Social Innovation Meetup: “Exploring Labs for Social Change” – presentation notes

130425_Social Innovation MeetupOn April 25, Social Innovation Meetup #4, organized by Hivos and Kennisland, was held in Amsterdam. Theme: “Exploring Labs for Social Change”.  Social innovation labs are very popular as instruments for “changing the system”. However, what actually happens in these labs? How do they help accomplish social change? What’s in “the black box”?

Keynote speakers sharing innovation stories from Kenya, Finland, and Canada were Daudi Were of Ushahidi, Marco Steinberg of the Helsinki Design Lab and Vanessa Timmer of One Earth. In the two days prior to the meetup, representatives of living labs (hubs, experimental learning spaces, etc.) from all over the world gathered in “Lab2“.  Together, these people in the vanguard explored new examples and solutions for system change, some of which were reported at the meetup.  There was also supposed to be a panel discussion to see how their lessons learnt might apply to the Dutch context, but unfortunately that part was cancelled.
The presentations were brief and intense, relaying a flurry of interesting ideas and references. Like at the “Designing Social Cities of Tomorrow” workshop last year, I took presentation notes. They are rough, and only minimally edited, although I have added some links and excerpts from the sites linked to. Together, I think these notes give a nice overview of the many dimensions experienced at the international front lines of real social innovation.
Introduction 
A brief introductory speech was given by Remco Berkhout of Hivos.  There are many tough global problems, like climate change, for which there are no clearcut solutions. Hivos believes that citizen action is key to addressing these problems. People from all over the world are involved in such processes of social innovation. There are many interpretations of what is social innnovation: any idea that makes the world better, creativity of communities to make things better, popukar participation, with resources going to the communities, and so on. The silos need to go. Cities in the south can be great sources of inspiration. Given the pressing problems, labs there are often much more advanced than here in the West!
Daude Were (Ushahidi, Kenya)
In 2007, all hell broke loose after the Kenyan elections, resulting in many riots and murders. Many stories were un(der)reported. We needed to find stories of what was happening, curate them, map them, and archive them. Ushahidi was born, very quickly, in a couple of days. Ushahidi means “witness” or “testimony”. It really is a platform + community + movement.  The basic idea: from people in need to people who help. Does it work? Yes, it’s use has spread way beyond Kenya,  e.g. during the Haiti earthquake  and the Japanese tsunami the platform was used as an emergency platform. By now, it has got many other uses, including mapping harassments, oil spills, social revolutions (Arab Spring, Occupy), and monitoring elections (Tanzania and Zambia), mapping the different reasons why people voted in the Canadian elections, and so on. It is changing the way info flows in the world. How? We meet you where you are (in creating a great diversity of interfaces for sending to and receiving info from the platform). Both high-end applications (for decision makers) and low-end applications (to reach the masses) are important. In an emergency, you can have it set  up in only a few minutes (via crowdmap.com). It’s “Made in Africa”: “if it works here, it will work anywhere in the world :-)”.
We created iHub. Nairobi’s Innovation Hub for the technology community is an open space for the technologists, investors, tech companies and hackers in the area. This space is a tech community facility with a focus on young entrepreneurs, web and mobile phone programmers, designers and researchers.  It is a place to physically meet, partner up, share ideas, get exposure and support. We have over 9,000 members. It’s much more than just another cybercafe: over 40 companies have come out of it in the past few years.  We also have a number of initiatives designed to build an ecosystem around the Kenyan tech entrepreneur: Hub Research, iHub Consulting, iHub Supercomputing Cluster, and the iHub User Experience (UX) Lab. iHubs are started all over the country.

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“Designing Social Cities of Tomorrow” workshop – presentation notes

On February 17, the international  “Social Cities of Tomorrow” conference was held in Amsterdam. Prior to this conference, a three-day “Designing Social Cities of Tomorrow” workshop was held in which international participants from various professional backgrounds collaborated with local stakeholder organisations on 4 real-world urban cases: Urban Pioneers Zeeburgereiland (Amsterdam), Haagse Havens (The Hague), Strijp-S (Eindhoven), and Amsterdam Civic Innovator Network. On February 16, the results of this workshop were presented in a sold-out hall. Fortunately, I managed to get one of the last tickets. I was particularly interested in this workshop, as I thought it might generate some concrete ideas to help us co-create the new Tilburg Spoorzone. I was not disappointed, and really very pleased with the overall quality, originality, and feasibility of the ideas.

