As part of the grant agreement the Rockefeller Foundation for OpenEthnographer we are producing two reports. The ambition is to use the opportunity afforded by the grant to produce a high-quality synthesis that is useful to everyone who participated in the conversation leading to, during and in the aftermath of LOTE4. As well as anyone wishing to learn from them.
Narrative Report \#1: DEADLINE JAN 20
Progress made in achieving project milestones
Since the project started end of October 2014, the team has been working on two major processes: the first was to engage Edgeryders in sharing first hand experiences on building alternative systems for support in various environments; the content will serve as case study for Open Ethnographer testing; the second one is the actual software development, initiated in early November 2014 and due end of January. Below we cover work that has been done over the period October - December 2014.
How OpenEthnographer software contributes to the social sector
[Add here: Description of how OpenEthnographer software aims to contribute to capacity of the social sector to harness intelligence of networks to do one or more of the the following:
- Extending reach and scale
- Surfacing innovation
- Enriching understanding of problem spaces
- Encouraging cross-pollination of ideas and approaches
- Encouraging collaboration]
Governments are under severe economic, political and ecological pressures and find it difficult to prioritize social change over other issues. When they do, they tend to involve a limited number of credentialed experts who are already part of the establishment, and can only go so far in providing truly innovative insights. The most relevant expertise for enacting change lies in the citizenry and makes the traditional expert role outdated.
How does one begin to tap into this expertise which, especially in the Internet era, is dispersed across many individuals and their preferred channels of expression? Part of the answer is building more agile tools to capture network intelligence and make better sense of it, tools that can scale easily to incorporate new demands. The other part is creating generative social contexts where these tools can live on, and for this to happen they should be and perceived to be open and non-exploitative by users and communities at large.
In its current form under development at Edgeryders, OpenEthnographer is one such innovative tool because it aggregates large numbers of first hand citizen experiences, enriching the collective knowledge (the sum is greater than the parts). By promoting openness of both the software itself and the end research result, it is not just useful for the client, but remains committed to the studied objects and subjects. It is, after all, a free resource which everyone can use to make sense of diverse inputs and advance collaborative work.
Through the network values underpinning its design, OpenEthnographer is intended to produce novel results. Established contributors and newcomers can interact with the stories at any point, making sense of their own and each other’s input, providing more fine grained information about the contexts in which they live and work, and avoiding the risk of self referentiality. Whenever new insights become part of the conversation, it is possible to resume the research. The integrity of the conversations stem from how both Open Ethnographer and Edgeryders as its test bed environment are designed: they are open (everyone can participate on the subject matter) and enable participants’ self selection (everyone who is willing will participate). Moreover, because all the content and results are freely available, everyone can become a researcher with a little training.
In essence, like any open software tool, the OE is an equalizer, contributing to democratizing knowledge production and building legitimacy of all the actors involved. It makes it possible for anyone to double check claims about a particular group of people, while providing a flexible, ever growing conversation in which one can choose to be a contributor, a researcher or a policy maker, without skewing the results.
Outcomes, learnings and impacts so far
[Add here: Summary of what we have done so far and what have we learned about leveraging the power of networks in more deliberate, effective and thoughtful ways to affect change that helps poor and vulnerable people.]
Living on the Edge: The Stewardship (LOTE4) was Edgeryders fourth annual community event in Matera, Italy during 26-29 October. It brought together a global, unusual mix of programmers, designers, journalists, future thinkers, civil servants, entrepreneurs, politicians and concerned citizens. The theme of stewardship was framed as a collective statement and invitation for like minded individuals everywhere to participate (“We believe the ability to come together to take care of assets in an unstable context is a key skill for surviving and thriving in the future”).
Supporting each other’s intellectual development
The three months preceding the event saw a massive online conversation unfolding around knowledge Edgeryders were sharing based on initiatives they knew or were part of all around the world. Since stewardship can be a difficult topic to grasp (and in our experience the word itself does not help), efforts were made to build the discussions and event programme into a semi-structured conversation. Three areas were identified based on the locus of projects: physical stewardship (primarily public assets like buildings, water, transport infrastructure), digital stewardship (online surveillance and data protection, the open software movement, the Internet of things), community stewardship (sharing economy, peer to peer services, unMonastery international residency hosting Lote4). The process of organising Lote4 was in itself a meta project of community stewardship, mobilizing talent and skill in a loosely coordinated process to build a setting where people would come together and engage with each other beyond professional fields and the biases that come with those. By the time of the conference, everyone participating was equipped with expert knowledge on how taking care of common assets, digital/ physical spaces or communities can contribute to bettering lives around them.
Community members contributing on their own terms
One of the advantages of operating under a decentralized architecture is that literally any one individual can choose what to contribute and do it on their own terms. The most adventurous Edgeryders launched themselves into a so called Case Study Adventure to meet their peers across the world working passionately to make a difference. The rationale was: “We want to engage projects that we think exemplify notions of Stewardship, whether they be concerned with stewarding physical, immaterial, digital assets or building new infrastructure. We’d like to find the initiatives that are confronting the difficult questions head on, both newly started and those with a long history. Despite our work over the last couple of years within EdgeRyders and the unMonastery project we recognise that our perspectives are still limited by the networks we’re most familiar with, we’d like to take this opportunity to broaden our horizons”.
