I had the chance to share space with the founders of great innovations and other experts on a Virtual Roundtable organized by Wikifactory, in relation to how innovation can build resilience for the current COVID-19 pandemic.
The amount of inventive designs and the grassroots manufacturing happening around the world has brought maker communities into a global spotlight, and now we need to start wondering where do we go from here. Can makers worldwide handle the pressure and requirements of such an important task?
Tomorrow, I will be taking part of an event organized by NOVACT (International Institute for Nonviolent Action). The event aims to share experiences on related to the uses of technology in ways that protect human rights and personal privacy.
My participation will represent Appropedia, and will focus on how appropriate technology can be used around the world during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the importance of connecting with real needs in communities.
Last month, I had the incredible opportunity to visit Arcata CA to speak about Latin American experiences in technology and community development. The keynote was part of the Awesome Business Competition, an event focused on agriculture, energy and water projects in California.
This was a great personal experience due to the fact that it gave me the chance to reminisce on my personal work over the past five years, as well as the great things that my colleagues have done in this time. The main thread of my professional experience is, basically, that you don’t need to be successful from a personal perspective in order to create impact in the world; perhaps that is even better.
Please take your time to enjoy the keynote and let me know your thoughts over Twitter.
A raíz de la colaboración latinoamericana ante la pandemia del Covid-19, me invitaron a participar de este conversatorio organizado desde Nariño, Colombia, con un enfoque en el diseño y fabricación digital. Mi participación fue corta y me enfoqué a proponer el trabajo de los makers en temas relacionados al diseño centrado en el usuario durante la pandemia.
Recientemente tuve la oportunidad de compartir espacio junto con Kako Valladares para contar un poco sobre nuestros proyectos colaborativos a partir de nuestro trabajo en la red Fab Lat. La presentación fue facilitada por Benito Juárez, de Fab Lab Perú.
Aproveché la oportunidad para hablar un poco sobre el trabajo que he tenido la oportunidad de hacer en la línea de estandarización y documentación desde hace algún tiempo.
During the first week of February, a group of researchers and users of open hardware in academic contexts gathered in Bath to discuss topics that relate to hardware development, documentation, licensing and the involvement of academia with the open source community in general.
This is a story that I wasn’t planning on telling anyone, but I was invited recently to propose a technological project that relates to traffic issues, which are very severe in my city. This brought this to my mind. The story begins with me waking up very early so I could arrive around 6 a.m. every morning to work.
I had a different, but related problem at the same time, due to a lack of parking spots at the office where I worked some time ago. A person bought a new car and decided to start taking my sport, which was conveniently located right next to the office’s entrance.
I was having none of that, so we started this passive-aggresive (but friendly) competition for this parking spot. Soon, a few people followed suit in seeking this parking space, including my boss (who is also one of my best friends). I started then registering data on Twitter to make it a bit more fun. The logic was as follows:
A hashtag (#s) to record my departure and arrival times.
Another one to register the result (W = win, L = lose).
A time modifier in case it was necessary (i.e. I had forgotten to record data on time).
Take this tweet for example, on a day with a loss (they were painful!)
My friend were having a good time with it:
In the end, I used Twitter’s API to fetch and R to analyze the data. Did I learn something? Not really from the data, but from using simple modifiers on Twitter to record activity and results. I think that a useful application can be used to encode situations like those of disaster response.
This May I had the chance to develop some ontology work as a workshop at the Creative Commons Summit in Lisbon. The goal was to present some of the ideas on the subject, some of which I have already written about.
The session had a very varied group, which was nice. OSH seems to have a very boad audience that spans various domains: engineers, lawyers, etc. No wonder many of us see it as the next big milestone for the open movement.
My favorite part of the session was when a lawyer at the session (I am sorry, can’t remember you name!) conspicuously said that the idea sounded very much like a proposal for a patent. That was awesome, because it was one of the intentions that I had for this: that a conceptual definition of a thing or artifact could help categorize and .
The second part of the session involved the use of real hardware documentation. A set of predetermined metadata fields was given to each table which participants moved around to sort and define an ontology. This approach helped members with different views around what OSH is to use the terms that were most important to their domain. In the end, what an artifact is can be discussed by those who will make use of it to differentiate and categorize.
If you want to know a bit more about this session, feel free to review the presentation:
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.
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?
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.
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?
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 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, 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), 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 leaflet, leaflet.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.
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.