InSTEDD Unveils Open Source Software Suite and Training Lab to Help Global Humanitarian Sector Improve Disease Detection and Disaster Response

InSTEDD Unveils Open Source Software Suite and Training Lab to Help Global Humanitarian Sector Improve Disease Detection and Disaster Response  
Breakthrough Collaboration Software Advances Communication and Response; New Training Model for in-Country Sustainable Innovation Launched in Cambodia

March 17th, 2009 – InSTEDD (Innovative Support to Emergencies, Diseases and Disasters) today unveiled three new open source software tools and its first training lab, all designed to improve early detection, preparedness and response capabilities against global threats. InSTEDD empowers humanitarian organizations, local communities, and government ministries by filling a collaboration gap through sustainable innovation – a unique and effective combination of user-centered design, software development, and on-the-job training.

InSTEDD’s new offerings enable seamless and reliable collaboration in the harsh and demanding environments typical of humanitarian work. Combining the power of the Web with the ubiquity and accuracy of mobile computing, InSTEDD’s tools help teams and organizations communicate, share and analyze information more seamlessly, make better decisions, and take more effective action in the face of a public health threat or natural disaster.

The InSTEDD Collaboration Suite consists of three unique software tools, all free and open-source:

  • InSTEDD GeoChat <> is a group communications system that lets teams coordinate around events as they unfold, linking mobile teams in the field, decision makers at headquarters, and the affected local community in a unified effective response. The systems allows both online users and mobile telephone users to share information, report from the field, broadcast alerts, post their locations, and chat with each other on the surface of a map, all using just SMS text messages.
  • InSTEDD Mesh4X <> is an integration platform that lets teams share critical information reliably, selectively, and securely, with anyone, over any network, using any device. Internet connectivity is not a constant requirement since Mesh4x can collect and distribute updates between users over several methods, including cellular SMS text messages and the Internet.
  • InSTEDD Riff <> is a tool that allows a team of experts to interact around information streams in order to detect emerging threats, work together to define what is happening, and make informed decisions together. A team using Riff can use its set of integrated services for analysis, collaboration, and visualization of information, helping a group of experts make better decisions with assistance from both software-based analysis and from tools designed to help human collaboration. Riff offers extensive and continuous machine-based monitoring and assessment continuously, in the background, enhancing the capabilities of humans trying to detect worrisome problems early.

InSTEDD’s Mesh4X is currently available and in evaluation for use within the U.S. Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, Ushahidi in Kenya, and HIV clinics in rural Tanzania. Riff is currently in beta development and field trials at the World Health Organization and within the Government of Cambodia. GeoChat is in beta evaluation within Mongolia, Ghana, Cambodia, and Bangladesh. InSTEDD expects to make GeoChat freely available to the public by late May and Riff during the summer.

Additionally, in the spirit of enabling more informed humanitarian efforts, InSTEDD also has created, a news and information aggregation service designed specifically to provide the humanitarian community with in-depth, multi-disciplinary perspectives on complex problems, helping bring science and technology discoveries to the humanitarian space.

InSTEDD CEO Dr. Eric Rasmussen said, “The humanitarian sector merits much better information technology than it has today. We know we need to develop a more reliable flow of high-quality information for use in the difficult environments where we operate. InSTEDD’s work is to create (or find) free and open-source software for collaboration toward collective action in those humanitarian efforts. We then teach other people how to create such solutions for themselves.”

Tim O’Reilly, founder and CEO of O’Reilly Media, said, “Open-source, mobile, social software can enable unprecedented levels of collaboration among humanitarian groups, helping them save lives in disasters and global pandemics. InSTEDD’s new initiative will allow them to set up those capabilities in developing countries before disaster strikes, tailored to local needs, and then train responders to keep innovating. This is impressive, important work.”

Dr. David Heymann, Assistant Director-General for Health Security and Environment at the World Health Organization and an InSTEDD Board member, stated, “InSTEDD is doing truly innovative work in several areas. They have taken professional software engineers to the field, developing new tools to help detect emerging infections by working with those in developing countries who have the most need. They have also developed a unique educational method for introducing unfamiliar technologies. At WHO, we particularly appreciate their emphasis on inclusion – the recognition that everyone needs information, especially those most vulnerable in the rural areas of developing countries – and we look forward to seeing their work continue to grow.”

InSTEDD Innovation Laboratories

InSTEDD also today announced its Innovation Lab program and the first lab site in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Innovation Labs are modular innovation laboratories established where new technologies may be useful, but potentially disruptive. The labs provide communities with domain knowledge (in public health, community outreach, social and environmental sciences) and the technical knowledge and skills required to tackle emerging threats using modern technology in a sustainable fashion. The result is measured through enhanced information flow, better cross-sector collaboration, and more effective collective action. The flagship Lab in Cambodia is working with the Mekong Basin Disease Surveillance (MBDS) network to identify emerging infections and respond to disease outbreaks more quickly. The first students have already completed nearly 400 hours of training and are working in their own organizations to develop effective methods to solve regional problems.

“Our aim with Innovation Labs is to help people help themselves in their own countries. We do that by providing the tools and training to develop the knowledge, skills and capital needed to address the most important local challenges,” said Dr. Dennis Israelski, InSTEDD Vice President for Global Health. “By working within resource constrained countries like Cambodia we support the primary stakeholders – whether government, businesses, community groups, academic institutions, humanitarian organizations or anyone else in need of these tools and services – to build capacity for sustainable innovation.”

Karl Brown, Associate Director of the Rockefeller Foundation, stated, “InSTEDD didn’t start by assuming a certain piece of technology was the solution. Rather, they listened – to the needs on the ground, to the requirements and capacities and infrastructure limitations – and then went back to the lab and designed targeted, useful tools that would not have existed otherwise. I think the fact that several of their tools are ‘first of a kind’, in that they don’t really fit into any existing category of emergency response or public health surveillance tools, is proof that they really did design the tools around the problem versus trying to mold the problem to existing tools.”



Originally conceived as the result of a 2006 TED Conference Prize, InSTEDD (“Innovative Support To Emergencies, Diseases and Disasters”) is an independent, international 501(c)3 nonprofit corporation created to save lives and reduce suffering through the intelligent use of technology. InSTEDD works with a wide range of valued partners and has received funding from, the Rockefeller Foundation and others.


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