Discussion Series: Use of ODK after the Nepal Earthquake

Hi all,

I am Prabhas Pokharel, and I have been a part of the ODK community since
2010. I have worked with the Formhub team, the Ona.io team, as well as with
Kathmandu Living Labs (KLL http://kathmandulivinglabs.org/) to build
tools around ODK and apply them in the field.

I only had the chance to meet Gaetano twice, but both times, was struck by
his openness and dedication to creating a community of innovators around
the ODK platform. In this series celebrating the impact of Gaetano's work,
I wanted to write about how ODK was used in the aftermath of the Earthquake
in Nepal earlier this year. I was in Nepal at the time, and worked very
closely with local non-profit technology organization KLL for two months
after the earthquake, using digital tools to facilitate coordination and
systematic relief provision.

Actually, I’ll start by saying that KLL was using ODK even before the
earthquake, which is significant: I think the reason that the organization
was so effective in the immediate post-earthquake setting was because they
already had practice with the tools and the methodologies of digital data
collection. They knew what tools were good for what purposes, and had
already gone through some of the initial on-the-ground learning every group
has to go through.

If you read the coverage about KLL in the press
you will see most of it was about QuakeMap.org (an Ushahidi deployment) and
the contributions to OpenStreetMap. This was because this was the initial
response from KLL; the situation was initially too messy for the kinds of
structured data collecting that ODK enables. But as time went on, and data
collection needs got more structured, and rescue shifted to relief and
reconstruction, ODK was an invaluable tool.

In the months after the Earthquake, ODK and associated tools were used to
collect a record of building inspections
in the Kathmandu Valley (is this building safe to live in? etc.). We worked
with artist Joy Lynn Davis and then UNESCO to build a survey assessing
damage to the 1100+ temples and cultural heritage sites
in the Kathmandu Valley (the oldest dates back to 3rd century AD). We
worked with International Aid groups to create a beneficiary registration
and aid distribution tracking system. And finally, KLL is conducting
ongoing work on in depth damage assessment and relief tracking at large
scale, modifying ODK to make it even more offline-friendly than it already

In this work, a few things about ODK really stood out. The first was the
ease of starting and modifying a data collection effort. The fact that
launching a new data collection effort only takes hours to set up is
phenomenal in a post-disaster environment, when everyone is stretched thin
and being pulled in a million different directions at once. With new tools
such as Ona.io in the picture, the fact that we could also iterate on our
initial guesses and correct the form over time was also crucial. Having the
data automatically mapped then is an awesome bonus: it helps others
understand the value of the data being collected. Longer term, the
modifiability of ODK also became a salient value; since photos were
preventing field uploads from becoming a reality, the KLL team was able to
start modifying ODK to split up split up the data and the photo submissions
so data would come immediately and the photos later.

Before this email gets too long (hah!), I'll end by saying that even though
I have since moved back to the US and no longer involved in the day to day
at KLL, I would be happy to answer questions about the early phase of the
response. Nirab Pudasaini, who has been taking the lead on most things ODK
from the KLL side, is also cc'ed on this email. Feel free to direct
questions at him as well!


Prabhas Pokharel