Date of Award

January 2015

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


School of Information Studies


Jeffrey M. Stanton

Second Advisor

Jason Dedrick


emergency response, geospatial technology, human cognitive stigmergy, mass collaboration, social media

Subject Categories

Social and Behavioral Sciences


Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs), particularly social media and geographic information systems (GIS), have become a transformational force in emergency response. Social media enables ad hoc collaboration, providing timely, useful information dissemination and sharing, and helping to overcome limitations of time and place. Geographic information systems increase the level of situation awareness, serving geospatial data using interactive maps, animations, and computer generated imagery derived from sophisticated global remote sensing systems. Digital workspaces bring these technologies together and contribute to meeting ad hoc and formal emergency response challenges through their affordances of situation awareness and mass collaboration. Distributed ICTs that enable ad hoc emergency response via digital workspaces have arguably made traditional top-down system deployments less relevant in certain situations, including emergency response (Merrill, 2009; Heylighen, 2007a, b). Heylighen (2014, 2007a, b) theorizes that human cognitive stigmergy explains some self-organizing characteristics of ad hoc systems. Elliott (2007) identifies cognitive stigmergy as a factor in mass collaborations supported by digital workspaces. Stigmergy, a term from biology, refers to the phenomenon of self-organizing systems with agents that coordinate via perceived changes in the environment rather than direct communication. In the present research, ad hoc emergency response is examined through the lens of human cognitive stigmergy. The basic assertion is that ICTs and stigmergy together make possible highly effective ad hoc collaborations in circumstances where more typical collaborative methods break down. The research is organized into three essays: an in-depth analysis of the development and deployment of the Ushahidi emergency response software platform, a comparison of the emergency response ICTs used for emergency response during Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, and a process model developed from the case studies and relevant academic literature is described.


Open Access