Draft STF ethnography report

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STF Statistics (June 10th):

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Edgeryders and STF description – about the project in general (one of the last steps)

Research methodology (theoretical background, similar researches, pros and cons - coming)

This report is based on data derived from an ethnographic research of many-to-many peer-to-peer conversations on the Edgeryders online platform. The conversations were coded online and later more in-depth analysis was conducted with RQDA program offline. Posts purely related to the project’s organization were excluded from the analysis.

Research questions

The in-depth qualitative analysis of the conversations, supplemented by data from a focus group discussion, was intended to highlight who are the grass-root activists in Armenia, Georgia and Egypt, and answer the following questions:

  1. What is the profile of grass-root activists in Armenia, Egypt and Georgia? Is there any cross-country difference?
  2. What is the social reality and challenges that these activists face?
  3. What solutions are they offering?
  4. What are their needs? (==> this one is not in the draft yet. Working on it)
  5. What are the interaction patterns on the horizontal and on vertical dimension?

Limitations:

(this part needs to be elaborated more)

The STF project had a limited reach of the organizations, groups and individuals working on the grass-root level for the benefit of the local communities in Armenia, Egypt and Georgia due to the following reasons:

  • language barriers
  • reluctance of some users to engage with each other on the Edgeryders platform as opposed to mainstream social networks such as Facebook
  • time scope ( the shorter the time frame, the greater the dependency on the social circles of the engagement managers seeding the conversation)
  • ….?

These limitations should be taken into the consideration while preparing reading this report.

The people

The people involved into the grass-root movements in Armenia, Georgia and Egypt can be described as young, socially active and community-oriented persons. They are architects, designers, researchers, development and human rights workers, documentary film makers, engineers, historians, IT specialists, journalists, lawyers, university lecturers, teachers, web developers, volunteers, yoga instructors, and even a pilot. All these people with different background, different education, different spheres of occupation tend to be hungry for changes, socially active, community-oriented and are not afraid to step in and take initiatives in their own hands, not just simply talk about change.

Challenges (this part will be more detailed; each point will be talked in more length)

All the challenges that grass-root activists face and talk about in the STF platform can be roughly grouped into three groups: challenges that they face around them in everyday life (macro level); challenges that they face in their work (meso level); challenges that are faced on a personal level (micro level).

Macro level challenges.

The participants on the on-line discussions discussed challenges connected to the natural environment that they live in, such as climate (for example, very cold winters and very hot summers), landslides, littering, environmental and energy issues. They also are concerned about challenges in their social environment: quality and availability of medical services, quality of public education, illiteracy, poor public infrastructure, lack of public transportation (or its flip side – traffic jams), poor sanitation, poverty, migration, unemployment, lack of trust in the governmental institutions, lack of publicity and transparency in the public life, high levels of corruption, bad handling of public spaces, various basic human rights issues – from gender issues and prejudice, to more specific pedestrian and cyclist rights or right to a non-smoking environment.

For example, an Egyptian described the situation in the educational sector in this country:

He found out that his kids spend a lot of time in school <…> everyday and they come back exhausted with no energy or time to even study, do their homework and play and they became accustomed to have the easy answer for the questions and not to search for the answers themselves because obviously they have not time or energy to do so, this besides the fact that every day in school he is a sitting passively listening to teachers and the curriculum itself has lots of problems.

Meso level challenges.

In their work, STF discussions participants are challenged by bureaucracy, vertical hierarchical systems, problematic relations with governmental institutions, zero-sum competition amongst NGO and the lack of will to collaborate. Also they are tired of traditional top-bottom approach and traditional solutions to existing problems, which in most cases do not work. They experience lack of supporters to their cases, lack of human resources, lack of public and institutional trust in their approaches and their technologies. In addition, there are challenges concerning legislation, funding, finding legal assistance or trying to implement policy changes afterwards.

This is nicely summed up in a quote below:

What Jumpstart faces in Georgia, is not dissimilar to other countries: there are challenges with building activism, lack of creativity in trying to solve issues, lack of trust in using technology over traditional methods, many organizations are set in their ways. Donor support is often lacking in grassroots, experimental initiatives, which go unnoticed or ignored in favor of ‘tried and true’ establishments. This creates an environment where it is difficult for large established actors to innovate or experiment, and also keeps creative approaches from reaching their potential through a lack of funding.

