Workshop: Ethical, Legal, and Social Narratives in IT Design for Disaster Response


Call for papers

Call for papers ELSI Workshop

Submission deadline: 16. February 2015

This full-day workshop elicits narratives of lived experiences of ethical, legal, and social issues (ELSI) encountered in the context of IT innovation in disaster response. As information technology (IT) is increasingly incorporated into emergency response, practices of ensuring responder safety, humanity, justice, equality, accountability, respect for autonomy, participation, and professional integrity are changing. As an integral part of information technology design and socio-technical innovation, it is important to constructively and critically understand and address ethical, legal and social challenges and opportunities.

All too often, however, ELSI are collapsed into shorthands, blaming organisational ‘politics’ or ‘culture’, or ‘data protection laws’ as barriers to progress, when the realities of how difficulties and opportunities manifest are much more nuanced and practical. These nuances and practicalities seriously affect people’s capacity to responsibly and creatively leverage the potential of IT in disaster response. Moreover, IT designers can only notice and address constraints and opportunities with innovative approaches if they can understand ELSI concretely.


This workshop seeks to gather and explore concrete narratives of ethical, legal and social issues arising in practice. We invite submission of extended abstract, 500-1000 words, from practitioner and academic perspectives that describe stories of ethical, legal and social issues encountered in the context of emergency response and management, how they were addressed, what difficulties arose. These could be stories of success, such as examples of exemplary foresight or exceptionally effective liaison between different agencies, or it could be stories of ethical dilemmas or troubles such as role abandonment, discrimination, failures to communicate, or silo-thinking, breaches of data protection or other laws, neglect of responder safety measures, or liability charges based on post-disaster reviews.

Contributions will be dealt with in confidence, they should focus on the description of how difficulties arose, how they were noticed and addressed. Stories should be appropriately anonymised and refrain from blame. The aim is to develop a deeper and broader concrete understanding of ELSI with a view to informing socio-technical innovation.

Workshop Theme and Goals

The goal of the workshop is to compile, compare and contrast, and map detailed descriptions of ELSI in disaster response and IT use for consideration in the design of new emergency response ICT as well as for sharing with the larger emergency response community. To do so, we bring together studies from practitioners who have had to make challenging decisions in the field, ethnographers or qualitative researchers who did or can document participant observations of ELSI and consider the implications of technology design, and technology designers who can narrate examples from a technological perspective and who wish to understand the potential and limitations of the various factors at play in making IT work. Topics for stories include, but are not limited to:

  • Information sharing successes and failures, tales from information sharing agreement negotiations
  • Security and privacy troubles in the implementation of new technologies or incorporation of new emergency response plans
  • Data protection in practice
  • Mapped, tracked, interrogated locations, communications, decisions
  • Interoperability successes, failures and stories about making technologies work together
  • Stories about inclusion of new stakeholders in response and their relationship to technological structures
  • Legal problems or uncertainties faced in the adoption of a new technology for disaster response
  • Ethical considerations in data storage
  • Difficult decisions made in the field as a result of either data accessibility or inaccessibility
  • When planned information and communication technologies failed in the field and the effects of that technology failure
  • Legal and ethical issues surrounding the crowdsourcing of information in an emergency situation

We invite contributions from emergency responders, technology designers, and ethnographers.

Contribution Formats

Contributions may include papers in the format of:

  • Self reflections
  • Practitioner stories
  • Ethnographic descriptions and analyses
  • Analysis of media reports
  • Syntheses of stories from the academic literature

All contributions should, at minimum, address these questions, in relation to ELSI:

1)   What happened?

2)   Why does it matter?

3)   What could be done?

Important Dates

16 February 2015 Extended Abstracts due
23 February 2015 Notification of Acceptance
27 February 2015 Camera Ready Copies of Extended Abstracts Due

Please find length and formatting guidelines at

Submission at Conftool

If you have any questions about the workshop, please do not hesitate to contact Katrina Petersen

At least one author must be registered by April 1st 2015, so that the conference programme & proceedings can be completed.

Outcome of the Workshop

In collaboration with the ELSI Track at ISCRAM 2015, a selection of papers will be considered for inclusion in a special issue in the Journal of Contingencies and Crisis Management

The workshop organizers will also seek to use and publish participants’ results in a Pan-European Disaster Inventory developed in the SecInCoRe project ( to support an ethically and culturally considered cloud-based communication platform for use in large-scale emergency response.

Workshop organizers

*Katrina Petersen: Corresponding Chair
Centre for Mobilities research, Lancaster University

Monika Büscher
Centre for Mobilities Research at Lancaster University

Catherine Easton
Lancaster University

Michael Liegl
Lancaster University

Hayley Watson
Trilateral Research & Consulting, London, UK

Zeno Franco
Medical College of Wisconsin