A lot of exploratory work was done in the region of Basilicata and largely across Italy, where a community member travelled to meet people doing meaningful work and ask them what stewardship meant to them. A series of video interviews posted online provided the opportunity to understand both citizen and policy makers approaches. For example, the following makes for a more legitimate argument when made by someone in the Italian ministry of finance: “Community stewardship is a reaction to a double failure. The failure of the state to provide services tailored to places; and the failure of the private sector when privatization became the new game in town, but turned out to be ineffective and unjust” (F. Barca)
These efforts were entirely voluntary, and it made sense that the broader community would back them up with outreach support, helping host events in cities like Berlin, Athens, Amsterdam, Stockholm, or London. The others were happy to exchange notes when documentation was posted online, as per a strong agreement and long time nurtured practice in Edgeryders (see below).
Mixing the online channels with field work, and many to many conversations with more private meetups turned out to be very successful in terms of approaching a topic from various angles. As someone noticed, “if you’re asking the right questions with just one or two people it can still be hugely productive - perhaps more so than a big group speaking together.”
Making global knowledge relevant locally, and viceversa
Almost all of the projects mentioned before and during The Stewardship live deeply in local contexts. An international event and global storytelling culture slightly remove them from those contexts in order to emphasize relevance, but only to examine them closer when people come together in a room. In one of Lote plenaries focusing on learning from the Case Study Adventure, it became clear that acting as stewards in highly regulated environments requires self sacrifice and sometimes even transgressing rules (eg: occupying or repurposing public spaces to meet community needs). Some countries are more sensitive to this than others, depending on legislation or simply degree of conservativeness in those cultures etc.
Another example is the unMonastery, a project birthed internationally whose work was focused on local challenges. Bringing to Matera the world’s first unMonastery and an event like LOTE4 in its aftermath put the city on the map of many of the continent’s hackers, activists and radical social innovators. unMonastery has a high international visibility, both on big media (from The Guardian to The Nation) and on the alternative circuits (Emergent Berlin, Improving Reality. Transmediale, Dazed…); above all, it supplied a sandbox for the local community to learn how to interact with global innovators.
Coming from a natively European environment, Edgeryders (the organisation is a spin off from a Council of Europe - European Commission project) has a history of interacting with policy makers and interfacing between formal structures and citizens at the edge. We think some of the most relevant and impactful work can happen at the intersection of these two, and this is why we insisted on having a former member of the European Parliament as an event curator and willing to offer advice:
“I tried to make my experiences of the European Parliament useful for other visitors at lote4 by encouraging more interaction with political institutions. Especially in a community which so often restricts its interaction with policy to interaction with governments and civil servants, my hope is that some people now feel more encouraged to speak with directly elected individuals.“ (A. Andersdotter)
This aspect is also at the core of our collaboration with Matera - learning how to activate and involve the citizenry, and give them space once they got involved. Community members and former unMonastery residents have recently entered an open data contest held by the municipality of Matera, winning two out of the four prizes with an open app mapping the public transport infrastructure. Instead of taking the prize and walk away, they are now re-investing it in another collaborative event where they can continue developing the project, all in an attempt to leave something behind that the local community will benefit from.
The topic of stewardship and what Edgeryders are learning collectively is paving the way forward in terms of where this grassroots community decides to put its skills and energy in 2015. As part of a social contract that empowers the doers, it is up to individual members to step forward and take ideas wherever they see fit. We expect new event formats this year, where starting from specific knowledge we can focus on building actual prototypes.
A few numbers
[Add here: some numbers indicating effectiveness of our way of going about network engagement, the knowledge built and how it’s finding its way to others. If we can get an idea about the number of new relationship/collaborations/activities that it seems to have inspired that would be good too. Maybe also a few individual quotes from participants re: value (if any) coming out of having engaged in the process for them personally.]
Network engagement metric*
What does it mean?
How is this important? What are we learning?
>200 participating in Lote4 in a conversation spanning 115 online contributions, 570 comments and over 30 live sessions in Matera
Contributions are platform posts, wikis, comments and attendance at Matera main event and public sessions for the city
Smart citizens tend to be busy, and engaging them means crafting a meaningful narrative. The opportunity to learn from each other and build something relevant together is a strong driver.
>80 stories, projects, examples on stewardship from the UK, Germany, United States, Sweden, France, Montenegro, Italy, Belgium, Greece, Egypt and more.
Includes the Case Study adventure, event sessions proposed and driven by participants themselves.
A vibrant conversation needs to involve diverse and personal voices, experiences, claims and evidence
30 collaboratively produced posts, wikis, tasks to help organise Lote4
shared on all Edgeryders channels, both internal (mailing list) and external (social media accounts). We even have a shared social media calendar and a team of approx. 30 who volunteered to help spread daily news (opt-in approach).
