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Update: I’ll be on Science Friday with Ira Flatow (NPR) at 2pm today, Jan. 22nd, discussing giving to Haiti and donor advice.

I’ve been pleasantly surprised to see a steady flow of high quality advice for donors responding to the Haitian earthquake. The New York Times profiled the efforts of two intrepid bloggers, Alanna Shaikh and Saundra Schimmelpfennig. Part of Ms. Schimmelpfennig’s effort has been to compile good advice from others, in addition to her own expertise, from around the world (if you haven’t seen the comprehensive advice compiled by Ms. Schimmelpfenning at Good Intentions Are Not Enough, it is highly recommended). Still, even she, I don’t think, has been able to keep track of all the advice columns and stories.

As I see more and more of these stories appear, I’ve begun to wonder: how will we know if this proliferation of good advice has had an impact on the Haitian relief and recovery effort? What metrics will tell us that donors to Haiti and the nonprofits working there learned the lessons of the tsunami, Katrina, and Nargis? I have a few ideas:

* the ratio of gifts-in-kind to cash donations is significantly lower
* the amount of money given to disaster relief organizations that is earmarked for Haiti is lower
* the percentage of funds given to organization that didn’t already have a long-term presence in Haiti is lower
* the percentage of funds given to disaster relief organizations (as opposed to long-term development organizations) is lower
* the number of “mission” trips to perform unskilled labor to “help” Haitians decreases dramatically
* giving to Haiti shows a “long tail”—in other words donations don’t abruptly fall off after the immediate crisis is over and donors give to recovery efforts for months into the future

Of course, all of these are comparative metrics. I’ve never seen the figures for other disasters which would make-up the baseline for such comparisons. Perhaps they are out there.

What other metrics should we be looking at to assess the impact of donor advice? Have you seen any data on these issues from prior disasters?

I’ll confess I’ve even begun to wonder if there is too much advice from too many sources out there. Would the message be heard more clearly if it was coming from so many places, and with so many variations, at once?


Right on! Great start on metrics. You’re ideas made me think of the crowdsourced disaster accountability program - online here (  - which is also being built out more by Crisis Camps: Haiti over the next few weekends. You may be onto something with the combination of comparative metrics + advice + crowdsourced monitoring. Our job as bloggers - keep the spotlight on the relief work over time to learn about actual aid and the flow of donations.

Looking forward to Science Friday!

January 22, 2010

Since I am one of the intrepid bloggers mentioned in the post I’ll weigh in on the issue. I don’t know the impact, I hope there is one and the metrics that Tim lays out seem reasonable but I don’t know how we would ever get any reliable measurements from previous disasters of the current disaster. 

I can say there’s seems to be a great deal of interest in how to give better. Yesterday I had 11,600 hits on my blog from 7,300 unique visitors and have already had 1,500 unique visitors today. In the past 36 hours visitors to my blog have clicked approximately 3,000 times on links provided in my blog to other sources of information.

Will we have a measurable impact on what happens in Haiti? I don’t know and can only hope all of this makes a difference. But I do think we are helping to change some of the conversation. If we can continue to do this over the long run I think we’ll have an impact. Or maybe it’s just wishful thinking.

January 22, 2010

Stephanie Strom from the NYT sent me this via twitter

@saundra_s Pal of mine down there, though, says less “stuff” piling up than post-tsunami and Katrina. Glimmer of hope….

Like I said actual measurements will be a problem, how much can we trust and use anecdotal information?

January 23, 2010

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