Where the expertise lies

Pamela Combinido

25 Apr 2017, 3 p.m.
Room 9

Techno-optimists have envisaged that digital technologies will provide solutions to longstanding humanitarian obstacles of unaccountable aid delivery. This paper, co-authored by Jonathan Ong, University of Leicester / University of Massachusetts, takes stock of recent experiments around humanitarian accountability that use the disaster zone as a beta-testing site for innovations that could then be marketed to future buyers.

Taking a digital and communications labour approach, Pamela shows how local aid workers doing lower-status encoding, survey and database management work are often used and discarded as quickly as the tech they are hired to test.

Despite the great insight they can potentially provide due to their knowledge of local cultures and proximity to affected communities, techie aid workers struggle to overcome workplace hierarchies to effect change. Reporting specifically on the Typhoon Haiyan response, this paper reflects on local aid workers’ ambivalence toward the tech work that they experienced as precarious and emotionally exhausting but also creative and deeply meaningful.