New publication: The “Kids’ Knowledge Base”: Connecting Junior Science to Society

Just published: A. de Moor  (2014), The “Kids’ Knowledge Base”: Connecting Junior Science to Society. In Proc. of Chi Sparks 2014, The Hague, the Netherlands. The Hague University of Applied Sciences, pp.108-111.


Universities try to reinforce their connections with society in many different ways. Introducing children to science at an early age is an important part of this mission. The online “Kids’ Knowledge Base” is a key instrument for presenting showcases of various scientific fields to primary school children, thereby aiming to pique their curiosity. We outline the architecture and development process of the Kids’ Knowledge Base, and describe how it is increasingly being embedded in an ecosystem of online and physical tools, stakeholder networks, and activities. We show how it has been used since its launch in March 2013, and discuss how combining different modes of offline and online interaction helps to promote its overall usefulness and use. We discuss some applications and extensions of the current digital infrastructure and how these may help increase the quality and quantity of the online interactions with the knowledge base.

See also: Kids’ Knowledge Base, B@ttleweters.

Happy 25th birthday, World Wide Web!

World Wide WebToday, the Web’s been around for 25 years, hip hip hurray! In this excellent interview, founder Tim Berners-Lee makes some remarks that should be particularly close to the hearts of fellow community informatics researchers and practitioners, e.g.:

- “I’ve been very satisfied with the international spirit. It’s wonderful how the Web has taken off as non-national thing. I don’t think of it as international, because that’s nations getting

- “The control thing — we’ve got big companies and big governments. Now in some countries the corporations and the governments are very hard to tell apart. I’m concerned about that.”

- “what I want to see that I haven’t seen is the Web being used to bridge cultural divides. Every day we get people falling for the temptation to be xenophobic and to throw themselves against other cultures. The Web has gone up without national borders, but when you look at the people that other people support, it tends to be people very much of same culture.”

- “We look at governing the Internet in a multi-stakeholder, non-national way, but the world is still very nation-based and people are still very culture-based. I’d like it if developers on the Web could tackle the question of how to make Web sites that actually make us more friendly to people we don’t know so well”

Enjoy the full article:

Communities & Technologies finally meeting Community Informatics

workshopI’m currently in Siegen, Germany. attending the Communities & Technologies Future Vision workshop. A main goal of the workshop is to build more common ground between the two very related fields of Communities & Technologies (C&T) and Community Informatics. We’re having very positive, fruitful discussions. To give you a flavor, here are the notes I just took of the discussion about the possible points of intersection in a breakout group consisting of Volker Wulf, Michael Gurstein, Susanne Bødker, Marcus Foth, and Aldo de Moor.

