MOSAIC NOLA:The Gentilly Project

Friday, September 30, 2005

Personal Lifelines to Katrina Evacuees

Today I was on the phone with Shelley, a New Hampshire resident who runs a group called SOS Helpers. She has a friend in Houston who goes to the Astrodome and identifies the needs of particular evacuee families. Once the friend identifies the family, goods and services, Shelley sends express shipments and/or arranges for other help. Who says that you can't reach evacuees from a distance...and she does it more with the phone and commerical shipping services than with the Internet.

Shelley had a lot to say about evacuees, how they are perceived, and the kinds of things that they need. Hope to talk to her more about this, and report it here in some form.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

A Teach-In, But Lasting All Quarter Long

Teach-ins are events held on college campuses, during a societal moment that could be an awakening of consciousness. Hurricanes Katrina and Rita are providing such a moment, and I'm sure that teach-ins related to the destruction of these hurricanes are being organized for students at different colleges nationwide. But why are they just for students? And why must the "teach-in" just last for a day?

I've designed this course-length project (MOSAIC) to be an awakening. My students will walk away from my course thinking differently about organizations, and about the kinds of impact they can make in the lives of others through organizing. And they will contribute to a mission that is greater than themselves: mobilization for community revival. It is an awesome task, but it can be tamed by taking it in pieces and working with others. That's the lesson worth practicing and learning.

But it makes little sense to me to confine this experience to members of my class, so this project is intended to be open. This is such an awesome task, it will take many more people outside the class to make a difference. It will take the participation of other students outside the class, as well as the participation of Dartmouth employees. In Thursday's class, we are also brainstorming ways to facilitate YOUR participation -- those reading this who are physically distant from us here in Hanover, NH.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Post-Katrina: Mobilization for Community Revival

In the Thayer School of Engineering (where I teach), there's a course calledn ENGS "Engines" 21 which introduces undergraduates to engineering . In the course, students are presented with a general theme like Survival or Energy, and their task is to work in small groups to identify a particular target group, assess their needs within the theme, and develop a solution to those needs.

This MOSAIC project is a similar kind of thing for Thayer's Masters of Engineering Management (M.E.M.) students. My students have engineering degrees from Dartmouth and a variety of other schools. In additon, many have completed their first year of the MEM program and have therefore completed courses in marketing, optimization, operations, and finance. Some of my students have also completed courses at the Tuck School of Business, which I can see directly outside my office window.

The theme of this project is Mobilization for Community Revival. I've provided some initial guidelines and structure: this project will be done in the spirit of open-source software development (e.g., the Linux operating system) and the "open-source" political efforts that have emerged in recent years (e.g., the grassroots presidential campaign of Howard Dean).

Any motivated person can particpate - including YOU. Our task is to provide a structure to help you participate, drawing upon as large a pool of talent, social networks, and other resources as we can tap into. All so that we can make a difference for those who have lost so much since Hurricane Katrina. Today is Day 6 of the project. Our second class of the quarter is today.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Displaced students from New Orleans

Many colleges and universities have welcomed displaced students from New Orleans, giving the students an opportunity to continue their studies. According to a recent graduate of Brown University that I know, a number of these students have used Facebook to reintegrate themselves quickly into a new community. You can change your campus affiliation from Tulane to New York University, and there you are: a whole new world of "virtual neighbors."

But what of the natives of New Orleans who live around the country? I met a Dartmouth student last week who evacuated with her parents. Now she's back on campus. She's not the kind of displaced student that we talk about at colleges and universities, but she's displaced too.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

How Can Your Katrina Contribution Not Get Lost?

How did Mandy Hotchkiss of Vermont come to organize a fundraiser this afternoon - with barbecue, silent auction, and local musicians - to benefit a Louisiana town damaged by Hurricane Katrina?

The name of the town (Grand Isle, Louisiana) surely caught her attention, because she lived in a county of the same name in Vermont. There was also the need to do something personal, something more than contributing to a large national organization. Hotchkiss observed: "...that's in a lot of people's mind these days: 'How can we do something and not get it lost?' "

In the coming weeks, members of my class will be developing a system to allow informal coordination among those who want to do something personal to help evacuees. There are obviously lots of needs to be addressed. Our focus is community, representation, and voice for those who have been displaced from their homes in New Orleans.

All the students in my class are very capable masters degree students with engineering backgrounds and interests in business. The critical challenge is for them to *not* build this system themselves. The emphasis instead is to actively seek and find the contributions (activities, services, solutions) of others, bringing attention to them online and providing an evolving map of what others are already doing to bring community, representation, and voice to the displaced people of New Orleans.

Friday, September 23, 2005

MOSAIC - the short description

One of the many values of teaching is that it ensures we as faculty members become better explainers : )

Based on comments and questions from my students, a more succinct and direct description of this task is needed. How about this?

The task is to invent an open organization committed to helping New Orleans evacuees take steps to community reunion and revival. (An open organization is one where any motivated participant can contribute irrespective of personal identity, organizational membership, or geographic location -- my own definition based on research investigations of the phenomenon).

Local Gatherings Are Happening: Let's Make Them Visible Online

The mission of Mosaic is to find and connect the different kinds of people who want to organize the displaced into local groups, so that they can identify and express their own needs for themselves.

