Card Catalog by Glyn Lowe on Flickr -

Towards an Ontology of the Open

March 17, 2019

One idea has been forming in my mind over the past year, as a combination of different experiences that I’ve seen over different communities dedicated to open content, and how the same problem of documentation affects all communities alike.

  1. The first one is Creative Commons. One thing that I noticed was how useful the use of metadata was to gather and classify information through one of the biggest content “donors“, The Met. Creative Commons has this great wealth of information, searchable not only because 375,000 are available, but because there is existent metadata to do so. When you consider open works in the wild, the use of metadata is dependant of the platform on which it is uploaded, which means that works in data silos are more likely to contain metadata. One idea that came up during an interview with Creative Commons was related to how we transport data from one medium to another. If I go to a rural area to create art with children, can I think of making a metadata card that can be easily translated into the language of digital?
  2. Open hardware was my second entry point, due to the difficulty of determining what an open hardware project is. Compared to a book, a piece of hardware is comprised of different things: hardware, software, documentation and sometimes outside tools; therefore, it is more than the sum of its parts. But it doesn’t really sum because its elements are somewhat dislocated, although in principle, they interact with each other through the element’s interaction with the physical world. So the question remains: how can we define a particular element of open hardware? The OSHWA Certification is doing a great job in determining whether a particular group of elements constitute open hardware. The question that arises is whether metadata can help classify open hardware works in a way that it can even be useful for patent examiners to review prior art from open works, even those who are not part of a repository. That would mean that works can be decentralized and at the same time indexable, just like web pages.
  3. Finally, a solution comes from how some software and data projects on the web have come to use data schemas to make their content structured, easy to classify and standardized on the web. There are different types of schemas and taxonomies, as many as types of data that can be found.

It really makes sense that if libraries, museums and software have a standardized set of metadata tags that can be used to classify and organize creations, open works should follow suit. The question is: how and when will this happen?

A Card Game Approach to Community Mapping

March 12, 2019

Originally published as a research note on

Last year my good friend Gino Caballero and I we were asked to implement a methodology for violence prevention in San Salvador in urban communities downtown. Although we had previous experiences with mapping at Reacción, these had more to do with natural disasters[1] and done in communities where doing guided tours of the area was an easier possibility. This new experience involved areas that were not so accessible by walking, nor safe to walk during the times of the night when the workshops took place.

A second consideration to be made was that social variables are mostly perceptions, and these can vary very much among different groups of people even within the same community. But then again, we thought, aren’t these mapping activities somewhat subjective anyway?

These approaches to the problem made us think of a new way to create and discuss maps. After a long discussion, we thought of creating games for people to play while gathering information.

What we were aiming for 

The methodology that we developed was aimed to collect as much information as possible in a very short period of time. At the time we developed the idea we had the aggravating problem of not knowing the participants well, so we had to be careful about how the information was collected and how they reacted to the questions being asked. We had to worry about thinking: are we asking compromising things? Will people be willing to answer our questions? Will they become wary of our questions?

From a methodological perspective, we also wanted to develop a game that could be for community mapping aimed at solving different problems. The characteristics that we decided upon were the following: easy to understand and play, highly customizable to other mapping needs, and a game that would genuinely make people to enjoy instead of feeling like a survey.


The game that Gino and I came up with was inspired to some degree by StreetScore[2], a neat initiative developed at MIT’s Media Lab that aimed to use AI to measure the human perception of street photos. However, wanted to automate the evaluation process as little as possible by focusing on a more hands-on process that would bring insights from the community through discussion. Our second inspiration was Cards Against Humanity (CAH)[3], a game loved and hated by myriads of people (in some cases, loved in secret but too ashamed to admit it).

The beauty of CAH is its simplicity and the simple use of randomization and creativity to use surprise as a comical element in the game, while the rest of the dynamics are simply meant to keep the game in movement. We wanted to factor randomization and humor alike, while at the same time generating data points specific to certain points in the map that could be weighed and analyzed.


In order to play the game, we took into account the following:

  • Location selection: these had to be easily identifiable by all participants. In our case, we played by using known buildings and landmarks in the community, but we believe that a nice way to play it would be touring the community and determining which locations to use in a collective manner, in order to have participants remember them and spatially recall them while playing the game.
  • Selection of categories and scenarios: these are related to the types of hazards that the game aims to measure, such as those caused by natural and environmental disasters, social risks, or any others that we may come up with.
  • Preparing the card game: this involves making two decks of cards, one for the locations and a second for the scenarios. For our game which was played for about ten people, we used around 20 scenarios and 30 locations. We think that a mathematical approach to maximize data taking would be useful to determine what is best.
  • Working the procedure for data collection: a data sheet must be used, either on paper or digitally. We found easier to have a person doing it with pen and paper, and then inputting all the data in a spreadsheet immediately after each round.
  • Preparing a mapping script: for this I used R and a few packages including leafletleaflet.extras and webshot (to make html maps using Open Street Maps).

