About this Blog

This is the Blog of Live Project 11 - Shelter Library, a live project undertaken during autumn 2008 by MArch Students from Sheffield School of Architecture.

Shelter Library is the key information resource for the humanitarian shelter sector. Shelter Centre the client for this Live Project are an International NGO based in Geneva. They work to support communities impacted by conflicts and natural disasters by serving collaboration and consensus in the humanitarian shelter sector.

Our project wrapped in late November 2008 the work of shelter centre continues however as does the Live Project Programme at SSoA, for further information please follow the links.

We hope you enjoy, play safe now

1 Nov 2008

Content Progress Update

After another week's hard work, the intensive content seach raises the teams document tally to 255 fully tagged entries. With searching operations expanding into events and training, the team is operating efficently.
Looking forward to the next few days the teams' content resourcing will be streamlined as documentation and reporting tasks are picked up.

31 Oct 2008

Content Filtration

One of the tools devised by the group, in collaboration with Shelter Centre, to aid the content filtering was series of "client profiles" to help tune the Live Project Teams' understanding of the Library's constituency. These profiles are essentially avatars of potential Shelter Centre Library users. Following our discussions with the Shelter Centre, we have proposed the following four profiles:

A Shelter Sector Field Operative who needs info on specific materials and subjects (e.g. bamboo, land rights).

A desk manager who is a generalist but occasionally needs specific info on shelter issues.

A sanitary (or other non Shelter Sector) Field Operative with specialist knowledge who needs to construct some form of shelter as a satelite project.

A government trainer needing material and an extensive bibliography in order of relevence.

These profiles will be developed throughout the remainder of the project. A refined versioned of these profiles is targeted for inclusion in one of the Delivery Documents the team is preparing for Shelter Centre

30 Oct 2008

165 Entries Approved

As our 'approved' document tally rises to 165, the Document Controller took a break to describe the information processing stages being followed to prepare documents for addition to the Shelter Library.

The chain in essences is:

The mechanics of the searching process has been discussed previously this process takes up the story once a document has been downloaded

Step 1:
Once a document has been sourced and downloaded it needs to be analysed. Through discussion with Tom Corsellis a number of document 'themes' can be excluded straight away. These include:

- Academic Papers without any field trials or case studies.

- Health Documents / reports with no reference to Shelter
- Documents about conflict, civil war etc
- Annual reports for specific organisations

Step 2:
Following approval, the Content Identifier then inputs relevant information from the document into a spreadsheet entry. This entry includes document name, language, keywords, contacts etc. Continuity of entry information across different team members is ensured by a entry guideline which the Document Control team have drafted.

Standardised Entry Guide

Step 3:

The entry is then sent to document control for inputting into the Entry Database and the document is transferred to FTP document store. The entry is placed at the bottom of the database ready for checking.

Step 4:
Document control move entry to its alpahabetical position, at the same time the entry is evaluated via the following criteria:

Duplication - Whether its already been entered in the Shelter Library or the google docs
Language - Spelling and grammatical errors
Formatting - checked against guidelines above

Consistency - Whether authors, organisations and keywords are already in the Shelter Library search options. If they are not they are highlighted in green for Chris Tolles to add to the database.
Link relability - That URLs are shortened to the shortest possible term
PDF name - checked against guidelines

Step 5:
Document store and Entry Database are transferred to Shelter Centre for final approval, upload and inclusion in Shelter Library.

