A variety of projects have sought to help scale matching of the affected community’s needs with sympathizers’ offers to help. The matching logic behind these projects ranges between artificial intelligence and crowdsourced human matching and everything in between, with few successful examples. Meier has proposed a hybrid of artificial intelligence and crowdsourced microwork to solve this challenge (and has begun building a solution employing this strategy with the aforementioned AIDR).
There are significant safety and privacy concerns with projects that publicly map individuals’ needs, as posting such information can open those in need up to unscrupulous solicitations from price-gouging contractors or other complete strangers. In some crises, the variety of needs-matching efforts also risks fragmentation of reporting and aid delivery.
Following Hurricane Sandy, NY Tech Meetup and New Work City managed simple skills and needs collection forms using Google Drive to allow members of the affected population to request technical work the groups could fulfill. They hosted a similar form to recruit skilled volunteers to execute the jobs. These forms echo similar efforts conducted by formal needs assessment programs, with the major differences being that they are online and administered by fellow citizens.
Recovers.org hosted a similar form combination with their well-designed Need / Have pages. According to an email with Recovers.org, form data went into a database where matching was then completed manually by volunteers, including teams from another organization, nPower. Each volunteer was assigned to manage needs in the database for a set number of hours each week. Volunteers logged in, reviewed unmet needs, contacted the individuals who made the requests to clarify the needs, annotated the case, and attempted to complete a match with local resources. Complicated questions were run up the flagpole to the Recovers.org coordinator of the effort, Chris Kuryak. In one month, the nPower volunteers managed 148 needs and fulfilled 26. Needs included hot meal delivery, electrical work, and mold remediation.
The disconnect between fulfilled needs and the thousands who offered their aid using these forms exposes a remaining challenge for all needs-matching projects: needs are not always clear, the people who request help are not always reachable, and the people who offer their assistance are not always easily matched to needs.
Another effort in this space is Castaneed, which is no longer online, and attempted to map and actively broadcast emerging needs on Twitter. Sandy Need Mapper is a related crisis hackathon project, which allowed the affected population to post needs by SMS and responders to mark needs fulfilled with a simple SMS saying ‘Done’.
In the broader participatory aid space, HopeMob harnesses the power of individual story and a more approachable scale, with one story per day. Twitter followers of @hope then provide help in a many-to-one model of participatory aid.