CipCip: It is not what you do, but who you do it with

Long gone are the times where you put a knowledgeable person somewhere and she or he could do the job. Our work has become so complex, time-critical and crucial to saving lives that "collaboration" with others has become a must. Not only with external parties like donors, government counterparts and other NGOs/UN agencies but also internally within the organisation.

"Information" is a key part of the collaboration. Accessing and sharing information a must.

And data is everywhere. From corporate servers, to Access databases in field offices, to Excel spreadsheets somewhere on individual computers. There is not one bit of information that exists, which is not in a digital form, apart from the feeling of the sand between your toes on a romantic summer evening.

The data exists. But is hardly made accessible let alone shared.

With the DELIVER project we aim to make t
he information, essential for moving 4.7 million tons of food annually, available to all those who need it. And more.

One of the key goals of DELIVER is the collection, analysis, storage and dispatch of time critical information, generated by systems, people or by public sources.

Imagine you are in a security constrained emergency operation, let's take Goma 6 months go. You need to monitor the constantly changing environment. In one hour:

  • a crowd is amassing by your warehouse, blocking trucks to leave. Riots possible.
  • the rebels are rumoured to have attacked an MSF truck on the route to Bukavu
  • 550 new IDPs arrive at the border of town, news reported by a CARE driver
  • retreating government troops are confiscating cars and motorbikes
  • the port captain has fled, and people looted his office, making the facilities unusable
  • UNHCR dispatches the latest IDP figures.
  • 10 trucks are waiting at the Rwanda border, apparently some paperwork went astray
  • the Belgian government told the press they will fly in a C130 with relief goods, but it seems HQ is not aware yet.
This stream of information comes from HQ, the Goma radio room, the press, the security office, and your counterparts in other NGOs. It comes by Email, telephone, satphone, and VHF radio. Oh and add CNN, BBC and the rumour mill for a good mix.

How about if we could funnel all of that information into one big information pipe with just short messages and with links where to find the full information? What if the system could split up that stream of information, and dispatch it - dependent on the subject - to different audiences (logistics, security, pr
ogramme, etc...) either via SMS or a real time display on computer - like Skype messages?

Well, we might just have done that.

Please welcome CipCip (pronounce "TJEEP-TJEEP",
Italian for Twitter) to the DELIVER family. CipCip is a joint effort by an underground team of information management people, who wish to remain unanimous. ;-) OK, you can call us "Geeks".

CipCip, is like Twitter, but internal to our organisation. Access is restricted, and new users are added by invite-only at this time.

When we talk about Twitter, everyone rolls their eyes, and thinks of a 13-year old getting up in the morning and Tweeting "I need a new hair-cut".

We are thinking more in terms of:

The core of CipCip is an off-the-shelf open source programme, called Laconica. It has a web-based interface but we have chosen Twhirl as a desktop client.

Both CipCip (Laconica) and Twhirl are free. We are paying 1.3 Euro per month for the server (!), which is also used for loads of other DELIVER projects. CipCip (Laconica) is "open source", which means there are loads of people developing applications for it, and there is a very active user and administrators' support forum.

Twhirl is multi-platform, runs on Adobe Air and also costs $0. The low cost and ease of implementation means that the normal financial and technical barriers are significantly diminshed.

If you are a WFP staff, and you want access to the system, send an email to wfp(dot)logistics(at)wfp(dot)org

We wonder if World Food Programme is the first humanitarian aid organization to use microblogging as a way to dispatch information? Please be sure to let us know if you know of any other.


1. Systems are often not the means, but the goal
Roll out a system, and people will start using it, if the need is there. CipCip started a social stream embracing social media. And they find their own way of using it.

2. Networks start to pop up where they did not exist before
One of the most fascinating aspects of rolling out an internal corporate microblog is that you begin to see a whole new network evolve that is not defined by office numbers, floors, departments, etc.
Seth Godin describes these as 'tribes' in this TED video. The amount we have to talk about is astounding and we have found that this new conversation significantly improves communication. Information, often critical, is delivered in real time to either an individual or the group via this new internal WFP social stream.

3. From far and beyond...and doing it LIVE
Already we have had our first user 'Ciping' from Maputo, Mozambique. We have live streamed meetings so that we could remain working our desks while one of our team 'Cip'd' updates.


1. While all of this is still an experiment, we're accepting more WFP participants, specifically in the field, as our mandate is to develop logistics tools that enable our teams to work more effectively in the field.

2. We are currently working on running internal and external news and information feeds into CipCip so that our desktop clients can serve as our one-stop-shop for information. By enabling the built-in SMS functionality we also hope to start importing field Cip's coming to us via mobiles and satellite phones. By funneling all of this news through a single channel we will have an information conduit that can then be parsed and searched.

We only just started this new project and have been learning the in's and out's of the system. We hope to make this information, the lessons learned, available to the public at some point in the future. We will be sure to keep you informed as we expand our system so that you too can benefit from our pioneering efforts.


Anonymous said...

such an exciting development! can't wait to see how it develops. Thanks for advancing the state of the art.