Workshop on Robust Socio-technical Architectures in Support of Displaced Persons

Project: Research project

Project Details


Armed conflict and natural disasters are increasingly driving people from their homes. This displacement--being torn from physical possessions, familiar surroundings and community--generates acute demands for connectivity, communication and connectedness. The displaced must navigate their connectivity and information needs while experiencing two types of mobility. First, they face macro-mobility as they leave their homes and communities in search of safety and shelter. Next, they must contend with resituated micro-mobility. As they work to establish and maintain ties within their new location, whether a refugee camp or temporary shelter.

These mobilities, as well as the physical environment of the displaced, create challenges for successful implementation of wireless networks, applications and devices. Moreover, displacement also creates extreme resource scarcity, dependency, geographic change and conflicts between individuals and organizations, further challenging information technology implementation and use. This situation demand robust and rapidly deployable network technologies, together with the applications to support victims in their time of need. It also calls for novel social science theories, providing a deeper understanding of the information requirements of the displaced along with informing technical development.

This award supports a workshop to generate relevant novel technologies and theories, and to define a research agenda derived from insights from a variety of scientific disciplines, namely computer, information, organization and geographic information sciences, as well as communication and refugee studies. The workshop will also include practitioners, particularly those working with refugees and displaced populations. Outcomes of the workshop will include a research agenda, with implications for academic research in wireless network architectures, information service design, geospatial visualization, community self-organization and international organization governance. An additional outcome will include publicly available multimedia use-case studies, designed to focus discussions during the workshop but also for subsequent educational use.

To assemble this diverse group, the workshop will be held in advance of the ACM DEV and ICTD2013 conferences at the University of Cape Town, South Africa in December 2013. This location allows the organizers to draw upon the diverse scientific expertise present at these two conferences. It also enables them to tap into local expertise developed as South Africa has and continues to host refugees fleeing conflicts in many parts of the continent. In particular, the organizers will invite officials from the field office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Cape Town Refugee Center.

Intellectual Merit:

The workshop will generate a research agenda for technologies and social science theories to support the diverse forms of mobility and their effects as experienced by displaced persons. Together, the technologies and theories must overcome challenges including limited access to power and network infrastructure, dense settlements, rapidly changing geography, and new and changing social relations among individuals and between individuals and organizations. The research agenda will prioritize technical developments and their associated social scientific implications to meet the most pressing information needs, generating innovations for both organizations and individuals.

Broader Impacts:

The technologies and theories resulting from these efforts will potentially enhance the lives of tens of millions of displaced persons. In addition to making their lives easier, the application of technologies and social theories may also enhance their resiliency, thereby making recovery faster and more complete, limiting the overall negative impacts of armed conflict and disasters. The interdisciplinary nature of the resulting project teams will foster cross-fertilization between computer and information sciences and social sciences. Also, the international nature of the workshop and subsequent teams will enable U.S. scientists to draw upon the resources and expertise of international counterparts. Finally, the multimedia use-case studies can be used in a variety of educational contexts, enhancing the international dimension of STEM education.

Effective start/end date9/1/138/31/16


  • National Science Foundation: $49,453.00


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