Organizing online dialogue in post-earthquake Nepal

I have something to discuss with the team and participants in the Future Makers Nepal project: So you think the online dialogue works well at the moment, or do we have to adjust some things to make it work well?

For example, I was wondering if people from the local earthquake response initiatives have the mind bandwidth at the moment to sit down, reflect, and write a longer text about their work. Because, the work they do is still in full gear, and despite our efforts only two initiatives joined so far. In addition, I’ve heard that writing long texts is not part of the education for many people here in Nepal, so they might be uncomfortable doing that.

Any observations and ideas welcome. Also @Alberto, we welcome your input for the research, network and data organization aspects.

Starting with video interviews, lowering barriers

Here is an ideas for a more inclusive online dialogue, which we discussed yesterday (Natalia, Sunoj and me). Comments welcome!

  1. Ask people from citizen-driven earthquake response initiatives for interviews that will be published on the web. Everyone has half an hour for a video interview (while working alongside maybe), it requires much less mental work than writing for half an hour. So probably, lots more people will agree. They would agree that the interviews are published under the open source CC-BY 3.0 licence just like all written contributions on
  2. Visit the initiatives and make video interviews. The interviews can be visually appealing by filming people at work and letting them explain what they do and show what they have done. However, it should still be interviews because then, their transcription is valid first-hand material for our ethnographic research. (It's also dialog, just verbal not written.)
  3. Post the video interviews in the name of the interviewees. This keeps the automated dialogue statistics in order lateron. We would open an account for each interviewee, and send them the username and password.
  4. Subtitle the interviews and (if needed) translate the subtitles. We would again use Amara for this task, and also copy the subtitle file below the video as textual content. Doing so enables us to use our QDA software to tag the textual content. Ideally, we would find a way to automatically have JavaScript links in each line of this textual content that navigate the user to the corresponding part of the video. That combines fast cross-reading ability for text with nice visual content; I've never seen it yet, which is strange, because it seems such a nice idea :)
  5. Tag the transcriptions with Open Ethnographer. Just as we would tag any normal textual content in posts.
  6. (optional) Allow interviewees to comment without login. They would associate the comment content with their account by simply entering their e-mail address in the comment, not having to remember a password. Comments require only short texts, with which participants might be more comfortable. Also, they might be motivated, because the first discussion would be about their own work, which is presented in the video interview above that discussion.

The video interviews would be more difficult to create tech-wise, but at least Natalia already has a camera and external mic which would work for this purpose.

On barriers, note that I have removed any captcha in the signup process for now, since both Annu and Sunoj reported that it’s quite a big barrier when you have to reload the page multiple times on a slow intermittent connection until getting the answer right.

But, there are probably more barriers to get rid of which I fail to see …


All good, but…

“People don’t do online/written form communication here” is a refrain I have heard since I started doing online engagement in 2007. It is always true, for some value of “people”. But we are edgeryders: we do embrace the power of collaboration, and are ready to invest in it. At the same time, we accept that not everyone is an edgeryder: anyone can join us, but not everyone will. If people are not motivated enough to sit down and write, well, that’s it then. We probably could never shoulder the cost of communicating with them anyway, so it is unlikely that we could ever do much together.

All that said, I am prepared to cut a lot of slack to people involved in disaster relief. Now it is not the time to be demanding that people sit down and write careful blog posts.

However, I am very reluctant to agree to video. Here’s why: if we have to transcribe stuff, the costs of ethnography go right back up to what they were before online ethno kicked in. You risk using the effort of the engagement managers to acquire video, that then @meenabhatta cannot code unless someone spends many hours transcribing them. We have no budget for that kind of stunt.

So. In “the other #futuremakers” (Armenia, Belarus, Egypt, Georgia, Morocco, Ukraine) we will be asking engagement managers to (1) ideally get people involved in great projects at the edge to post about them themselves; (2) if that does not work, to act as journalists, do an interview with them and post the results. This is not so far from what happened in the LOTE4 Stewardship Case Studies: people like @Lauren and @mariabyck – and also more occasional contributors like @ElaMi5 – acted as “community journalists”, reporting in writing on other people’s projects. These reports (except Maria’s, upon her request) were then coded into the ethnographic report.

Would this work for you? You can still do video as a way to engage people, just make it clear they won’t be transcribed. If someone has something to say, they have to write. Writing in Nepali – or sending emails – is ok.


No subtitled video then … but we need first-hand content

Edgeryders are all the edgy changemakers who get their stuff done. Over here, and esp. in the post-earthquake situation, this attribute is not generally correlated with a love for writing. I am not totally sure yet, but the method we used in the original Edgeryders project just does not work in the current context (at least not when shooting for ~100 people who shared their story in the end, which is what I would like to see). There is no lack of Edgeryders here though, on the contrary … and they talk all the time about what they do … so the thought is tempting to “just capture what they say”. We might still do it as part of the engaging paid posts. But admitted, subtitling / transcribing videos or audio is a lot of too-much-work, just “old school” inefficient ethnography …

However acting as journalists or being embedded reporter who takes part in a project on the edge is however not really an option in our case, b/c this project is meant to be an active dialogue space in the end. (Also I’m somehow personally against including third-party reports into ethnographic research … so much gets lost by a different choice of words etc…)

What remains as long as I see is (1) journalistic texts where the engagement manager posts all the key sentences verbatim (written down during the interview) and combines it with some photos and intro texts and (2) creative, low-barrier ways to attract both original input and discussion contributions in writing from participants. Will collect ideas for the latter in a comment below.