How to play 

The process for playing the game goes as follows:

  • One participant is selected as moderator. The moderator will draw the cards, read them out loud and count responses from participants.
  • The moderator draws two cards are from two stacks: locations and scenarios, to form different sentences, à la Cards Against Humanity. For example: “I think that when I walk through ___ I can breathe clean air”. If any questions arise, they are answered before responding.
  • Participants will answer based on whether they agree or not with the randomly generated sentence. In our case, we did this by raising a flag or a card, because it allowed for non-literate persons to be part of the process. Although recording responses digitally may be easier, we found that there are different dynamics when people discuss their responses, especially those that are outliers, for example by asking: are the persons who responded differently part of a privileged group (based on gender, minority group, socioeconomic status)? Do these persons have different approaches to the question, or did they misunderstand the question? These are all valuable and will not be necessarily recorded on the data sheet.
  • Either the moderator, an automatized method or another person will record the responses from the questions and feed a data sheet.
  • A round ends with one of the stacks running out of cards. Cards can be shuffled and other rounds can be played. In our case, we put other activities in between during the workshop that helped clarify some concepts that can help the participants’ evaluation abilities.
  • A map is generated based on the score resulting from the participants’ responses by using the script.
  • The map is finally shown to the group to discuss.


Data visualization 

A few ideas came up in the process of creating the maps for visualizing the results for participants to discuss at the end of the workshop. The idea for these isn’t to have a scientifically verifiable map, but an easy way to observe which areas are most affected according to the chosen categories. We considered two types of map: “heatmaps” (which are technically clusterized visualizations according to the location’s weighed score) and isometric data visualizations. We felt that a heatmap is easier to understand. Some of the questions that we discussed with the group were:

  • What are the biggest points in the map?
  • What is happening at these locations? What are the causes for the problems?
  • How do these problems affect your daily routine? Do you go through them or avoid them?
  • How can we measure the variables shown in the map? Have you ever used sensors or seen them?

What we found out 

The game can be completely played online or through a card deck as we did. The advantage of using a physical game is that it doesn’t seem as menacing as other approaches might, especially for older people. For example, we held a workshop with this game for women over 60 years old without any problems.

Another interesting thing that we saw is how games can be a good way to socialize and reflect on information. Whether an area is safe, clean or secure isn’t probably a question that a person has done to themselves in their daily lives unless time is spent in reflecting about it, so doing it in a way that doesn’t involve a screen or a keyboard, but rather a community discussion is a good starting point for teaching regular citizens about the importance of these issues. For example, the result from this intervention were used to validate and modify some of the police rounds that were planned in the city. About four hours of workshops gathered data to validate a USD 200K study!

Finally, I personally think that game design has a great potential for gathering information regarding perceptions. From this experience, we want to continue validating this tool to create an open card game kit to use as a preamble to citizen science and disaster response.



Should we think of manual work in an automated future?

October 16, 2018

This past month I had the opportunity to organize a workshop in Boston for makers, based on a workshop that Mario Gómez and I we did in Colombia back in 2016, this time with support from people at the Fab Foundation and Fab@CIC. The premise off which we based it was simple: since in El Salvador we don’t have access to a pick-and-place machine to do our electronics, our friends at the Hackerspace San Salvador have worked on simple methods to manufacture the pieces by hand. This proves to be an interesting yet difficult task, as components can be super, super tiny.

One of the main discussions that we had at the end of the workshop with participants had to do with the fact that you can indeed use machines for this type of work, but whether it was necessary to experience the process in a personal way. I would argue that indeed, it is important since one of the basis of maker culture is the idea, supported by constructionism, is that knowledge is built by experience. The more a person interacts with a process, the more they will draw from it.

One of the comments we received from a participant was that despite having made PCBs before, they had never realized that the process was simple enough to do by hand for simple pieces, and that they may attempt to try something like this at home for other projects. Furthermore, a few comments on how alternatives for expensive pick and place machines can bloom from projects like Reacción. On our side, the big question is how can we manufacture high-end electronics through simple procedures that can be implemented in rural communities, and going simple is one way to get the discussion started.

Hand-made Electronics Workshop with Fab @ CIC

October 11, 2018

A couple of weeks ago, Mario Gómez from Hackerspace San Salvador and I we had the opportunity to run a workshop that focused on making Reacción Colibrí kits by hand.

The workshop was made as a side event from the OSHWA Summit 2018, and organized in collaboration with Fab@CIC who kindly hosted the event, and with the support from Fab Foundation.


Fab @ CIC – Reacción Workshop

Social violence, game design and public perception

September 19, 2018

Our recent experience with Reacción on social mapping has brought us into the murky waters of urban behavior analysis. Over the past couple of months we have been working together with people from urban communities of San Salvador for a social development program, backed by USAID and aimed at violence prevention and community improvement.

Our initial work consisted of the evaluation of the initial situation of multiple communities regarding different variables related to resilience, which we divided them between social and environmental. We drew from a good experience in participatory mapping which we developed as part of a workshop in Santiago for the Fab13 conference, on which we invited inhabitants of a local community to discuss their problems with the workshop participants, to draw upon from and propose IoT applications.