There are many efforts out there already. They come in many different forms: cultural, political, and social. Many Black churches, for example, have taken in groups of evacuees. There are organizations like ACORN that generally focus on organizing low and middle income families. The NAACP chapter in Louisiana has called for the organization of "shelter committees." Also, numerous families evacuated together before Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. And there are many social gatherings turning up all over the country, either organized by evacuees or some combination of evacuees and local people who want to support them. New Orleans Network is a website that lists a number of these events.

Most of these local gatherings just happen, and many people never hear about them. Posting something about these events online, as well as who is planning and organizing such events, can begin a process of seeing more widespread local gatherings for evacuees, wherever they may happen to be. There are all sorts of ideas and successes out there that might inspire others to do something.

More than a dozen students at Dartmouth have joined my Organizations course, which started yesterday. As part of the course, they will be working together to offer organizational and other assistance to those who are setting up local gatherings for evacuees. If you would like to accept our help, please email:

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Are There Words...?

I am having difficulty putting into words what I feel watching Hurricane Rita bear down on Texas. People who were evacuated from New Orleans to Houston are being evacuated yet again. And many residents of Houston, the fourth largest metropolitan region in America, are now evacuees.

Someone who works in my building brought up a good point. In rapid mass evacuations like this, everybody escaping in cars isn't such a great option due to the traffic. Why haven't more of us thought of buses and trains to evacuate, even for those who have cars?

When I was in New Orleans this past July and contemplating evacuation to escape a pre-Katrina hurricane, I learned a bit more about hurricane season. In the aftermath of Katrina, it occured to me (as I'm sure to many others) that hurricane season still had about two months to go. I hope this occured to FEMA as well, and that they acted with the urgency that this possibility suggested.

Is it sufficient to trust bureaucratic organizations under circumstances that are extraordinary? How might a community of people organize themselves to fill in the gaps that a bureaucratic organization might miss? My course this fall term is "Organizations, Technology, and Management," and for the next 10 weeks I will spend a lot of time with my students addressing these questions and how to act upon them - focused specifically on the evacuees from Katrina. And Rita too?

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Hurricane Rita

Communication to establish human connections - either personal or communal - plays a key theme in this project, but the approaching Hurricane Rita brings up the issue of communication for the allocation of resources.

Apparently FEMA didn't deploy many of its emergency relief assets to the Gulf until *after* Hurricane Katrina hit ground. A former official of the agency has said that these assets should be deployed *before* - so that they are readily available if needed. This time with Hurricane Rita, apparently most of the needed relief assets have already been deployed.

Even in relief efforts, the timeliness and accuracy of communication plays a major role in whether the rights things get to the right people when needed. By the time a concerned person in Pennsylvania or Oregon hears about a Gulf-Coast need, the lag time of collecting donations and transporting them could mean that much too much of the needed item gets to the Gulf Coast, particularly if a lot of people from Pennsylvania and Oregon answer the call for help.

The major focus of this project is something different than the technical problem of allocating goods that I just described. Nevertheless, to the extent that personal and community connections are (re)established for New Orleans, I suspect that the technical problem of "getting the right goods to the right people when needed" would be addressed better too, because faster and more accurate information is getting disseminated.

I lived in Houston for a time, and my concern goes out to all those evacuating now in Texas.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Questions and Answers

I've just started to share this link, and I'm getting questions off-blog. So I thought I'd take a moment to do some Q&A

1. Can you add a link that talks about you?

Until I put up a link, here are a few things: African-American; PhD, Stanford University; Formerly professor at Rice University (Business School); Currently visiting professor at Dartmouth College (Engineering School) I expect to explain more as I go, as it relates to the project.

2. What are your aspirations for this project?
  • To apply the latest thinking from my own research to help a lot of people.
  • To give many kinds of people who want to support the evacuees a unique outlet to do so.
  • To give my students this fall term (which starts Thursday) a unique learning experience.
3. Will the Mosaic project be a blog/comments space only?

Currently, I envision at least one or two more web spaces for this to work. Exactly what this project evolves into will depend in on the ideas and solutions generated with and by my students, as well as the contributions of others.

To give you an idea of where I'm going, think open-source software. Or think of the organizing techniques of Howard Dean's presidential campaign. I've studied Dean's campaign for the past two years. While I've outlined a general purpose and architecture of this Mosaic project, the details of what, how, and when things happen will depend on a community of contributors.

Revival of Personal Connections and Communities

Physical separation has cut off many Katrina evacuees from each other, as well as their community leaders and elected representatives. Restoring many of these personal and community connections (and developing new ones) will play an important part in addressing the losses and recovery of evacuees.

I am a professor of management and engineering, and I have expertise in organizations that are geographically-dispersed, volunteer-based, open to anyone, and structured in part through the use of Internet applications and services.

This open and collaborative project is committed to three outcomes, in order of priority and complexity:

  1. Assessment and expression of evacuee needs
  2. Local meetings for evacuees where they are now displaced
  3. Reliable communications between evacuees and the people they chose to represent them prior to their displacement

A core operations team is composed of participants at my home institution, Dartmouth College.

Hurricane Katrina impacted multiple states in the Gulf Coast region, but New Orleans evacuees will provide the nexus of most project activities.