AAAI Spring Symposium 2015: Structured Data for Humanitarian Technologies: Perfect Fit or Overkill? #SD4HumTech15


Time and Venue: (*Full program below)

March 23-25, 2015, Stanford University, Palo Alto, CA, USA

Organizing Chairs:



  • #SD4HumTech15 ended with great learning and facilitation of multidisciplinary collaboration opportunity--as echoed by post-event responses of multiple participants!
  • Multidisciplinary Keynote Speakers including Andrej Verity from UN OCHA, Prof. Sharad Mehrotra from UC Irvine, and Eduardo Jezierski from InSTEDD and tutorial teams from Ushahidi and Sahana as well as expert panelists will join us at the first interedisciplinary symposium on the Humantarian Technologies at AAAI.
  • We are also having paper talks, posters & demos on research or practical applications to ignite discussions on technology development practices.
Registration Information:

Please register via the AAAI website here (On site available)


Technology is playing an increasingly important role in all aspects of humanitarian operations [9] including search and rescue [1], early warning [2], situational awareness [3], coordination of logistics [4,6], and public safety [5]. However, applications that support humanitarian operations often consume data stored in standalone databases, or in spreadsheets requiring manual steps for data merging and management. Moreover, the data structure is driven by schemas developed in isolation as opposed to ontological structures supported by the community such as Humanitarian eXchange Language (HXL [7]) and Management Of A Crisis (MOAC [8]). Consequently, the increasingly unorganized and scattered information becomes noise in the overall system, slowing down decision making processes.

Our objective is to assess the role of Structured Data (SD) standards such as Linked Data, which can be quickly reused, integrated and extended, in the humanitarian space. Using SD would permit effective integration of and analysis over data generated by multiple parties, including informal communities i.e. the crowd [10, 11, 12], relief organizations, and more formally by government agencies. However, there are several important challenges that prevent its widespread adoption such as the lack of data sources, lack of mature libraries, and lack of standards across different humanitarian sectors. This symposium proposes to investigate the role of SD in the humanitarian relief domain. Is the technology mature enough to warrant further investigation or do the disadvantages outweigh the utility of SD for this domain? There are several important challenges that prevent the widespread adoption of Structured Data for humanitarian operations:

Structured Data Related:
  • Lack of shareable SD sources for crisis related information
  • Lack of mature libraries and tools for processing and generating Structured, and Linked Data
  • Poor performance of tools that store and query Structured Data
  • Steep learning curve associated with learning Structured Data technologies, such as Linked Open Data
Humanitarian Operations Related:
  • Lack of standards in the humanitarian domain
  • Heterogeneity in concepts for humanitarian operations in and across regions
  • Lack of concepts for structuring information that can serve abstractions at various levels of humanitarian operations, such as information needs at the field vs. regional vs. headquarter level
  • Lack of methods to transform unstructured crowdsourced data into structured forms
  • Lack of support for out of the box crowd-source of information gathering that is especially useful in disaster situations.


We invite both position papers discussing these issues as well as technical papers that demonstrate the effective use of SD in the humanitarian domain or where another comparable technology has been used to address the reuse and integration issues.

Symposium Report:

Full Program:


