Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Database, Interests, and Acquaintance

Synergizing datasets is not as easy as it seems.

This evening, 5 organizations/initiatives who each work on collecting data and building database on the 27/6/06 earthquake relief met in Gelanggang, UGM. They were Combine, HelpJogja.net, UGM Gelanggang activists, UGM Geography, and Suara Korban Bencana. The meeting was to see if there was a collective need to synergize such datasets – so together, we all could paint a more complete picture of victims’ condition and needs. If we could do this, we (again, collectively) could provide a better – as in more comprehensive - referral service for those working to distribute aid.

Several issues arose. Some of the more technical ones include difficulty of building a single-format database, that the variety of data on the ground is endless, and whether there is any good in uniforming them. An example cited was that UGM (institutions within it) took 2 years to agree and use a single database. Another issue is validity of data and difficulty in collecting and entering data into digital format.

Some options were discussed:

1) we all have/build/integrate into a single database,

2) we have mirroring servers,

3) we use web service to collect data by request from each database,

4) we keep data in our own varied formats in our own database, but provide links to each other and build a better flow of information.

Other issues are more macro/political – such as the government’s plan (backed by donor agencies) to provide cash for work, cash handouts for living allowance, and cash handouts to the people to re-build their houses. Generally there’s an agreement that we don’t want our local wisdoms and social cohesion destroyed by the amount & distribution method of aid. Another political issue is the tendency of some agencies (most likely NGOs) to “sell” data for money/proposal.

How can we trust that each and every organization present will not use the data for obscure interests?

The answer is: WE CAN’T. Not on a first meeting, at least. It’s very normal not to trust someone whom you just met. And there’s also a case that an organization (especially associations) can't just make a decision without consulting with its members. That’s why we haven’t come into any conclusion tonight. We’re meeting again in 2 days. Next time, we should meet as better acquaintances.

There’s so much potential in Jogja. Together we should be able to contribute more.

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