Particularly during the early days of the 2014 Ebola outbreak, there was a huge need for detailed mapping, health, operational, and other information, but limited actionable data sets available. To identify and meet data needs, a variety of actors involved in health and humanitarian information aspects of the Ebola response coordinated using Skype.
The Skype IM/GIS (Information Management/Geographic Information Systems) chat in particular served as a clearinghouse for requests for geolocation information, and the tasking of creating new maps. This included mapping unmapped areas in Ebola-affected countries, and creating overlays such as the location of Ebola treatment units and community care clinics. Over 220 individuals from more than 100 organizations joined the chat, some in their official capacity, others as off-hours volunteers. The chat group grew organically, as existing members invited new members. Where group discussions became specialized, new chat rooms were opened.
This channel supplemented existing, formal coordination mechanisms, and was used by staff in the field and at headquarters. It is attributed with helping to increase the identification of, and delivery against, Ebola response GIS needs across organizations, geographies, and time zones, and illustrates how an open model of ecosystem engagement can enable relevant actors to self-identify and self-organize.