For the first three cases, quite detailed “how to do it” plans were unfolded, the presentation of the fourth case focused on the theoretical underpinnings of a civic innovator network. A good summary by Laurent Hubeek of the presentations  of case 1 & 2 can be found here, that of case 3 & 4 here. I took detailed notes during the case presentations. They’re rather rough, but I include them here to capture the atmosphere and as an additional recording of the insights presented. Hopefully they help to inspire further thinking.


Introduction

Hi-tech is increasingly influencing life in today’s cities.  “Smart Cities” are hot.  The main problem with these visions: where are the people?! Can we use the same hi-tech to make the cities more social instead of (just) smart? The key question therefore is:  How can we use digital technologies to make our cities more social, rather than just more hi-tech?
Social cities: it’s not about a blueprint, but a design approach. It’s a way of thinking about cities that are highly technological, but which is not about the technology itself,  but about the people. Now,  how do you design for social cities? How do you engage and empower publics (groups of people) to act on communally shared issues?
The digital element leads to a qualitative shift:
  • There’s a new resource: the data the city is generating
  • Name issues in new ways, discover patterns, bring up/visualize new issues in ways you couldn’t do before
  • Engage people, give them a new sense of place (e.g. storytelling, urban gaming)
  • Ways how we organize ourselves: peer-to-peer organization around issues

Taking this into account, the questions posed to the teams were:

  • How can we get citizens to feel they belong and feel that the city belongs to them as well?
  • How do we design for ‘ownership’?
Case 1: TEMPLoT (= temporary plot)
 
Municipalities are plagued by having many unused vacant parcels.  Zeeburgereiland Amsterdam is a typical case. However, most of Europe is dealing with same issues. Key idea: “temporary” could become the stimulus.
Nothing is happening on Zeeburgereiland, it is literally a no go zone. The city idea was to make it available as a 10 year-lease for 1 euro. Why not make it much more temporary:  what  if the urban pioneer was only given the land for 365 days instead of 10 years? The temp architecture initiative wants experts to meet some place to advise new urban pioneers to do something “tomorrow”. These expert roles are: owner, developer, designer, manager. However, what if the urban pioneers are the experts? Individuals could start playing those roles themselves. To do so, maybe these urban pioneers don’t need a place but a platform? This system consisting of a website plus apps could be TEMPLoT.
Zeeburgereiland = 3,6 ha plot minus 15% infrastructure. Possible uses: Recreation? Entertainment, Amusement, Do Nothing? As the area is sandwiched between superdense neighbourhoods: what if its main use were a garden? It could provide a temp infrastructure consisting of private parcels, plus an area for a larger community “Contribution Zone”. Flex spaces  would be adjacent to private spaces, which can help in the building of mini communities. Manage the collective usage online via TEMPLoT.
Follow the seasonal life cycle: in December, start planning the temp infrastructure, in January, do the bidding process, after that the building and planting etc., use summer for enjoying festivals, then in October/November, do the clean up process. Coordination can happen online. The flex space is the negotiation space (through bidding) between the neighbours. Contribution zone: everybody has to contribute something there (time, energy, skills & knowledge, teaching, network, etc.). These contributions are visible in your online profile, so your neighbors know your involvement. Potential individual uses: relaxation, family plot, artist studio, etc.
 
Stakeholder organization response:
 
It for sure is possible. It could become a way of “citymaking”. Should not only be gardens, however, the area could also be used in another way. A potential problem is that  people like it so much that they don’t want to leave? Also, the app used in the plotting process should be simple. What if it would also allow pioneers to change plot? Would be great if it could also help to increase the skills of participants.
Impressed by the “back to basics” approach. This is refreshing, as city design has become so (unnecessarily) complex these days. Nice it’s so hands-on.
Commitment:  the tender for Zeeburgereiland is already out, we could add this digital approach. Every city in Europe has such a map of vacant plots. Many other cities could also apply this approach: investigate how other cities can be involved?
 
Audience response: 
 
There’s a similar project in Ghent, Belgium. It’s about gardens, people could buy it with invented city currency, so that everybody could afford a plot, also those without money. You put in your effort and got the virtual currency. However, what was the duration of the lease? The temp focus is very important.
 

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Meebouwen aan de Creatieve Piramide van Brabant Brein

Vorige week heb ik meegedaan met een avond van Brabant Brein in Breda. Uit “de folder“:

Brabant Brein is een unieke denktank die de creativiteit, kennis en denkkracht van Brabantse topspecialisten uit 11 sectoren en vanuit alle denkbare disciplines bundelt. Dwars tegen de huidige hokjesgeest in, worden hier bruggen geslagen tussen alfa- en bètawetenschappen, de kunsten, het bedrijfsleven, de overheid, onderwijs en wetenschap. Doel van dit alles? Te komen tot een betere provincie, een betere stad, dorp, buurt, straat en huis. Kortom: om te komen tot een betere samenleving. Brabant Brein is te zien als het netwerk waarmee we ‘De Kunst van het Samenleven’ tot grote hoogte kunnen opstuwen. De structuur van dit netwerk wordt gevormd door een Brabantse vinding: de Creatieve Piramide.