  • Monday, March 23
    • 09:00-10:30 — Session 1 – Introduction, Keynote, Discussion
    • 09:00-09:05 — Introduction
    • 09:05-10:05 — Keynote: Andrej Verity, UN OCHA
    • 10:05-10:30 – Q&A (15 mins) and General Discussion (10 mins)
    • 10:30-11:00 — Coffee
    • 11:00-12:30 — Session 2 – Papers related to Humanitarian Operations
    • 11:00-11:30 — Full Talk 1 : The Entity Registry System: Collaborative Editing of Entity Data in Poorly Connected Environments (Christophe Guéret and Philippe Cudré-Mauroux)
    • 11:30-12:00 – Full Talk 2: Feasibility of Information Interoperability In The Humanitarian Domain (Tim Clark, Carsten Kessler and Hemant Purohit)
    • 12:00-12:30 — Q&A (15 mins) and General Discussion (15 mins)
    • 12:30-14:00 — Lunch
    • 14:00-15:30 — Session 3 – Tutorial: Evolution of the Humanitarian Data Ecosystem, by Sara-Jayne Terp, Ushahidi
    • 15:30-16:00 — Coffee
    • 16:00-17:30 — Session 4 – Demos & Breakout sessions
    • 18:00-19:00 — AAAI Reception
  • Tuesday, March 24
    • 09:00-10:30 — Session 5 – Keynote, Discussion
    • 09:00-10:00 — Keynote: Prof. Sharad Mehrotra, UC Irvine
    • 10:00-10:30 – Q&A (15 mins) and General Discussion (15 mins)
    • 10:30-11:00 — Coffee
    • 11:00-12:30 — Session 6 – Papers related to Disaster Response
    • 11:00-11:30 — Full Talk 3 : Disaster Monitoring with Wikipedia and Online Social Networking Sites: Structured Data and Linked Data Fragments to the Rescue?! (Thomas Steiner and Ruben Verborgh)
    • 11:30-12:00 – Full Talk 4 : Bringing Structure to the Disaster Data Typhoon: an Analysis of Decision-Makers’ Information Needs in the Response to Haiyan (Tina Comes, Olga Vybornova and Bartel Van de Walle)
    • 12:00-12:30 General Discussion
    • 12:30-14:00 — Lunch
    • 14:00-15:30 — Session 7 – Panel on building Data-driven Disaster Response Panelists: Captain Ryan Upper (US Army Civil Affairs), Prof. Sharad Mehrotra (UC Irvine), Sara-Jayne Terp (Ushahidi), Dr. Leeda Rashid (Lumiata)
      • (10 mins) Introduction of each invited expert panelist by the moderator, and initial remarks
      • (50 mins) Five questions on the importance of tech and operations common to all the panelists:
        • a.) Existing technology in-use in Disaster Management (DM)
        • b.) End user of DM Technologies: challenges in those technologies
        • c.) Need for DM+CS collaboration: how structured data can help
        • d.) Role of linked open data: thoughts on identifying tractable spots for use
        • e.) Future of DM: assuming the data-driven approach
      • (20 mins) Q&A discussion with the audience
      • (5 mins) Summary of key lessons and collaboration
    • 15:30-16:00 — Coffee
    • 16:00-17:00 — Session 8 – Tutorial & Breakout Session
    • 16:00-17:00 — Tutorial: Sahana Eden - An Open Source Humanitarian Platform by Chamindra De Silva and Ramindu Deshapriya from Sahana Foundation
    • 17:00-17:30 — Breakout Session
    • 18:00-19:00 — AAAI Plenary
  • Wednesday, March 25
    • 09:00-10:30 — Session 9 – Keynote, Discussion
    • 09:00-10:00 — Keynote: Eduardo Jezierski, InSTEDD
    • 10:00-10:30 – Q&A (15 mins) and General Discussion (15 mins)
    • 10:30-11:00 — Coffee
    • 11:00-12:30 — Session 10 – Panel, Breakout Session, Closing Remarks
    • 11:00 - 12:00 — Panel on Challenges, and Prospects of integrating Data-driven approach in Large-scale Humanitarian Operations. Panelists: Prof. Tina Comes (CIEM), Eduardo Jezierski (InSTEDD), Chamindra De Silva (Sahana)
      • (10mins) Introduction of each invited expert panelist by the moderator, and initial remarks
      • (45mins) Three questions on the existing practices, challenges, & prospects to all panelists
        • a.) Humanitarian information management systems
        • b.) Challenges in data volume, velocity, variety, veracity and mining
        • c.) Role of interoperability via Linked Data and uncertainty in data integration
      • (5mins) Summary of key lessons and collaboration
    • 12:00 -12:30 — Breakout Session, Closing Remarks: Challenges & Potential Next Steps


Invited (Multidisciplinary) Keynote Speakers:


  • Andrej Verity, United Nations Office of Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA)
  • Andrej is an information management officer at the United Nations (UN) Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Geneva, Switzerland. Between emergencies, his focus is on supporting OCHA's information management staff around the world and leading OCHA's collaboration with the volunteer and technical communities. Verity has been working in the information management field for over 13 years, with the last 7 in the humanitarian realm. In 2010, he deployed to both the Haiti earthquake and the Pakistan floods. Throughout the year, he spent time reflecting on his experiences, trying to find ways to improve disaster information management, aiding in the development of the Disaster Relief 2.0 from Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, and having an open dialog with several volunteer and technical communities entities. Talk Title: Response realities, data standards, and bringing them together In humanitarian response operations, things are often messy, unpredictable, customised to the situation, and fast moving in sudden onset of crises. A rigid and technically complex RDF-based approach is too much to start with, and we may eventually get there, but we need to start simple, bring people into the standards and then slowly move towards the idea. Simplicity is king!



