White House Poised for Further Innovation with "Design Jam"

I had the distinct pleasure attending a White House design jam (think "design-a-thon") on Disaster Response and Recovery with over 90 colleagues from all over the tech and innovation space last Tuesday. Honorable mentions include MicrosoftGoogleNYC Digital, Twitter, Airbnb, Twilio, TopixLiquidSpace, Reddit, Rackspace, Palantir, DirectRelief, Recovers.org, APCO International, and Singularity University to name a few.  And yes, FEMA was there along with a couple White House Presidential Innovation Fellows!

Here is a quick description of the event:

The event, to be led by Todd Park, US Chief Technology Officer, and Richard Serino, Deputy Administrator of FEMA, will convene leaders in technology, design, academia, entrepreneurship, and philanthropy, as well as local and state officials to develop ideas for innovative solutions to emergency management challenges.
Participants will brainstorm creative new solutions and ways to support the development of prototypes for some of the best emerging ideas. Solutions will focus on: empowering disaster survivors; enhancing the ability of first responders as well as Federal, state and local officials to conduct critical recovery and restoration activities; and supporting integrated, whole-community efforts to better prevent, protect, mitigate, respond to, and recover from disasters.

We spent most of the day "jamming" to not just discuss, but actually create designs.  We worked through a cycle that included problem definition, design & build, test & evaluate, and iterate.  At the end of the day, we chose team captains to spearhead ongoing development efforts.

There were a number of fabulous projects that, if continued, could really help us leap frog forward.  Here are a few:

  • DisasterRSS - Creation of a "disaster.txt" publishing standard & ontology for websites (like RSS for blogs).  This simple idea is for any organization that has data or information useful in disasters.  The organization would create a .txt file on its website that would have all relevant information for data geeks and others to access its data.  Here is a very basic example.
  • SMS Survivor Survey - Designed to get specific information from specific population groups, the simple prototype simulated sending a short text message survey to a list of durable equipment owners with a tree of questions asking for their current location and the battery needs for their life-saving medical devices.  That information is then saved for disaster responders to deliver aid for the folks that need it.  This model can be adapted to a variety of use cases .  Check it out by texting (415) 236-3575.
  • Disaster Response Data Interchange - Geographically aware data interchange that will intelligently aggregate disaster recovery information from social media and other sites. The system will include Customer Relationship Management (CRM) functionality to autonomously engage “customers” to connect the “haves” with the “wants” across multiple sites. Additionally, it will have an Application Programming Interface (API) that will allow third parties to push/pull information automatically into and out of the data interchange.
The big question on many peoples' minds, though, is "so what's next?"  Innovative ideas are simply not enough to leap frog us forward.  We need action-oriented and sustainable projects supported by a correctly aligned policy and operational environment.  Additionally, resources including funding and expertise are also needed.  While these sentiments were echoed throughout the day, this may take time to realize.  I am hopeful as we push forward and the "design jam" format certainly seemed to be pushing us in this direction.

Check out the full Storify here.

So what is your opinion on what we need to go from innovative ideas to action and sustainability?