Acquiring knowledge

In an age where continual political conflicts and natural disasters displace populations from their homes all over the world on a recurrent basis, it might seem surprising that young architecture students hoping to enter the field of humanitarian aid work are far from in demand. Conversely, it isn’t until the age of 25 that young people become ‘useful’ to the humanitarian field, once they have gained the appropriate experience and knowledge.
For many of us taking part in the Shelter Library project, this is our first time working within the humanitarian sector. Therefore, to a certain extent, our process of sourcing relevant resource material, whether mission specific reports or hard UN technical field guidelines, is one that we have been conducting ‘in the dark’ so to speak. Our lack of experience or intrinsic knowledge of the subject has presented us with a whole mass of information that is often difficult to specify as either useful or not. The internet is a sea of information and there is a danger of being overwhelmed with material that is seemingly appealing to us yet practically useless to aid workers in the field. ‘Nice ideas’ that remain untested or unsupported by credible agencies are a source that we are learning to be wary of.
As such, some sort of ‘filtering’ or feedback system is paramount to the library’s effective growth. Sending a current list of sourced titles, with author and publisher details, to Shelter Centre is a way of getting quick and immediate feedback on the types of material we are proposing for the library. This feedback system was instigated at the start of the week, and involves a daily email bulletin at the end of the evening listing the day’s findings, followed by a quick lunchtime conference call with Tom Corsellis the following day for title-by-title feedback in the form of ‘yes’ and ‘no’, and more importantly, ‘why’.
Naturally, the more feedback received, the more informed the continuing search. We become more self-critical about what we select as we become more aware of the credibility of certain sources. Thus, while the goal of achieving 500 titles might seem ambitious, we are becoming more efficient day by day as the feedback process expands. And while the subject matter is vast and new, we are in fact acquiring knowledge every day, whether consciously or not.
-FTP Document Store

28 Oct 2008

Sector Memory

The term sector memory refers to the transfer of experience from one operation to another or from veteran Shelter professionals to individuals entering the Humanitarian Shelter Sector.
It is an important goal of the Shelter Centre and Library to act as a central repository for the Shelter Sector of lessons learned from the operational experience. The humanitarian sector comprises largely of nomadic individuals moving between operations, organisations and often out of the professional altogether. Unlike in fixed professions, architecture for example, the corporation of professionals themselves can’t be relied upon as a continuous memory resource. In most sectors of humanitarian relief this is not a issue as the major organisations operate permanent departments with recording and reporting mechanisms to act as their memory. None of the major NGO’s or UN agencies, however, have Shelter departments. There are no institutional mechanisms for recording success or failure in past Shelter Sector actions. This compounds the logistical difficulties facing the Sector: without an effective process for avoiding previous mistakes, each new operation and the professionals involved in it must learn these lessons anew each time.
As discussed below the content sourcing process is structured around different distinct search strings rather than specific keywords. Into these strings have been added past operations as specific targets for available content.
Bam Earthquake | Gujurat Earthquake | Yugoslavian Civil War | South East Asian Tsunami | Pakistan Earthquake | Sichuan Earthquake

Shelter centre have given us direction as to what content is needed: the emphasis is on quantative operational reporting, targeted at the Humanitarian Sector, rather than qualitative reporting intended for publicity and fundraising use. This reporting should fall into two categories which can act as an indicator of relevant content to the teams when searching, these catergories are:
Archived from when the operations were current – off the cuff reports of how operational progress is being effected by local conditions [geography/indigenous materials/level of local economic development/nature of disaster] and what measures the shelter professionals are implementing to cope with unforeseen challenges
Operation Reports
Giving overview of shelter sector actions in completed operations. In the case of ongoing relief efforts, periodic progress reports are also of interest.

Content Busting

Sourcing over 500 items of relevant information in a particular field is a task that is simultaneously both numbing and interesting: Whilst (though some may refuse to admit it) monotonous tasks are inherent in architectural culture, especially in certain stages in the construction and making of buildings, it becomes easy to overlook the substance of a particular fragment or piece of information. Thus the assignment of a door schedule becomes not about a lesson in the possibilities involved in the design of doors, but in the completion (through numbering, arranging or whatever) of the task at hand. It becomes easy to ignore, or even abstract, the immediate content and its significance as part of a wider whole.

The tracing and preparation of practical material for the library is for direct use by NGO workers and humanitarian agencies working in the global field of humanitarian shelter. The hope is to build momentum for the library and work towards creating an open location for a memory for the humanitarian shelter sector (currently non-existent). Library items are identified not only for the content section of the website but in other areas; providing information on events and training for NGO workers for example, perhaps with a view to developing a semblance of a distance learning setup, where the library acts more as an active portal than a mere repository.

The management of the sourcing has thus been broken down into different teams exploring different strands of research. A more structured approach produces teams that are better informed in specific areas. Each team has a more focused field of knowledge regarding a particular area, and is thus able to navigate it more efficiently. The research strands are as follows:

- Searching through NGO databases
- Through library / document bibliographies
- Within training + Events

In addition, the management of an increasingly large repository of information requires tight control and checking. This is maintained by a document controller, whose role it is to ensure the clarity, quality and consistency of the entries for the library. A clear goal for the project is the delivery to the client of a substantial database which contains clear and useful information, ready for uploading to the Shelter Centre Library.