  • Prof. Sharad Mehrotra, University of California- Irvine, USA
  • Sharad is a Professor in the School of Information and Computer Science at University of California, Irvine and Director of the Center for Emergency Response Technologies (CERT) at UCI. He also serves as the Director and PI of the RESCUE project (Responding to Crisis and Unexpected Events) which, funded by NSF through its large ITR program, spans 7 schools and consists of 60 members. He is associated with the Cal-IT2 institute -- a multidisciplinary research facility spanning University of California, Irvine and University of California, San Diego. He is the recipient of Outstanding Graduate Student Mentor Award in 2005. Mehrotra's research expertise is in data management and distributed systems areas in which he has made many pioneering contributions. Talk Title: IT to the RESCUE Large scale disasters bring multiple organization (e.g., many layers of government, utility companies, NGOs, media, public) to work together as a virtual organization to save lives, preserve infrastructure and community resources. Crisis response can be viewed as an iterative, information-driven process wherein diverse players interpret information, assess the situation, and make rapid decisions. As more accurate information becomes available, decisions are reassessed, and re-prioritized. Latency of response is fundamentally linked to the speed at which accurate information becomes arrives into the system. Information Technology can play a vital role in accelerating this process and converging to the right decisions. The Center for Emergency Response Technologies (CERT) at UCI is working towards innovative IT solutions to empower emergency responders and the public with transformative ways to gather, process, manage, use, and disseminate information during disasters. In this talk, I will highlight both the past and current projects within CERT focusing on lessons learnt and challenges that lie ahead. Also, I will highlight some of our work on data acquisition, data quality and data dissemination.



  • Eduardo Jezierski, InSTEDD, USA
  • Eduardo is the Chief Executive Officer at InSTEDD, which is well recognized to design and use open source technology for helping humanitarian organizations improve collaboration, information flow and knowledge sharing to better deliver critical services to vulnerable populations, and founded in 2006 from the TED Prize, and startup funding from and the Rockefeller Foundation. Eduardo has spent his whole career designing, implementing and deploying software solutions on a global scale. He originally received an MsC in Informatics after initial work in nuclear engineering, and later worked in Argentina in the areas of GIS analysis, machine learning and modeling for challenges in anthropology. He spent nine years in software development at Microsoft, first supporting largest enterprise customers, then later as Program Manager and Solutions Architect. He was one of the founders of a team dedicated to building software assets (tools, practices, frameworks, services, content and information architectures) to improve quality and productivity for Microsoft’s business customers. The usage of these assets and frameworks climbed at its inception from zero to more than a million developers worldwide with adoption in excess of 80% of the target market — including financial, healthcare, military and manufacturing. Talk Title: Expert & Crowds & Algorithms The talk will be focusing on what each brings to the table in a crisis and global health events; and how they interplay. Also, it will discuss the role of mobiles, and the indirect data that sensors and robotics are starting to bring into the world of humanitarian crisis response.


Invited Tutorial Speakers:


  • Sara-Jayne Terp, Ushahidi
  • Sara is Director of Data Projects at Ushahidi, and teaches system design at Columbia University SIPA. Her research experience includes algorithm development for data science, signal processing, artificial creativity, computer vision, management risk modeling and organizational knowledge analysis using information retrieval, information extraction, natural language processing, machine learning techniques, classification and probabilistic network algorithms. Her commercial work at Ushahidi, the UN and other organisations includes designing and building systems for humanitarian response, unmanned vehicle control, crowdsourcing, traffic information and intelligence, including detection of early signs of crisis in very large data streams by linking artificial reasoning, community-based mapping, open data, data science and unmanned systems. Her volunteer work includes helping organisations like the UN, Amnesty and Al-Jazeera build situation pictures of disasters from social media feeds and online data, and mentoring emerging organisations and technology hubs into the social space through groups like Geeks Without Bounds and Random Hacks of Kindness. Tutorial Title: Evolution of the Humanitarian Data Ecosystem