Eindresultaat van een avond hard werken

Het concept van Brabant Brein om het genereren en schiften van ideeën te schalen is erg interessant. Elke deelnemer was toegewezen aan een expert groep. Ik was lid van het Team Sociale Innovatie (zie ook verslag van collega-teamlid Sjaak Evers). Eerst schreven alle deelnemers individueel een aantal ideeën op. Aan het eind kreeg iedereen 5 stickers om op de voor hen meest interessante ideeën te plakken. De 3 ideeën met de meeste stickers gingen door naar de volgende ronde.

In Ronde 2 ging men door naar een andere groep, waarin verschillende expertises waren gemixt. Zo zaten in mijn groep vertegenwoordigers van de groep “Muziek”, “Allochtonen” en “Ambtenaren”. Iedereen presenteerde kort de ideeën uit de vorige ronde, waarna weer een sessie van individueel ideeën genereren en stickeren volgde.

In Ronde 3 ging iedereen terug naar zijn of haar oorspronkelijke groep, in mijn geval dus het Team Sociale Innovatie. Nu stond de vraag “Wat  zijn de beste bijdragen voor de kunst van het samenleven vanuit de expertise van de groep?” centraal. Weer volgde een sessie van individueel ideeën genereren en stickeren.

De avond werd besloten met een plenaire sessie, waarin alle groepen hun beste ideeën presenteerden.

Na een serie van deze basisbijeenkomsten, komen weer follow-ups, waarin de teamleiders verder gaan met de verzamelde ideeën. Uiteindelijk komt er een boek en zullen alle ideeën via een website beschikbaar worden gesteld.

Een vraag die een aantal van ons zich wel stelden was dat het geheel nogal hiërarchish is. Is er wel zoiets als “het beste idee”? Het is logisch dat er een schifting van ideeën moet plaatsvinden om bijvoorbeeld provinciaal beleid op te kunnen baseren. Het zou echter ook nuttig zijn als er een soortgelijk proces wordt opgezet dat inspeelt op de inherente “Wikipedia” netwerkstructuur van de verzamelde rijkdom aan suggesties. Dit zou kunnen door provincie-breed communities van belanghebbenden te formeren die bepaalde ideeën “adopteren”.  Als er genoeg van dergelijke communities ontstaan – die met elkaar in contact komen door de vele verbindingen tussen de ideeën – kan het “maatschappelijk weefsel” van de provincie behoorlijk versterkt worden.

Via de Brabantse Innovatie Kwartiermakerscommunity (BRINK) proberen we een stukje van dat weefsel te maken. Een van de aan BRINK gerelateerde ideeën over de kunst van het samenleven werd trouwens verkozen om door te mogen gaan “in de volgende ronde”:

Noord-Brabant als laboratorium van de “Maatschappij van de Toekomst” waarin volop wordt geëxperimenteerd met oplossingen voor complexe, organisatie-overstijgende problemen als vergrijzing, milieuvervuiling, integratie enz. Brabant heeft hiervoor uitstekende “faciliteiten”: een groot aantal verschillende stakeholders met veel verschillende expertise, een zeer gevarieerde economie, een informele cultuur, bereidheid tot samenwerken, enz. Geleerde lessen zouden vervolgens als voorbeeld kunnen dienen voor andere provincies en regio’s in Europa.

“It’s the Conversation, Stupid!” – Social media systems design for open innovation communities

On November 5, the Swedish Open Innovation Forum organized a “Managing Open Innovation Technologies” workshop at Uppsala University, to present and discuss state-of-the-art research insights into open innovation & social media and for authors working on an anthology on this topic to get feedback on their draft chapters. It was a very lively meeting, generating lots of ideas for new research. Concluding, it was clear there’s still a very long way to go for social media to realize their full potential in this domain.

