A post-CrisisCampTO interview with Heather Leson

Techvibes: Hello Heather, thank you for sitting down with us today.

Heather Leson: Thank you for having me.

Techvibes: So tell us about CrisisCampTO. What happened there?

Heather: On Saturday, January 30th, 2010, 30 mostly strangers volunteered over 8 hours of their time to help the helpers. CrisisCommons and the network of CrisisCamp (Haiti) are united in a cause to use knowledge and will to communicate and build via technology. CrisisCampTo worked on 4 to 5 different projects while collaborating with people for many other CrisisCamp cities and virtual volunteers. The main projects were the UN RSS Feed Aggregator, Sugar CRM development, Machine Translation testing (Python), Haitian Voices and local community outreach, and beginning preliminary testing on an Iphone app for the People Finder project.

Techvibes: For those of use that didn’t hear about it, what was CrisisCamp?

Heather: CrisisCamp (Haiti) is the first time that CrisisCommons has reacted to large emergency. We are growing by city and volunteers every day. The concept is that developers, emergency planners, social media savvy, project managers and other technical knowledge workers volunteer their unique skill and tool-sets to help others. At the moment, we are all focused mainly on projects requested by NGOs and on some CrisisCommons infrastructure projects to help us volunteer better. As with any new volunteer organization, we are building as we are working on our core goals. It is ever-changing. Every day people in various cities could be working virtually on an existing project or a new project submitted by an NGO could begin. All the while we are trying to establish best practices.

Techvibes: And what is your role in all of this?

Heather: As a City coordinator, it is my job to work with our city project leads and the CrisisCamp project leads to determine which projects might best fit the skills of the folks who have rsvp’ed to volunteer. We did research in advance of our CrisisCamp to help with our selection. Because projects are ever-changing and because volunteers can vary, our job is to pick a number of projects in advance and then make final decisions on the day of the event.There are two big streams of volunteering: Social media and translation (wiki, blogs, and social networks) and software development (programming, usability, quality assurance and analysis.)

Techvibes: Tell us about some of the highlights of the day. Did anything happen on January 30th that stuck out in your mind?

Heather: Absolutely. Some of the highlights were:

– BC Holmes of the Toronto Haitian Action Committee joined us to talk about Haiti and the spirit of the people.
– The fact that everyone told me that they learned something new at the event was a big win for me.
– Our two Haitian-born University of Toronto students worked on a number of projects helping translate and test language. This included Haitian Voices, a Bing application test and a Google app test.
– Our Sugar CRM team really excelled testing modules. It was a sheer delight to have the University of Toronto engineer students later blog about the fast pace of crowdsourced open source software development.

Techvibes: Sounds amazing! Any final thought you wanted to add?

Heather: Yes! We are all extremely proud of the volunteer’s effort and are looking forward to building on this with the next CrisisCamp (Haiti) – Toronto. CrisisCommons is very committed to building the VTC (Volunteer Technology Community) and we all look forward to the possibility of open source communications and technology providing the ability to reach out and help.

Techvibes: Fantastic! We’re looking forward to it, and we’ll make sure to cover the next one as well.


Did you attend CrisisCampTO? What was your favorite moment of the day? Let us know by way of a comment!