Digitaria Joins Fight Against Lord's Resistance Army, Develops Ingenious Media Weapon To Wage It


Like any good agency, the team at Digitaria treats each of its client’s campaigns as if they were a matter of life and death -- but its latest project literally is. One hundred and thirty-four deaths so far this year, and counting. In fact, the Digitaria campaign will let you keep count. That’s the whole point of a new digital platform the agency created for Invisible Children, a non-governmental organization that has been helping Central African communities battle the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a brutal rebel group that has been committing atrocities, including massacres and the abduction of children who are forced to serve as soldiers. On Friday, President Barack Obama ordered the deployment of 100 U.S. combat troops to help regional forces combat the LRA.

The deployment comes a couple of weeks after Digitaria launched its new LRA Crisis Tracker, a communications platform that will enable government and non-government organizations to share information and track the movements of the LRA in remote African communities that often have a poor communications infrastructure. But for the Digitaria team, it was just another data, design and communications problem that needed solving, and it pieced together an ingenious, yet remarkably simple and reliable system utilizing local radio towers to relay community crisis updates to a central database mapping the movement of the LRA.

“We wanted to give people the ability to communicate about what’s going on in the Congo in real-time,” explains Dan Khabie, CEO and founder of Digitaria, which was acquired by WPP’s JWT unit a little more than a year ago. Digitaria has been working with Invisible Children for several years, and there has been a strong connection between the two organizations, which are San Diego neighbors.

Khabie said the decision to develop an ad hoc network integrating decentralized radio broadcasting with a centralized Web-based data-mapping solution to create a “single hub in real-time” was a pragmatic solution to a real-world problem. From a technical point of view, it was no different than any other client’s data and design problems.

“We specialize in taking tons of different data and data sets and making it meaningful,” he said, adding: “The key is how to make technology relevant. In this case it was a combination of technology, data and experience coming together.”

While the collection of the data is old-school -- people in local communities broadcasting it to a central command where it can be inputted into an integrated database -- the output is not. It utilizes state-of-the art digital mapping technologies to display vital information on the LRA’s movements in the most remote areas of Central Africa in a way that creates new meta information about the crisis.

The crisis tracking campaign was built on and inspired by a similar mapping platform that Digitaria originally designed for National Geographic’s “Expedition: Mongolia” site, which enabled “armchair archeologists” to help National Geographic find the tomb of Ghengis Khan. That campaign was a Creative Media Awards finalist.

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