At the workshop, I gave a keynote on social media systems design for open innovation communities:

After that, my good friend and co-author Mark Aakhus (Rutgers University, USA), reflected upon what I said.  Mark wasn’t physically present, but participated from his study at his home in New Jersey, 6000 km away. Of course, I have been in many videoconferencing sessions, but normally these are cumbersome events, requiring lots of high tech, special rooms, microphones, cameras and what not. However, this time none of this was needed. All we used was a Mac and Skype. As Mark was presenting, he was displayed larger-than-life on the main screen using the projector:

Mark Aakhus presenting

Reception was crystal clear, he could hear everything being said, even in the back of the room. Things really got weird after he was finished.  The laptop was left on the table, and Mark’s image removed from the screen when other people used it to present their Powerpoints. However, once in a while, suddenly, the laptop started speaking, as Mark commented on something being said. The funny thing was that we all quickly got used to that situation, looking at and talking to a laptop as if it were a human being. Still, sometimes, Mark/the laptop would suddenly make a sound, and the whole flow of the conversation was disrupted, nobody quite sure what to make of it. A very strange and powerful experience of, literally, “extreme computer-mediated communication”!

Using Collaboration Patterns for Contextualizing Roles in Community Systems Design

On October 28, I presented my paper “Using Collaboration Patterns for Contextualizing Roles in Community Systems Design” at the Community Informatics Research Network  2010 Conference (CIRN 2010) in Prato, Italy. Here are the abstract of and link to the paper, as well as the presentation.

Abstract

Activation of collaborative communities is hampered by the communicative fragmentation that is at least partially caused by their distributed tool systems. We examine the role of domain, conversation, and functionality roles in modelling community activation. We show how collaboration patterns can be used to design appropriate socio-technical solutions.  These patterns contextualize the various types of roles by linking them to the (1) relevant usage context (2) communicative workflow stages and (3) functionality components across the tool system.

Presentation

What’s up with the Pragmatic Web?

On September 1, I was a member of the Pragmatic Web track panel of the I-SEMANTICS 2010 conference in Graz, Austria, after having given the keynote earlier that day. The Pragmatic Web is a newly emerging field,  still in the process of being defined. Its main focus is not Web technology per se, but the contexts and communities in which these resources are developed and used to accomplish goals, develop mutual understanding, and create and realize commitments. For background see the Pragmatic Web community site, and my blog posts Patterns for the Pragmatic Web and The Growth of the Pragmatic Web.

The Pragmatic Web should not be seen as separate from, but instead as building on and feeding into the Semantic Web, which concentrates on knowledge representation and reasoning approaches. One can try to formally represent “everything necessary” in a context but (1) this overformalization often kills the necessary human interpretation of any situated context and (2) still does not answer what relevant context factors are. Mainstream Semantic Web research does not deal with the subtleties of communities, goal setting and negotiation, human interaction, and myriad other context factors. For this, you need research perspectives different from those provided by the Semantic Web field itself.  Of course, there is no precise dichotomy between the Semantic and the Pragmatic Web, instead there is a grey zone between the two fields, like the “Social Semantic Web”.

In the panel, we discussed the status and future of the Pragmatic Web. Other panel members included Alexandre Passant (DERI),  Hans Weigand (Tilburg University), and Adrian Paschke (Freie Universität Berlin).

Alexandre covered the budding field of the Social Semantic Web, which examines how social interactions on the Web lead to the creation of explicit and semantically rich knowledge representations. Hans discussed another  research area that is a major contributor to the Pragmatic Web, the Language/Action Perspective, as is its sibling Organisational Semiotics. Adrian focused on the Corporate Semantic Web, and the Pragmatic Agent Web, which represent some of the more applied research areas.

My own presentation was about what’s up with the Pragmatic Web as an area of research. I placed it in the Web 3.0 era we are entering, covered some of its fundamental questions and theories, and presented a socio-technical conversation context perspective that can be used to organize and position Pragmatic Web research (the framework is further explained in the paper and presentation of my invited talk.) I showed how the number of research publications addressing or referring to the Pragmatic Web is growing rapidly (with a small dip in last year’s number of publications). The high turnout at the panel discussion, especially given the competition of many high-quality parallel tracks, should also be a sign of the growing interest in the field. Finally, I positioned some contributing and related research fields shaping and being influenced by the Pragmatic Web. Core contributing fields in my view are Community Informatics, the Language/Action Perspective, Organisational Semiotics, Web 2.0/social media and the Semantic Web. See slide 7 of:

The discussion following the presentation, as well as many personal responses later, indicate that the Pragmatic Web as an area of research seems to be viable. One criticism is that much of the research is still very conceptual and needs to materialize much more into concrete applications and projects. This criticism is justified, but can be partially explained by the early stage the field is in and the still small number of researchers and organizations involved. However, there is also a more fundamental reason for this lack of applications: the Pragmatic Web studies context, and context by its very nature is extremely wide in scope and is always context of something else. Still, by fruitfully cooperating with more technology-driven and application-oriented R&D areas like the Social Semantic Web and Web 2.0, fundamental research insights about relevant contexts generated by the Pragmatic Web community should descend into the real world and become much more visible  in the years to come.