Micro level challenges.

On a personal level, STF participants presume that there is a lack of team cooperation spirit as the society is more individual-oriented. However, the main challenge is motivation, and the discussants showed that there are different reasons for the lack of it, such as feeling that one can not change anything, no decisions being made on a policy levels, skepticism from the people around, passiveness, lack of support for creative and innovative approaches. Some of these reasons were explained through the cultural values prism. Those who are freelance experience even more problems – financial insecurity, time management, need to learn to prioritize and so on.

The quote below is from the discussion following the workshop in Egypt:

<…> basically the challenge was ‘things in ourselves we don’t like and want to change’ - and the common thing that came up was a lack of engagement in activities, indifference and everything being predictable so a belief that your actions won’t be effective.

Real Action

Armenia.

In the conversations on the STF platform there were fourteen (albeit overlapping) Armenian initiatives mentioned . Below I give a brief overview of these organizations:

  1. Armenian Progressive youth. A youth organization aimed at active youth participation and their capacity building;
  2. City Bugs. A web-based citizen reporting platform and monitoring system for urban infrastructure issues.
  3. Garni Community. A community in Garni (close to Yerevan) aiming to establish self-sustainable and eco-friendly community.
  4. Let's Create Smile. Initiative aimed at integration of disabled youth and children to the larger society; does some charity work as well.
  5. Mashtots Park Movement. A protest movement that began in 2012 in order to save green zones in Yerevan, also expressing the idea that the people are the owners of public places.
  6. NFE Armenia. Non-formal education initiative from Armenia
  7. Sky School Yerevan. A new initiative by a professional pilot aimed at teaching piloting skills to wider society using flight simulators.
  8. Ta-Ta Moms Helpers. An initiative in Yerevan, that offers baby-sitting services for mothers.
  9. Tumo Center for Creative Technologies. An after-school educational center for children and youth.
  10. Carpool Armenia. Carpooling initiative started by the leader of the Armenian Progressive Youth organization.
  11. Project Human. Storytelling initiative in Armenia.
  12. Save Teghut Forest initiative. It was launched in 2006 in order to stop the Teghut mine exploitation program in Lori, Armenia.
  13. Swap shop Yerevan. This initiative allows people to exchange goods and services outside of a money-based economy. This idea emerged during the STF workshop in Yerevan.
  14. UtopiaLab. A co-working place in Yerevan, Armenia.

Although all of these initiatives are different in their objectives, there are some common trends. It can be stated that young people in Armenia care about their environment, both rural and urban, and try to be self-sustainable and eco-friendly. Another strong trend in this country is the quest for alternative economy models, when traditional market economy is substituted by sharing and bartering economy. Also young Armenians are concerned about education and aim to gain various skills. They also strive for a more inclusive and more empowered society by offering various help for weaker members.

Hence the keywords to describe Armenian grass-root movements would be environment, alternative economy, inclusion, empowerment.

Egypt.

There were 27 organizations and initiatives (although overlaying each other) from Egypt mentioned in the STF discussions. Here is a brief overview of them.