Common research themes
  • Societal role: the roles of communities in their various forms in society.
  • Common goals & Institutions. Community norms sometimes translate into goals, institutions.
  • “The Other”: Communities can also be against something, working on the boundaries, The Other.
  • Emergence of communities: the potential of communities to take a form and articulate itself, often in response to an external opportunity or threat. The time dimension is very important.
  • Context of communities: Is the goal to study communities or communities in a particular context? The latter: we should not just look at the narrow direct context of immediate users, but the broader (institutional) context and ecology. Essential in complex domains like health. E.g. the institutional sponsors.  Then you can also better tie in with practitioner communities, governance, etc.
  • Ecosystems of tools: communities do not just use one tool, they live in a whole ecosystem, a rich space of physical and online tools.
  • (At least in in the CI) it’s not so much about the development of new technologies but about how the effective use and appropriation of community technologies. How can we model and use rich, situated context that informs socio-technical systems design without constraining community behaviors?
  • (C&T) Explore new technologies and try them out in new communities. Make the opportunities that these tools offer available to communities. In an ethnographic way try to find the ways to help them transform communities.
  • In CI: the interesting problem is identified by the community, the socio-technical systems solution emerges in the collaborative response to the problem CT: the interesting problem is in the tool community potential.
  • The common theme is really about how the larger societal context meets the relevant community technologies.
Key research questions in the next 10 years:
  • The Surveillance Society, how the net is turning into a Societal Control Device. What are alternatives?
  • Governance: how do you govern systems, disaggregate governance of systems so that communities can be empowered. Is the local level accountable to the higher level, or the higher level accountable to the lower level? It’s a systems design question
  • Employment and wealth distribution
  • Put the local back in communities.
  • Inter-community issues: networks of communities, collaborating/intersecting/mashing/clashing communities
  • Make technological power (such as Big Data (and “tinkering technologies” such as 3D printing, Raspberry Pie) available to and usable by the people. How does it affect communities?
  • The notion of citizenship, not just users/consumers is key.
  • Migration, urbanization, depopulation: how can technologies strengthen sense of community?
  • Political activism, new ways of shaping democracy
  • Thematic conferences: more context-awareness should lead to more thematic conferences. Risk is that it scares away people working on other topics. There are all kinds of ways to deal with these, e.g. separate slots
  • Conference attendants could meet members of specific communities, and e.g. work with them in separate community-driven workshops. Could be too optimistic given the complexities of trying to ground academic discourse in practice. A workable approach could be to have sesssions where community members present their communities and their issues in very rich, informal ways, and have a well-facilitated discussion with the attending academics about some possible directions for addressing these issues. At the next edition of the conference, academics could then (also) present their follow-up (action) research jointly done with these communities on these cases in the more academically oriented slots, while continuing to give useful feedback in comprehensible and acceptable ways to the communities they have started to work with.
  • Turning it around: having “academic streams” in practitioner-oriented conferences.
  • Hybrid approaches are necessary in terms of different participants having different motivations needing different kinds of outcomes for the conference to be rewarding for them.
  • NB such innovative approaches are a lot of work, there is often a language barrier to be overcome, etc.
  • The range of potential funders does become much larger this way, e.g. government, corporate funding.
  • Ethical issues need to be taken care of very well: the communities participating are not in a zoo! What are legitimate ways of involving them?
  • The communities being researched should get a permanent community representation within the overal C&T community, so that trust can be built, criticism can be seen and shared, lessons can be learnt, more legitimate and useful longitudinal research can be done. E.g. the communities could have their own space within the overall C& community space, where they can present themselves in multimedia ways, comment on the research being done with them etc.
  • Various types of conferences: E.g. thematic conferences with invited people from the issues being focused on with dedicated funding, the overall academic conference should not be overall thematically-focused.
  • Boundary-spanning activities between various communities would be very valuable as a research (conference) strategy.
  • The Community Informatics community is large and diverse enough by now to help out contributing at least time-wise. Represent many different communities, a great context to work with.
  • We need to work on a (communications & activity) commons around which the Communities & Technologies and Community Informatics communities start to find more common ground.

New publication: Public Libraries as Social Innovation Catalysts

Just published: A. de Moor and R. van den Assem (2013), Public Libraries as Social Innovation Catalysts. In Proc. of the 10th Prato CIRN Conference “Nexus, Confluence, and Difference: Community Archives meets Community Informatics”, Prato, Italy, Oct 28-30 2013.


Public libraries urgently need to reinvent their role in society. Through social innovation, libraries may adopt new functions and roles and even act as innovation catalysts in networks of increasingly interdependent stakeholders from different sectors. We investigate how to design such inter-sectoral public library innovations that are embedded in existing organizational practice and are both sustainable and scalable.  We outline a practical social innovation sensemaking method based on a combination of a social innovation collaboration network model and process model. We show how we did an initial validation of the method using the results of two exploratory workshops with professionals in the Dutch public library world. We discuss the implications of this approach for expanding the role of public libraries from providing access to collections to becoming social innovation and community catalysts.


Een social innovation ecosysteem voor Midden-Brabant

social innovation ecosysteemOp 16 september is er in het kader van de European Social Innovation Week een bijeenkomst gehouden over Midden-Brabant als “smart region”.  Een onderdeel van deze bijeenkomst was een discussie onder leiding van Hans Mommaas over hoe dat social innovation ecosysteem handen en voeten zou kunnen krijgen. Hier een informeel verslag voor degenen die niet bij deze bijzonder interessante discussie konden zijn.