Conversations in Context: A Twitter Case for Social Media Systems Design

On September 1, I gave the invited talk for the 5th AIS SIGPrag International Pragmatic Web Conference Track of the I-SEMANTICS 2010 conference in Graz, Austria. Here are the abstract of and link to the paper, as well as the presentation.

Abstract

Conversations are the lifeblood of collaborative communities. Social media like microblogging tool Twitter have great potential for supporting these conversations. However, just studying the role of these media from a tool perspective is not sufficient. To fully unlock their power, they need to examined from a sociotechnical perspective. We introduce a socio-technical context framework which can be used to analyze the role of systems of tools supporting goal-oriented conversations. Central to this framework is the communicative workflow loop, which is grounded in the Language/Action Perspective. We show how socio-technical conversation contexts can be used to match the communicative requirements of collaborative communities with enabling tool functionalities. This social media systems design process is illustrated with a case on Twitter.

Presentation:

Collaboration Patterns as Building Blocks for Community Informatics

From 4-6 November 2009, the 6th CIRN Community Informatics Conference was held in Prato, Italy. As in previous years, the conference brought together an interesting mix of researchers and practitioners from North and South, discussing ways to effectively use information and communication technologies to foster community building. This year’s theme was “Empowering Communities: Learning from Community Informatics Practice”.

I gave a keynote address at the conference. Title of my talk and the accompanying paper was “Collaboration Patters as Building Blocks for Community Informatics”. Below the slides of the presentation and the abstract of the paper.

Abstract

Community Informatics is a wide-ranging field of inquiry and practice, with many paradigms, disciplines, and perspectives intersecting. Community informatics research and practice build on several methodological pillars: contexts/values, cases, process/methodology, and systems. Socio-technical patterns and pattern languages are the glue that help connect these pillars. Patterns define relatively stable solutions to recurring problems at the right level of abstraction, which means that they are concrete enough to be useful, while also sufficiently abstract to be reusable. The goal of this paper is to outline a practical approach to improve CI research and practice through collaboration patterns. This approach should help to strengthen the analysis, design, implementation, and evaluation of socio-technical community systems. The methodology is illustrated with examples from the ESSENCE (E-Science/Sensemaking/Climate Change) community.

Libraries and Collaborative Research Communities

091001_TicerAlready a while ago, but still worth a post: on August 5, I was an invited speaker at  the Ticer Digital Libraries a la Carte 2009 summer school. In 2008, I attended their fascinating keynote summer school lecture by Stephen Abram. It was a privilege to be on the other side this year! Ticer stands for Tilburg Innovation Centre for Electronic Resources, and is a business unit of Tilburg University’s Library and IT Services. Every year, they organize a summer school, which is well attended by librarians, publishers, researchers, lecturers, and IT specialists interested in the latest developments in (digital) libraries.

My module concerned the Libraries and Collaborative Research Communities track. My co-speakers were John Butler (University of Minnesota), Judith Wusteman (University College Dublin), and Gary Olson (University of California, Irvine). We had a very stimulating day – with lots of questions from the audience –  in which we explored this lively and quickly evolving field from many different angles, including topics like virtual communities as catalysts for advancing scholarship, the role of librarians in virtual research environments, and critical success factors for science collaboratories.

My own talk was about how to activate research collaboratories with collaboration patterns. I really enjoyed discussing  this for me quite new field. It was good to see that many academic librarians agree  that a technical information retrieval focus by itself does not suffice anymore and that serious efforts need to made to integrate communities, communication, and collaboration in their library processes and systems. The worlds of digital libraries and community informatics are still far apart, but interesting connections are forming. A topic that surely will grow in scope and impact in the years to come.


Communities & Technologies 2009

090722_CCT2009From June 25-28, I was at Penn State, attending the Communities & Technologies 2009 conference, the main bi-annual conference specifically focusing on this theme. As with the previous editions, I again very much enjoyed myself, both with respect to the many interesting presentations and by meeting up with old and new colleagues and friends who are part of our nomadic research tribe.

To get a feel for what the conference was about, check out the following resources:

  • A Twitter account of the sessions by multiple authors, hashtag #cct2009.
  • An excellent summary of the conference by Joe McCarthy.
  • A Flickr conference photo gallery.