Compiling an Individual Research Strand Master Document of Library Entries

27 Oct 2008

Tools for Sourcing

Since paths, interaction and transfer over the internet work rhizomically, attempting to source a bulk of content on a specific topic becomes increasingly difficult and myriad. The more content is searched and stored, the narrower the field becomes in which to discover useful information. Converse to this logic, the more data that is amassed, the more routes and opportunities for fresh information open up. To ensure website hits are documented, logged and not revisited by other team members, a number of plug-in tools have been implemented to systematize the content sourcing stage of the project.

creates a record of the path taken through an internet search, enabling logging and categorisation of websites. Websites are listed on a home page and accessible for all users to see and add to. Furthermore, a plug-in tool enables new websites to be ‘stumbled upon.’ These are recommended by other users, cross referenced with appropriate tags and sourced from the existing bank of websites so are different and relevant. This not only enables a documentation of the content sourcing procedure but is also a way to hit upon fresh content that may be of use.

is a shared spreadsheet document system that can be accessed by all users and updated live. Sources of content are split into two categories here; those that have been searched through and those that are yet to be looked at. Users can see who else is online and can communicate through a chat facility. Documents can therefore be sourced more efficiently as it is obvious which avenues have already been explored and which need immediate attention.


The Live Project Team has been working towards a target of 500 new entries to considerably expand the existing Shelter Library. However this is by no means a finite quantity and a serious concern for the Live Project Team has been how the library can be expanded and maintained after our input, particularly considering the nature of the information and its reliance on up-to-date information and new technologies.

For this reason the team has been working on creating a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) that enables future Shelter interns to easily maintain the library, drastically reducing the ‘floundering’ period of the research. However, the Shelter Centre is a small organisation, largely comprised of interns on short placements and properly maintaining the library would require a significant commitment from the Shelter Centre.

The Live Project Team believe that there is a potential resource of willing volunteers that can be utilised by Shelter Centre. In a sector where volunteering information exchange is as important or more important than volunteering physical presence, we believe that our SOP could be used remotely enabling people to volunteer time from locations all over the world. In the past Shelter Centre has tended to disregard using volunteers without extensive experience within the humanitarian sector. However, a detailed SOP to manage volunteers, fully tried and tested, offers people with limited prior knowledge the opportunity to contribute, by following a step by step procedure.


A benefit to the group from the Geneva visit was an explanation by shelter centre of some of the organisational and professional structures which make up the humanitarian sector. From the uniformed position of interested outsiders the sphere of humitarianism was perceived as more of a volunteer based ad-hoc network rather than the muti-billion dollar professional industry which it is in reality.

Sector Organisation

Simplified, the sectors major players are divided into three groups:
UN – various agencies mandated to avoid overlap and gaps [sic] most of these agencies act in a coordination and policy making role. They aim primarily to organise the operational activities of NGO’s
NGO’s – a raft of actors from the large international organisations, IFRM
Donors – Government agencies and charitable foundations who provide financial material and human resources to the Humanitarian Sector

Humanitarian sector reform
Led by the Inter Agency Standing Committee (IASC) and coordinated through the website www.humanitarianinfo.org, reform of the humanitarian sector is being directed towards workgroup clusters rather than seperarte overlapping organiseations. These clusters subdivide the Humanitarian sector into different relief areas with the intention of coordinating the actions of separate NGO’s working in the same operational theatre. This process manifests in Humanitarian Information Centres (HIC’s) which the IASC instigates for each distaster the Humanitarian sector intervenes in.

Professional organisation

CPD -The workforce in the humanitarian sector is arranged into professional disciplines not dissimilar to the strands into which professionals in the construction industry are separated into. Humanitarian professionals have training goals which must be achieved prior to promotion to the higher levels of the sector – namely field operations. Involvement in field operation is restricted to individuals who have proven experience in humanitarian operations or sufficient training and understanding: NGO’s are highly risk averse with regards new operatives. It is precisely for the facilitation of this training, or Capacity Building, within the Humanitarian Shelter Sector that the Sector Training component of the Shelter Centre website was conceived.