|Abstract:||“Tutteli to Japan” (TTJ) is a case study of ordinary people, a group of Japanese women living in Finland, trying to figure out how to help disaster-affected citizens from a distance in coordination with likeminded strangers on-the-ground to accomplish aid supply delivery. Unlike commonly seen in citizen response to disasters, this case did not start as an extension of pre-existing social group activities or an informal group of volunteers under the name of TTJ. Rather, the effort emerged from individual responses on the Internet to the 2011 Great Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami disasters in Japan, expressing their compassions and aspirations to do something for the disaster victims; some were on Twitter, some were on their blogs. As the devastation escalated, so did the people’s eagerness to do something about the inadequate distribution of resources, with a focus on the breastfeeding mothers in Japan who only had access to powder-based baby formula. Having this challenge left untouched by government or aid agencies, these concerned individuals, as novice learners of international aid work without a chain of command, continued seeking and sharing information in order to deliver the liquid baby formula regardless of informational, operational, and situational uncertainties surrounding them. Within the next forty days, these volunteer individuals were able to ship six times, a total of 12,000 cartons of formula, directly delivered and distributed to the hands of breastfeeding mothers in twelve different locations in the disaster-affected communities in Japan.
In this dissertation, I study the entangled, mutually collaborative nature of finding a way to help processes within and between like-minded individuals and the broader context of people and information with emphasis on information needs and learning. Drawing on a dataset that encompasses a range of real-time social media data as well as interviews and documentation, this single-case study traces how ordinary citizens interacting online develop the idea for delivery of baby formula as emergency supplies and how these like-minded strangers collaboratively mobilized resources for the TTJ logistics and processes of packaging, dispatching and delivering large volumes of relief supply including: the fundraising volunteers in Finland, the drivers and distributors in Japan. This study aims to describe how such ordinary people’s information interactions shape spontaneous collaboration in disaster response.
My findings suggest that independent public participation and collaborative efforts for disaster response perform as sources of tensions and various kinds of vagueness, but these are the functions that spontaneous volunteers can offer resourcefully. With learning by doing approaches, these compassionate individuals, both online and on-the-ground, muddled through unknown needs of unfamiliar activities in identifying, managing and processing different kinds of tasks, particularly by asking for information and acting on information received including uses of vague language and uncertain sources of information. This iteration of dual processes – searching for information to help and self-organizing under leaderless management – illuminates underlying processes of spontaneous collaboration. I argue that the TTJ illustrates the power of intention, which is the power of creativity among ordinary people acting on information processed through humane-driven technology use. These iterative information interactions can be best understood through a new concept articulated in this dissertation, shared uncertainty. This concept encompasses our understanding of independent public participation and collaboration and offers an interdisciplinary bridge between research in information behavior, computer-supported cooperative work, crisis informatics and disaster studies.