her release and to go on Facebook’s LIVE streaming video channel to share her story and answer questions. It’s all part of the coordinated launch of the documentary, “Tapestries of Hope,” that came out of her trip.

Her Facebook appearance, which will be available for replay after the initial airing, serves as the centerpiece of an innovative marketing and promotional strategy employing new media — especially social media — as well as a limited theatrical release, cable TV and in-theater ads and hundreds of house parties, all to raise awareness of the issue and encourage Congress to pass the International Violence Against Women Act, now winding its way through the U.S. Senate.

You can find information on the film release at the Tapestries of Hope Facebook page.  According to the article reviewed here, Ms. Risley’s Facebook appearance will be released on Facebook after the initial launch of the film on September 28th.

Hard to find human rights information on Facebook, but it’s there

Unfortunately, finding out about Facebook initiatives such as the “Tapestries of Hope” project is quite challenging.  There is no clear organization of human rights information on Facebook–users need to know what they’re looking for, which they likely learn through their extended on-line social network connections.  For the time being, Facebook users generally interested in Human Rights issues addressed through the site can do a general search for “human rights”–the search pulls up a number of hits, but it’s not an elegant tool.  Hopefully, if Facebook is serious about lending itself as a powerful tool for activism and awareness, it will devise a better means of leading users to dedicated human rights spaces.  In the meantime, we have to content ourselves with imperfect and imprecise search mechanisms within the site.

A DigiActive Introduction to facebook Activism

I found this resource through an informative post at the media/anthropology blog created by John Postill.  On September 12, 2010, Mr. Postill wrote a piece called “Facebook activism out of Burma, Morocco, and Egypt” that–in addition to providing notes on “A DigiActive Introduction to facebook Activism”–provides summaries of three human rights efforts that use facebook as an informative mobilizing tool.  Regarding the strengths and weaknesses of facebook as an activism tool, Mr. Postill’s notes on the report indicate:

“The social basis of  activism explains why  Facebook,  an  increasingly popular social  networking site,   is a natural companion for tech-savvy organizers.  Because of the site’s massive user base and its free tools, Facebook is almost too attractive to pass up.   However, the site has its flaws and is not a guarantee of organizing success.  This guide is written to provide some insights into what works, what doesn’t work, and how best to use Facebook to advance your movement.”


Pros: How Facebook Can Help Activists

  • Lots of People Use Facebook
  • The Price is Right
  • Hassle-Free Multimedia
  • Opt-in Targeting


Cons: Why Facebook Isn’t a Silver Bullet

  • Content on the Site is Disorganized
  • Dedication Levels are Opaque
  • Facebook isn’t Designed for Activism

(Source: John Postill)

DigiActive is an on-line volunteer organization “dedicated to helping grassroots activists around the world use the Internet and mobile phones to increase their impact. Our goal is a world of activists made more powerful and more effective through the use of digital technology” (DigiActive: Our Mission)    As part of its work, DigiActive has produced a number of guides and reports about the use of social media and digital technology in activism, which can be found in their “Guides and Resources” (found in the list of site categories listed on the right side of their Webpage).  Since it’s initial release in 2008, the “DigiActive introduction to facebook Activism” has also been released in Arabic and Spanish.  In 2009 DigiActive produced guides to using Twitter as a tool for activism, also available in the “Guides and Resources” category on the site.  It’s worth taking a close look at the reports and guides the organization produces on this site.

Building a private cloud server to cut IT costs in human rights

Posted in technology by Sarah on September 1, 2010

In a press release dated August 31, 2010, Riverbed Technology, an IT performance company, announced that  International Justice Mission (IJM) has created a private cloud server to support their digital documenting activities using Riverbed(R)  Steelhead (R) appliances to support the system.  As stated in the press release, though the upfront investment in the technology is substantial, the long-term savings in tech support is considerable.  The system also allows IJM more reliable access to the internet as well as considerable back-up and storage capacity.

IJM is a “human rights organization that secures justice for victims of slavery, sexual exploitation, and other forms of violent oppression” (press release) and they rely heavily on email for communicating case information and protecting the safety of workers.  However, with 13 offices on four continents (the U.S., Asia, Africa and Latin America), dependence on dial-up or satellite service made for unreliable connectivity.    IJM explored ways of centralizing their IT needs in-house and found that purchasing servers, bandwidth and constant systems upgrades would be cost-prohibitive, so they decided to build their own cloud.  As IJM’s vice president of information systems, John Lax, stated:

“As we faced trying to reduce IT expenditures, we decided to centralize our email servers to reduce software and hardware costs — in effect build a private cloud… However, in order to ensure email was accessible in our 13 remote offices, we chose WAN optimization instead of costly bandwidth upgrades. Based on our research we determined that bandwidth upgrades would not address the latency issues we were experiencing.”

The result of this decision being:

As a result of its Steelhead appliance deployment, IJM was able to build a private cloud that addressed its Exchange 2007 performance and upgrade issues, while avoiding costly bandwidth upgrades and accelerating access to critical applications. “For example,” said Lax, “in Uganda we have a 128K satellite link delivering only 64K performance, which is insufficient to support an office of 12-14 workers. With Riverbed WAN optimization, we get five times the throughput with the performance of a 256K link. The Riverbed Steelhead appliances effectively doubled our bandwidth capacity while saving us nearly $60,000 in Uganda alone during one year.”

See the entire article, “International Justice Mission Builds Global Private Cloud and Cuts IT Costs With Riverbed,” for further details on this innovative approach to cutting IT costs in a digital human rights world.

Open Source Technology Making Cell Phone Service Possible Out of Network

Posted in Uncategorized by Sarah on August 31, 2010

Image courtesy of

At this year’s Burning Man festival in the middle-of-nowhere Nevada, Open Source Subnet is doing their second year of testing for a low-cost cell phone network program called OpenBTS that would allow even the most impoverished areas of the world to have cell phone service.  The OpenBTS system works in conjunction with a small tower unit that can be powered with solar power, wind generation, or batteries.  As author Julie Bort states in “Burning Man’s open source cell phone system could help save the world” (read the full article for details):

Today I bring you a story that has it all: a solar-powered, low-cost, open source cellular network that’s revolutionizing coverage in underprivileged and off-grid spots. It uses VoIP yet works with existing cell phones. It has pedigreed founders. Best of all, it is part of the sex, drugs and art collectively known as Burning Man.

As stated in the article cited above, the technology will likely be announced publicly in September and developers anticipate that the whole installation kit would cost approximately $10,000 versus the $50,000 to $100,000 that typical cell phone towers cost to install.  Moreover,  it operates seamlessly with existing frequencies and networks.  Given the alternative power sources and the price point, this technology could be a reasonable alternative for cell service in remote areas with fewer financial resources.  The implications for human rights and humanitarian work are pretty clear:

“The UN and ITU studies show that when you bring communications services to an area, healthcare goes up, economic well being goes up, education goes up,” Edens says, noting that costs and power needs are low enough that even a small village can afford to do this. Users may need to pay $2 or $3 a month.