1 Like

Sharing is costly

Careful there, Matt. Sharing is costly. Clear communication that is easy to use at the point of delivery costs time, effort and sometimes money. And yet, no sharing effort, no hacker culture, no edgeryders. Messy documentation or aw-just-give-me-a-call are deal breakers. You are a great writer of instructables and know this better than anyone else.

Non-professional transcription of interviews was tried by some colleagues of mine at University of Modena as a source of raw data for ethnographies. Their conclusion was “nope, students can’t do this”. Professional transcription services in Europe start at 100 EUR per hour of recording. On the other hand, this might be feasible in Nepal. Do you want to do a test run? Get three interviews, have them transcribed and see what comes out?

Another barrier of transcription is that people like to talk… so the transcriptions of the interview would run to 3-4000 words, and this would discourage people from reading.

I think we’re going to try this

Of course you’re right, we can’t have a meaningful online dialogue with messy “effortless” writing and talking. At the same time, this is research to (at the moment) find out how the emergent earthquake response works, and when “admitting” only the 10% well-versed writers it feels like being a researcher who actively closes his eyes …

Just trying the interview transcription is a good idea though, we’ll just do that. It can be short (10-15 min) interviews, and we could find best practices that lower the effort. For example: for each interview question, first talk for 3-5 mins informally, then record an answer for 1 minute. This makes people subconsciously prepare and structure what they say to fit into the time limit, resulting in a much denser, shorter interview. Our two engagement managers might want to pioneer the interview mode and find best practices, and we’ll look for somebody to do transcriptions. If the experiment works, the budget from the paid posts will go a long way to produce engaging interviews.

1 Like

Rich data, with the dust still on it…

If there is a sufficient amount (for a thesis or paper) of well sourced and “collected by the book” material in whatever impractical form - it won’t hurt to ask the folks from the Disaster, Conflict and Social Crisis Research Network to make a deal - they get the content if they transcribe it. Synergies. :slight_smile:

Or actually, here’s an idea

We could try to turn the damn drudgery of transcribing into a way of involving the broader community. Again, we would need to get creative, pairing transcribers with Nepalese relief heroes so as to create the human connection. Do you think it is sellable? Would you do it? Would I?

1 Like

An idea indeed

When you said drudgery I had to think of school. You know where this is going - right? :slight_smile:

Who has connections to high-school English teachers? Perhaps in other earthquake risk cities? Istanbul, SF, Tokyo? We could find a central authority of course but ideally we’d package it with some input from ground level so it pushes the right buttons and avoids the touchy areas…

@Noemi you seem to know a lot of language people… :slight_smile:

No contact :frowning:

Sorry, cannot help in this area.

When would the Skype/IRL thing be?

What works for you?

On skype I should be fairly flexible between tomorrow and Thursday evening. My IRL slot unfortunately seems to coincide with your MENA trip.

Thursday is best

… of these three days.

Are you coming to Brussels as I go to MENA? Nadia will be here, you can meet up. In fact, if you need a place to stay we have a guest room!

Skype - Thursday, IRL - Nothing planned yet

Let’s shoot for something after the community call then? Perhaps after lunch, say 13:30?

Thanks for the offer - I might take you up on that. Alternatively, if you have a few hours in one of the places in my user info, I can perhaps bundle things which makes it more likely/easier for me.

1 Like

English teachers where?

Hi guys, are we looking for Nepali-English translators or transcribers from En (video/audio) into En(text) too? For the former, I obviously have no idea. For the latter, @Inge might be able to help as she’s teaching English and maybe knows others too; also @lucasgonzales seems to be a fan of languages; and @Jonathan_Walton & the Tonguesten community. I don’t think you need to be proficient, a lot of people here would help. What we need to engineer is a love campaign so people would be up for. If it’s posted under wikis, we could rely on Wikipedia style edits - I review your transcription, you review my review etc. improving continuously… the costs of fixing a transcription that is not exact are not as high, so we’d only need the first heavylifters.

Re: languages @trythis if you were hinting at newcomers’ wave from Romania, I don’t know a lot of language people - the thing is everyone in Ro cities speaks English, and quite well. We’re compensating for the fact that very few foreigners would be up for learning the local language. We might be able to help.

Talk to you Thursday then, following up on these long threads is quite unrewarding.

1 Like


It’s a rather tedious job :))) but let’s discus this thursday during the community call? :slight_smile:

People who are good at it are usually qualitative researchers (or actually, their assistants :wink: ) and journalists.

1 Like


With pleasure. I cannot make the call, I have several other calls, but I can do 13.30 or even better 14.

Also: planning a trip to Vienna, part of my family lives there. Should have been early June, but now I have to reschedule.

Okay 14:00 then!

Vienna sounds good - I have a couple of edgy friends there, and a visit is overdue. I’ll do my best to line it up then.


How about duolingo? Or some other language learning app company or local school? They get current and timely content, we get transcription?

Otherwise I think @Lauren was teaching English in Turkey, maybe she has some suggestions?

1 Like


@Alberto @ElaMi5 perhaps UNDP has an idea, or existing channels to propagate this through?

@Community_Service_of_Nepal Hey Lisa, you sounded like a resourceful can-do person! People like you usually have nice and helpful friends - and in your case they would also have the written English skills. Could you poke around your bee-hive and see if they can come up with ideas (or even the odd potential volunteer)? We could probably scale the work packages to whatever people are most comfortable with. And if they are a little uncertain they could cross check someone else’s version first, to ease them into the thing.