  • Chamindra De Silva, Sahana Foundation
  • Chamindra is a Director of Sahana Foundation, a 501(c)3 that build Free and Open Source Disaster Management Software. He has been involved a volunteer with Sahana since 2004 Asian Tsunami that devastated his country, Sri Lanka. He lead the first ground up rebuild of Sahana as a generic disaster management system from 2005 as the Project Lead and Architect and has been involved in deployment in disaster environments in countries such as Pakistan, Philippines, Haiti, China, US and many others. His day job is as a Director and Head of Strategic Initiatives-Technology at Virtusa Corp, A Global Software Services company headquartered in Boston, MA. With Virtusa he was the technical lead of a CSR effort to develop a Rehabilitation management system that was used post-civil war in Sri Lanka to help support the reintegration and re-training of x-combatants back to society. He also co-founded the first HFOSS community and is an advisory board member of the HFOSS Project. He is a member of the Open Source Initiative (OSI). He also co-lead a W3C group on Emergency Interoperability standards. He has published articles and papers for CACM, IEEE, IDRC, UNDP, UN ESCAP and CMI. Co-Author of Book on Open Source Software Engineering. He is a graduate of Madgalen College, Oxford University.
  • Ramindu Deshapriya, Sahana Foundation
  • Ramindu Deshapriya has been with the Sahana Software Foundation since 2011 as an active member of the open source community. He completed two Google Summer of Code projects with Sahana and later went on to become Branch Manager for Sahana’s PHP product, Vesuvius. He works as an External Consultant at Virtusa Pvt Ltd in Sri Lanka and has extensive experience in contributing to Open Source projects. He graduated with a B.Sc in Information Technology from the University of Moratuwa, Sri Lanka in 2012. He is currently reading for an MPhil at the University of Kelaniya, Sri Lanka. Ramindu has interest in technology ranging from Disaster Management Systems to Mobile application development to Service-Oriented Architecture. Tutorial Title: Sahana Eden: An Open Source Humanitarian Platform


Call for Papers: CfP pdf version

Suggested topics:

We invite papers on various research topics in the context of extracting, organizing, and using Structured Data in the applications for humanitarian relief, including but not limited to the following:

  • Data schemas/ontologies for disaster management
  • Data schemas/ontologies for need/offer to assist coordination
  • Schemas/ontologies for humanitarian response and recovery operations
  • Applications of SD in humanitarian technologies
  • Use cases for use of SD for humanitarian operations at various levels- field, regional and headquarters



We invite two types of submissions: position papers (upto 5 pages including references), and technical papers (upto 8 pages including references). Submissions presenting early stages of both research and development in the solicited topics are encouraged. The format is the standard double-column AAAI Proceedings Style (AAAI format) and submitted using the Easychair site mentioned below. Submissions that do not comply with the above guidelines may be rejected without review. Additional information about formatting and style files are available online at AAAI guideline website.

Papers should be submitted as per AAAI instructions at: EasyChair site

Along with paper presentations, the symposium will include invited talks and a panel discussion that will bring together experts in Linked Data with those in Crisis Informatics to debate the role of Structured Data in humanitarian technologies.


Important Dates:


  • October 24, 2014 (Extended: Oct 31, 2014) : Submissions due
  • November 26, 2014 : Author notifications
  • As per AAAI instructions : Camera Ready submission due to AAAI
  • March 23-25, 2015 : Symposium (*Check the full program above*)


Program Committee:


  • Chris Albon (Ushahidi, USA)
  • Ken Anderson (University of Colorado, USA)
  • Marcos Borges (Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, Brazil)
  • Carlos Castillo (Qatar Computing Research Institute, Qatar)
  • Tina Comes (Center for Integrated Emergency Management, Norway)
  • Tim Clark (Milcord, USA)
  • Carsten Keßler (The City University of New York, USA)
  • Patrick Meier (Qatar Computing Research Institute, Qatar)
  • Andrés Monroy-Hernández (Microsoft Research, USA)
  • Kate Starbird (University of Washington, USA)
  • Sara-Jayne Terp (Ushahidi, USA)
  • Bartel van de Walle (Tilburg University, Netherlands)
  • Sarah Vieweg (Qatar Computing Research Institute, Qatar)