Centrale vraag: hoe krijgen we een social innovation ecosysteem van de grond in de regio? Een voorbeeld zijn de Pathfinders.  In organisaties heb je de bestaande werkelijkheid en de exploratieve kant, die van de vernieuwing. “Transition leaders” zijn mensen die de mensen in hun organisatie kunnen meekrijgen voor die vernieuwing.  Ook die leaders hebben echter weer inspiratie nodig. In de  Pathfinders zijn 30 mensen bij elkaar gebracht uit organisaties die willen vernieuwen, met social innovation als uitgangspunt.  Doel was om de maatschappelijke thema’s door te vertalen naar oplossingen waar zowel de maatschappij als de organisaties wat mee kunnen. Ze zijn 15x bij elkaar geweest.  Een praktische doelstellng was om tot concrete business cases te komen.  De ervaring leerde echter dat zulke concrete cases moeilijk te realiseren waren. Wat wel werkte, was de aanwezige “ruimte voor toevalligheid”.  Het gaat hierbij niet zozeer om het geld, maar vooral om de beweging (de kennis, de netwerken, etc.). Het gaat om de ruil van andere types kapitaal dan alleen geld door de deelnemers uit sectoren als bedrijfsleven, kennisinstellingen, overheid, bibliotheek.  Denk ook aan de overeenkomst met de (her)opkomst van de coöperaties, waar het ook gaat om het gevoel van verbinding.

In de huidige maatschappij hebben we middel en doel omgedraaid: we denken dat we geld nodig hebben om samen te werken, het is een doel op zichzelf geworden.  Het geeft zoveel energie om gelijkgestemden tegen te komen in fora als de Pathfinders. Er ontstaat wel business uit, maar niet met als direct doel om geld te verdienen, maar om iets bij te dragen aan de maatschappij.  De kracht van de Pathfinders is dat het om social innovation in de praktijk gaat (“we moeten elkaars taal leren”), terwijl het tot voor kort het vaak nog steeds een erg bestuurlijk, abstract concept was.  Zo’n aanpak leidt tot allerlei verrassende, onvoorspelbare uitkomsten. De Social Innovation Week is mede voortgekomen uit de Pathfinders. Als onderdeel van deze week zijn nu 135 studenten van Fontys bezig met “Maak TIlburg Beter”. Wat daar de commerciële waarde van is, weten we niet, maar dat er iets uit gaat komen, is zeker!

Hoe maak je dit strategisch/systemisch, hoe schaal je dit op, zonder dat je de opgewekte energie verliest? Hierbij komen allerlei vragen op. Hoe verbind je lokale initiatieven met het bestuurlijke circuit?  Ook zijn er allerlei grote ontwikkelingen zoals social media die op mensen af komen. Wat betekenen deze ontwikkelingen voor de mensen persoonlijk?  Is bij social innovation sturing nodig, of gaat het juist om zelf de agenda te bepalen? Is het toch mogelijk om iets van structuur hebben om dit te catalyseren?

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Collaboration Patterns for Social Innovation: The Dutch – US Connection?

As part of my visit to the  University of Alabama in Huntsville I gave a presentation “Creativity Meets Rationale – Collaboration Patterns for Social Innovation” at the College of Business Administration. It was based on the book chapter with the same title that was published earlier this year in the book “Creativity and Rationale: Enhancing Human Experience by Design”. The slides can be downloaded here.

From the discussion, it seemed that Europe is ahead in implementing scaled applications of social innovation,  although the US is catching up and making it a national priority as well, as indicated by the White House having created an Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation.  See also the Economist article Let’s Hear Those Ideas. It would be interesting to see to what extent collaboration patterns for social innovation are alike and differ in the US and European contexts. As Huntsville has an incredible wealth of high-tech engineering knowledge seeking new applications, it would be a very worthwhile exercise to build and compare libraries of collaboration patterns in the Dutch Noord-Brabant and US Alabama cases. A common theme to investigate could be civil aerospace applications, for instance.

Expanding the Academic Research Community: Building Bridges into Society with the Internet

Below the slides of the honors lecture I just gave at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. The slides can be downloaded here.

The talk is based on a book chapter with the same title that will be published by Monash University Publishing in the fall.  A preprint of this chapter can be downloaded here. Thanks to the students for all your great questions. If there’s any more, feel free to post them here as comments.