Ushahidi is an innovative open-source software platform that combines crowd-sourcing with online mapping to create real-time crisis maps and other incident tracking.
What Ushahidi Does
Ushahidi is the Swahili word for “testimony” and the platform was originally created to track post-election violence in Kenya in 2008. Citizens who witnessed or involved in acts of post-election violence were able to report the incident via a simple text message on their cell phones, or by submitting an online report. The submitted reports were then mapped in real time, creating interactive crisis maps and timelines that enabled NGOs and other organizations to provide assistance to the areas that needed it most. The platform was also used to spread word of meetings, demonstrations, aid stations, and more resources for victims and activists. The initial Ushahidi platform had more than 45,000 users in Kenya and can be explored today at legacy.ushahidi.com.
The success of the project in Kenya convinced Ushahidi’s developers that there was a global need for such a platform and they began work to develop an improved version of the platform. Today, Ushahidi is used by dozens of organizations around the world to help track crisis events, monitor elections, survey wildlife populations, and more.
Despite its increasing use around the world, the platform retains its deep roots to Africa, where it was founded and where a majority of its developers still reside. Ushahidi holds regular workshops for NGO workers and concerned citizens in Africa to teach the basics of Ushahidi and how it can be adapted for each organization or local community’s needs.
Within two hours of the devastating earthquake that struck Haiti in January 2010, Ushahidi had a Haiti crisis map up and ready to start collecting data. For rescue workers, this was a revolutionary combination of real-time reporting and geotagging that allowed them to reach trapped victims of the quake more quickly and find them more easily and more accurately.
Another current project using the Ushahidi platform is the Louisiana Bucket Brigade’s Oil Spill Crisis map, which is tracking reports from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill across the Gulf region, including oil smells, oiled wildlife, oil on shore, boom failures, and more. Citizens can contribute reports on the website, by text at (504) 27 27 OIL, by Twitter (#BPspillmap), and more.
How You Can Help
Because Ushahidi is an open source platform, anybody can download the source code and use it to create plug-ins, extensions, and other additions to the program. In addition to its group of core developers, Ushahidi also has a group of volunteer developers working on new features and extensions. To get involved with platform development, contact Ushahidi, or visit the Developer Wiki to start checking out the documentation.
Ushahidi is a non-profit organization and it accepts donations to help support its development team. Another way to help is to spread the word about Ushahidi with any of a number of buttons and banners you can post on your website or blog.