A working out loud culture makes the conversation accessible to anyone new coming into the space. It offers constant inspiration because it essentially says: “hey, we’re doing this together and here’s how you can get involved”
33 entries in the Open Ethnographer project space
OE has its own dedicated development space, with entries dating back to autumn 2014 when it was first announced.
By documenting thoroughly both software and project development, we keep the doors open for anyone who wishes to participate, we maximize opportunity for early feedback incorporation and finding new collaborators**, all in all making Open Ethnographer a living technology.
A dozen reviews and reflections in the aftermath of Lote4
and a Lote4 wrapup video (1000 plays as of Jan 2015)
There is really a broad variety of different technical and engineering ideas that can help solve many pressing needs for communities! (Amelia Andersdotter, Swedish Pirate Party)
Creating this community of people who are trying to do things way outside the system of normal things is really important work (Robin Chase, Zipcar)
An incredibly warm, personal and inspiring community of social servants, economists, hackers, artists, curators and at least one chef (Juha van 't Zelfde, Lighthouse Brighton)
open source, open culture, open data, open mind… in a word, #openfuture (Nicola Bisceglia, journalist)
*August 2014 - December 2014
** An example is an ongoing discussion of deploying Open Ethnographer for an analysis of failed social innovation experiments, as part of a winning project of a European Cultural Foundation competition
What we have started to learn about relevant emerging topics/themes
Going through huge amounts of documentation to identify patterns or correlations is difficult, time consuming and without software easy to miss important correlations. In this section we add a brief overview of themes (which may be contradicted or supplemented with findings resulting from test of the software) that are relevant to the topics at hand:
- Network Engagement and market failure in the sharing economy
- Networks, systems thinking and collective intelligence
- Others you want to add?
- Network engagement and market failure in the sharing economy: One of the insights from the gathering is that it makes sense to gather and study examples of market failures in the collaborative, non-monetary economy which is effectively where many attempts to elicit input from networks live: “A massive case of market failure occurs around personal data, where people simply cannot understand the value of their personal data, and the way it aggregates to become incredibly powerful”- Jimmy Tidey.
In other conversations we came at it from the angle of exploring when and why people do choose to participate as well to not participate, as well as what makes it easier or harder to do so [add url with notes from Sam’s session on participation in Open Source projects].
Two areas of market failure where there is significant demand for network engagement…and significant burnout were identified:
- Projects or tasks that require significant, long term efforts that are continuous as well as
- Design of platforms that can be built in pieces over time: "Mapping out of what the platforms would look like that would enable all the other things to happen requires big chunks of expertise work over longer period of time"- Robin Chase
- Networks, systems thinking and collective intelligence: The value of applying systems thinking in small scale scenarios was illustrated in Ben’s case study of the Urban Shepherd of Stockholm. Is Jordan’s 's approach something that can be taught to individuals, or small groups, p2p? Possibly.
A different approach is directing collective intelligence towards challenges or problems.[add here: description of the Edgeryders approach towards building collective intelligence]
Implications for future work
[Add here: Two sections
- Implications for Edgeryders
- Implications for Rockefeller Foundation's strategy]
Challenges so far and how they have been addressed
- In its current form, Open Ethnographer funding is largely directed at developing and testing the software, which leaves little resources for bigger engagement efforts and sourcing high quality content. The latter acts as a seed for ongoing conversations and inspires even more people to join the conversation. In building The Stewardship, the engagement efforts were shouldered by the community at large and in completely voluntary fashion. This is only feasible is everyone does it, as it lowers the individual cost of participation. For future efforts, the recommendation is that more resources are found to support the considerable large effort of producing knowledge at these parameters (global, distributed, grassroots).
- The Edgeryders online platform has all content licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License., which makes it ok for anyone, including third parties, to run analyses on it or summarize content. Despite this, not all users fully understand it in practice. Open Ethnographer is one such case, where community members had contributed content before the project was announced and in one particular case, decided they do not want it as part of the research body. For the purpose of community health, that content will be dropped in the analysis, without significant consequences on the research. However, the case raises the importance of who else benefits from Open Ethnographer outside the people contributing experiences and how results will be used. Edgeryders team recommendation is that when the software is used, efforts are made to accommodate everyone involved in producing data pertinent to the analysis.
Indication of compliance with terms of the Grant Agreement
Narrative Report \#2: DEADLINE APRIL 20
Covers actual ethnographic analysis and findings.
Progress made in achieving project milestones
Description of everything delivered and where to access it.
Outcomes, learnings and impacts
What we learned from doing a small scale test of OpenEthnographer on Stewardship/LOTE4 materials
Here we present topics that popped up, and identify threads that tie the different conversations/projects Edgeryders related to lote4/stewardship that community members are excited about.
Implications for future work
- Implications for Edgeryders
- Implications for Rockefeller Foundation's strategy