The Informal Side of Sandy Response

So, apparently I was at the White House today – my first time, as I never went on any of those tours as a kid. In a series about the FEMA Think Tank, this was the first to happen there, and somehow they decided inviting me was a good idea. Sure, I know inviting the rest of the field time is a good move. But this satire-punk kid? Oof.

The whole thing was streamed as a phone call (that, and other notes, will be available at http://www.fema.gov/fema-think-tank within a week or two. The chat was live-tweeted as well via the hashtag #femathinktank – some interesting stuff there.

img by Scotty! Thanks for indulging Galit and myself.

img by Scotty! Thanks for indulging Galit and myself.

After the mics were off, we did a round-table on connecting the formal to the informal – honest discussion about some tough ideas on moving forward. I was asked to be one of the four people to lead us out. Here’s a summation of what I was getting at:

We’re talking about connecting the formal and informal. Somewhat obviously, I’m from the informal

Individual voice (sometimes represented through social media) is important in response because it gives high resolution and granularity to our understanding of what is going on. Instead of dropping in one massive block of resources, we can figure out where tiny bits go. How communities can help themselves and help each other. In short, mutual aid. This is couple with wanting to respond at the pace our technology has made us accustomed to.

I look at this a bit like the record industry in the age of the internet. FEMA right now can become kickstarter or some other platform on which people can connect directly, and have a way of interacting and supporting each other. Through providing those connections, you can bring your institutional knowledge and directive of assistance to bear on interaction. Or you can be like the record industry and become not only obsolete but also unliked. (I like you all.)

How do we create space for innovation in tech and in policy while allowing paths for systematizing? The things that work can’t just be ad hoc all the time. Challenges are bigger than we can plan or train for – have to give people space and support to figure it out on their own.

The tools exist, as we’ve shown, and we can make more. What is needed is an assumption and platform for us working together.

Be transparent about what you do, how to be in touch. It’s already chaotic, help make it less so. The populations we aim to help can be included in that knowledge. We need your bigger abilities and institutional knowledge. We as individuals also have to learn to support you as our government. So many of these things happen out of directed conversations and open minds.

Ialsomaybetookapictureofatinyoccupytentwhileinthewhitehouse. And slid down the railings. ([x] World Bank [x] White House [ ] NASA). I wonder if they’ll ever let me back.