  1. Bussy project. The initiative is intended to empower women and raise awareness of gender issues through creative means.
  2. Educate-me. An alternative education initiative, that aims to provide everyone with freedom, opportunities to pursue their dreams and skills needed. They implement different learning programs in a community development center in Konayyesa, Giza.
  3. Ain-Elbeeah. An NGO that aims at improve environment, reduce pollution, use renewable sources of energy.
  4. Al Mutamidia baladna. This is the name of a community in Cairo that built a ring-road exit together, by themselves, without asking any assistance (or permission) from the authorities.
  5. Ana Mubasher. It is a live streaming project, which was founded in 2012 in order to provide live streaming from ongoing demonstrations in Cairo and other places in Egypt connected to the Arabic Spring uprisings. It became a channel that documented authority's abuses of their power when dealing with protesters.
  6. Anti Harassment movement. The initiative aimed to change the perceptions of harassment in society by approaching potential harassers on individual basis and trying to work on the core of the problem.
  7. Arkeb Eh. An initiative that offers an app that informs what public transport to use when traveling from point A to point B in Cairo.
  8. Biogas People. It is an initiative to develop biological gas systems in order to provide more eco-friendly and cheaper energy source that would be accessible by everyone.
  9. Bos 7awalek. It is a campaign aimed at reducing traffic and increasing visibility for local businesses by using billboards on the street. It will offer a mobile application that contains a directory of various services with directions, proximity and ratings. It is a new initiative, still in the planning stage.
  10. Cairo sitters. A baby-sitting agency.
  11. Cluster Cairo. A lab intended for urban studies, training and environmental research.
  12. Education Square. A group of people interested in creating an alternative education system that would prepare children for a future by fostering curiosity, creativity and love of lifelong learning.
  13. Egypt Foundation for Youth and Development (EFYD). A youth-led nonprofit organization based in Alexandria that aims at empowering youth and building their capacity to become effective leaders in the near future.
  14. Gozoor. A company that reuses agricultural waste by designing machines to produce wood from the palm reeds.
  15. HarassMap. This project aims to create a system in Egypt for reporting incidences of sexual harassment via SMS messaging. By mapping these reports on-line, the entire system will act as an advocacy, prevention, and response tool, highlighting the severity and pervasiveness of the problem.
  16. Ice Cairo. A small-scale innovation hub for youth.
  17. Jozour. The company manufactures wood products from palm midribs.
  18. Kartag.com. A carpooling app that connects drivers with passengers.
  19. Mapture. It is an application that track the phone from its GPS and allows to verify the time and the location of the picture taken.
  20. Medicine for All. A system of collecting, sorting, and distributing medicine that would otherwise be thrown away by individuals and pharmaceutical companies.
  21. Noat Nour. Facilitators of the Oasis Game.
  22. Oasis Game. A participatory asset based community development methodology. Organized by Noat Nour.
  23. Rasheed22. A shared common workspace in Cairo.
  24. RecycloBekia. A start-up company that specializes in green recycling of electronic waste.
  25. Reform Studio. They design a range of furniture using a material created out of plastic bags.
  26. Smart Gates. The Automatic Smart Gates is an invention that helps dealing with an access of rain water.

In addition to that, during the STF workshop in Egypt, a new initiative was born, called the Future Now newspaper. It is an imaginative exercise which helped the participants put their version of the future into the concrete stories.

In Egypt, eco-friendly initiatives stand out, such as recycling and reusing materials or converting waste to an eco-friendly energy source. Also the Egyptians care about their urban environment and are taking active part in its planning and changing (the ring road initiative). The are concerned about gender issues and education as well. Community development, solidarity and capacity building, as well as media improvement – these are other themes that occurred amongst initiatives from Egypt.

Therefore the keywords that would describe Egyptian grass-root movements would be eco-friendly, urban planning, gender issues, education, development, solidarity and media improvement.

However: from the personal feedback in Tbilisi showed that the results from the STF platform are quite different from the real on-the-ground situation: environmental organizations/initiatives are scarce (the opposite from what is on the platform). Possible reasons: the STF initiative was spread in Egypt by environmental organizations, hence their circle is highly represented. Other explanations – limitation of the STF scope.

Georgia.

There were 30 initiative and projects (overlapping with each other) from Georgia mentioned in the STF forum discussions. Here is a short overview of them.

