user research, ictd research


Nithya Sambasivan, Jay Chen


The South India city of Chennai was struck by floods in the winter of 2015 which resulted in large scale damage and loss of lives. Mainstream media ignored the happenings in the city during the time and the government failed to provide timely help. As a consequence, it was the common public that stepped up to volunteer time and resources to those in need. We sought to understand the role of technology within these citizen-led groups and specifically, what they facilitated.


We conducted in-situ post-hoc user research with volunteer groups, citizens affected by the floods and members of local non-profits. Further, we analysed social media data from the popular website Twitter to understand its role during the time of the floods.


We conducted multiple interviews lasting between 10 and 60 minutes with multiple stakeholders. These interviews often happened in-situ where the challenge was to establish trust very quickly. Further, the interviews were conducted in Tamil and the process of note-taking had the additional overhead of working across languages.

Social Media Analysis

We analysed social media data from Twitter for the seven days of the floods. A geo-location analysis of the tweets indicated that calls for help via social media came from the wealthier neighborhoods in Chennai city , which prompted us to ask the questions - "did the people who actually needed help get it?If so, how? What about the people who had no access to social media?". In the figure, the purple circles surround the locations of tweet emnations while the red keys indicate the locations where we conducted our field work.

Design Implications & Upcoming Publication

We discuss some of the implications for design in our upcoming publication for CSCW 2018. Stay tuned!