  • [1] International Community of the Red Cross,
  • [2] Crisis Mappers,
  • [3] Vieweg, S., Hughes, A. L., Starbird, K., & Palen, L. (2010). Microblogging during two natural hazards events: what twitter may contribute to situational awareness. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (pp. 1079-1088). ACM.
  • [4] Goentzel, J., and Spens, K. (2011). Supply Chain Systems for Responding to U.S. Domestic Disasters. In Humanitarian Logistics: Meeting the Challenge of Preparing for and Responding to Disasters. Eds. Martin Christopher and Peter Tatham, Kogan Page, London.
  • [5] Portmann, Marius, and Asad Amir Pirzada. "Wireless mesh networks for public safety and crisis management applications." Internet Computing, IEEE 12.1 (2008): 18-25.
  • [6] Purohit, H., Castillo, C., Diaz, F., Sheth, A., and Meier, P. (2014). Emergency-relief coordination on social media: Automatically matching resource requests and offers. First Monday, 19(1).
  • [7] Keßler, C., Hendrix, C. J., & Limbu, M. (2013). Humanitarian eXchange Language (HXL) Situation and Response Standard. January 2013. Accessed 30 May 2014.
  • [8] Limbu, M. (2012). Management Of A Crisis (MOAC) Vocabulary Specification. January 2012. Accessed 30 May 2014.
  • [9] Meier, P. (2012). New Information Technologies and their Impact on the Humanitarian Sector. International Review of the Red Cross, 93(883).
  • [10] Starbird, K. (2012). Crowdwork, Crisis and Convergence: How the Connected Crowd Organizes Information during Mass Disruption Events. Dissertation. University of Colorado..
  • [11] Imran, M., Elbassuoni, S., Castillo, C., Diaz, F., and Meier, P. (2013). Extracting information nuggets from disaster-related messages in social media. In 10th International Conference on Information Systems for Crisis Response and Management (ISCRAM).
  • [12] Purohit, H., Hampton, A., Bhatt, S., Shalin, V.L., Sheth, A., and Flach, J. (2014). Identifying Seekers and Suppliers in Social Media Communities to Support Crisis Coordination. Journal of CSCW, Aug 2014. DOI 10.1007/s10606-014-9209-y
  • [13] Holguín-Veras, J., Jaller, M., Van Wassenhove, L. N., Pérez, N., & Wachtendorf, T. (2012). On the unique features of post-disaster humanitarian logistics. Journal of Operations Management, 30(7), 494-506.
  • Additional references: Humanitarian Computing Bibliography, AAAI ICWSM-13 tutorial details, SIAM SDM-14 tutorial details


Related events and resources:



About the organizing committee:

Lalana Kagal is a Principal Research Scientist at MIT CSAIL, the Deputy Director of the Decentralized Information Group (DIG), a Web Science Research Institute Research Fellow, and a member of the editorial board of the Journal of Web Semantics. She is currently exploring various facets of information management and policy, such as the development of new paradigms for exploring and integrating distributed data, privacy aware querying of Big (Linked) Data, and mobile frameworks for disaster management. She has been on the organizing and/or program committee of several conferences including International Joint Conference of Artificial Intelligence (IJCAI), International Semantic Web Conference (ISWC), World Wide Web Conference (WWW), International Conference on Autonomous Agents and Multiagent Systems (AAMAS), AAAI, IEEE Policy Symposium, IEEE Mobiquitous, and ACM Symposium on Applied Computing (SAC). She has also chaired several workshops and symposia at the same conferences as well as organized the Open Government Knowledge AAAI Fall symposium in 2011. More about Lalana:

Hemant Purohit is an interdisciplinary, Computational Social Science researcher at the Ohio Center of Excellence in Knowledge-enabled Computing (Kno.e.sis), Wright State Univ, USA and a PhD candidate under Prof. Amit Sheth. In the NSF SoCS project at Kno.e.sis, he coordinates crisis computing research guided by psycholinguistic theories to analyze social media communities for answering: whom to coordinate, why to coordinate and how to coordinate. It involves problems of intent mining, community engagement, structured data transformation, etc. He is also investigating extensions of existing ontologies specifically to support relief coordination. He was among eight international fellows at ICCM-2013, UN Nairobi, supported by USAID, Google and ICT4Peace foundation based on his work. His initiative SoMeC was also the winner of UN ICT agency ITU’s Young Innovator 2014 competition on Open Source Technologies for Disaster Management. He has jointly presented tutorials on crisis computing driven by social media analytics at prestigious conferences, AAAI ICWSM-2013 and SIAM SDM-2014. He has served as reviewer for conferences and journals including HICSS, JCSCW, ACM TOIT, etc. More about Hemant:

Oshani Seneviratne, is currently a Senior Software Engineer at Oracle. She is a recent Computer Science PhD graduate from MIT supervised by Tim Berners-Lee and Lalana Kagal. Prior to MIT, she has contributed to a disaster management application portal called ‘Sahana’ that was put together very quickly by several Sri Lankan university undergraduates after the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004. While at MIT, she is worked on DIY disaster management applications using the MIT App Inventor Framework. Since 2007, she has carried out Semantic Web research and contributed to Linked Data tools such as the Tabulator. She has experience in organizing local workshops and conferences; she was the Program Chair of the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory’s Student Workshop, Publicity Chair of the International Semantic Web Conference in 2012, and has participated in several Semantic Web conferences and workshops as a reviewer. More about Oshani:

Acknowledgement for Support:

Contact: hemant A_T knoesis D_O_T org , lkagal A_T csail D_O_T mit D_O_T edu