For this case, the goal was to evaluate perceptions in communities where different problems were varied and complex, and therefore, would be difficult to map. In order to solve this problem, we designed games to explore the social perception of communities towards certain spaces. The design restrictions that were taken into account are:

  • Vulnerability is a broad term, and similar to the term ‘poverty’, can be multidimensional, which means that it has to be analyzed from different perspectives in order to obtain a complete view.
  • Different actors are affected in different manners by threats in the surroundings.

My favorite activity consisted of a card game made specifically to map social perceptions. A moderator was asked to draw from a card stack a set of cards with scenarios and locations that formed phrases, to which participants responded to with flags that had red and green sides. Sound familiar? Yes, you might be tempted to think of a version of Cards Against Humanity (although in this case it is for humanity, for a change), but it can also remind you of StreetScore, MIT’s Media Lab project for comparing street variables by using AI. The truth is that little pieces of both were on the back of my head when this game was coming together.

In the end, the result was a set of maps that analyze four social variables: personal space, community interaction, road safety and social violence, which will serve to study the behaviors of people in relation to the city’s upcoming urban development.

Maker Culture and Youth

April 27, 2018

On April 25th, a new book featuring an article I wrote in collaboration with Kako Valladares and Kate Samson was published by Fundación Ceibal from Uruguay, with support from Digitally Connected. The book, Jóvenes, transformación digital y nuevas formas de inclusión en América Latina (Youth, digital transformation and new forms of inclusion in Latin America) contains pieces on the subject of youth and digital culture, experiences and platforms for education and inclusion.

Our article tackled the question of traditional knowledge and maker culture as a way to enhance the educational capabilities of children and youth. We explored the initiative of an educational program design by Kako Valladares (Fab Lab El Salvador) and Kate Samson (Creativity Labs). This initiative spanned several iterations in different regions of Mesoamerica (El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico) to be joined in by different fab labs and to impact youth from different socioeconomic backgrounds.

You can download the book here.

Analysis of collaborative project behavior

November 23, 2017

This past August I presented alongside Isaac Robles a paper that analyzed the work of members of the Latin American Fab Lab Network on regional collaborative projects, through their engagement with Google Drive project folders.

A few months later, I have worked on the solution of some technical dificulties on the mining of data (I am in debt with Mario Gómez and Joksan Alvarado for all thier support in making the script) and I have worked on an R script to clean and graph some of the data, for future analysis. You can see the script here.

Some of the interesting findings of this analysis is the lack of connections between number of participants and levels of engagement for certain periods, and the inconsistence in the participation of some project participants, which may mean that certain types of incentives must be necessary for these types of projects.

Due to the constraints of this study, however, it is difficult to compare the findings with other types of initiatives. platform for public domain works in El Salvador

November 20, 2017

Autores is an initiative by Creative Commons Uruguay which was born in 2014, in order to curate locally-produced expressions protected by copyright, and more especially those whose period of copyright protection had experied of was close to expiration. The team in Uruguay developed a web platform which has been sinced appropriated and deployed in Argentina in 2016.

This year, I had the pleasure to work with Creative Commons El Salvador in the implementation of our own platform, which will be used to showcase works made by artists in El Salvador in the public domain. Although laws in different countries tend to be different and there are some exceptions, most of them regard a work in the public domain when 70 years have passed since the death of its known author.

Let me celebrate this with a poem in the public domain.

A los ciudadanos centroamericanos

Atended las instrucciones de la obrera que lucha con tezón,
Por unir los hermanos de la América sin lucha de cañón.
Los pueblos que dormían en la inercia ya despertarán,
Para subir la escala del progreso dó todos gozarán.
Pues los pueblos que estaban oprimidos se libertarán.
Ya no más se oirán tristes gemidos del valiente Morazán.
Prudencia Ayala

Transantiago Visualization

September 22, 2017

As a result from the workshop made at Fab13 in Santiago, Chile, I worked with Mario Gómez with the design of a proof of concept for a model of visualization of data for people who mobilize in the city. For this, sample data from the Transantiago system was mined and visualized for further analysis. The concept is the feasibility of implementing Internet of Things devices to measure pollution in the city, in order to have more accurate environmental readings of the city in real time.

This platform was completely developed by Mario Gómez and presented at the #DatosYCerveza event organized by Escuela de Datos and Cadejo, in San Salvador. You can view the platform here.

Collaborative Mapping Workshop

September 1, 2017

This past August we had the chance to work as part of the Fab13 Conference alongside Habitat for Humanity Chile and women from La Florida, a community in Santiago, with help from makers from different countries in a participatory workshop of diagnostics of environmental issues in Santiago. The workshop intended to develop in participants the abilities to work alongside people from local areas on identifying possible projects to be tackled with Internet of Things (IoT) projects.

The workshop took place at a local middle school in Santiago, with support from Fab Lab Aconcagua, from which some project ideas will be further developed.