  1. ACCT. Alternative Culture Center of Tbilisi. A place for artists, hackers and makers.
  2. Ahuahu Foundation. They issue the Caucasus Art Magazine.
  3. Bicycle Collective Tbilisi. A Facebook group devoted for sharing information and fostering cooperation between all cyclist communities in Tbilisi.
  4. Caucasus Art Magazine. This initiative is aimed at uniting all three South Caucasus countries in one cultural platform, bring their cultural agendas, professional artists and ongoing cultural processes together despite ongoing political conflicts on a state level.
  5. Change Your Opinion. A group of young gender activists from different backgrounds focuses on social awareness raising through trainings, social events and open discussions. Their latest stencil campaign with gender-related statements stressed out that gender equality should be a top priority for Georgia as a developing country.
  6. Community Access Centers. These are informal education training centers in IDP settlements.
  7. Coop.ge. A social business that tries to develop waste recycling in Tbilisi. Collects all recyclable waste, such as glass, paper,carton, plastic and tin.
  8. DRR center. Disaster risk reduction centers.
  9. Elva. A mobile phone platform that allows organizations to collaborate with communities in order to map local needs and to advocate change. Its services are free and they use open-source software.
  10. Feradi.info. It is one of the JumpStart initiatives. A variety of infographics, interactive on-line tools for visualizing huge data sets – all of this is accessible for everyone thanks to the collaboration of programmers, front-end designers and data journalists.
  11. ChemiKucha.ge. Fix My Street initiative started in Georgia by Transparency International.
  12. GeorAIR. They organize and support international artist exchange projects and try to strengthen Georgian and Caucasian art world and bring artists from different cultural backgrounds together.
  13. Girls Who Code. Another JumpStart initiative. Several IT specialists now work directly with a group of around fifteen female professionals between the ages of 22-35 to address these issues in Georgia. The women, most of whom are journalists and activists each week learn to code with the programming language Ruby.
  14. Guerrilla Gardening. A group of activists that has been protecting one of the central and largest parks in Tbilisi (Vake Park) from development by occupying the site.
  15. Hack Me Some Land Registration. Another JumpStart inititive. Together with Transparency International they organized a meeting where they wanted to talk about how to get and use information on land registration.
  16. Iare Pekhit. A pedestrian rights organization in Tbilisi, which has been around for over a year. They've held actions on the streets around the city, run letter-writing campaigns and given recommendations to politicians.
  17. Internet Forum Tbilisi. A one-day event that aims to gather bloggers, internet activists, developers and all internet enthusiasts at the same venue.
  18. JumpStart. A non-profit organization that uses technology to communicate and visualize complex information in a way that is engaging and easy to understand.
  19. Megobruli Gzebi. “Friendly Roads” is an initiative for road safety, in which Elva is involved. The projects enables people to quickly report accidents or hazardous infrastructure by a web form or an SMS. These reports are verified and published in the project's website in order to raise awareness within media, use it for workshops in schools and in meetings with government authorities.
  20. Open Street Maps Georgia. OSM is a collaborative and open source map making platform. Mapping activists in Georgia meet for mapping parties in Tbilisi.
  21. Pink.ge. A life style blog writing about beauty, relationships, career and health, visited by 15000-19000 unique visitors everyday.
  22. SmokeFree Tbilisi. A couple of activists are planning to launch a public platform to map and promote local business that cater to non-smokers.
  23. wehelp.ge. Crowd Charity that supports people for their medical needs.
  24. Think Space. A creative hub space.
  25. Tbilisi Makerspace. a “makerspace” in Tbilisi – basically a collection of people who come together to create and develop various projects.
  26. Uni Hack. An event launched by several Georgian IT students who were attending Georgia Tech University in the US in order to replicate the hackathons they had attended in the United States.
  27. Vake Park protests. Guerrila Gardeners and ACCT are organizing protests against a 7-story in the middle of Vake Park. The protests were successful in stopping any further progress so far. Now the activists are starting a court case against city hall for allowing the company to build there. They're also trying to change the legislation to prevent such developments in the future.
  28. Tiflis Hamkari. Tiflis Hamkari (union of Tbilisi caretakers) was founded in March 2005 Their goal is to support awareness for Tbilisi citizens regarding Tbilisi’s historic and cultural values and their maintenance as well as to actively participate in the municipal decision-making maing process, to carry out public monitoring in order to protect unique urban areas in Tbilisi.
  29. Cyclehack. It is an event aimed at making cities more cycle friendly. The idea is to bring people together to come up with ideas that solve the barriers to cycling and build them in under 48 hours. The main Cyclehack event will be held in Edinburgh, with satellite events being held all around the world. On June 21st it is planned to be held in Tbilisi.

As it can be seen, the Georgians put emphasis on art, innovative IT approaches (maps, apps and data visualization), urban planning and urban/environmental activism, gender issues, healthy and active lifestyle, cycling and walking, charity, media.

In addition to that, in Georgia a lot of initiatives are driven not only by Georgians, but also expats living in this country. This illustrates that in Georgia changes on the grass-root level is driven by a blend of local and global expertise. (any other reasons?)

The keywords that would describe Georgian grass-root scene drawing from the STF platform would be IT, urban planning, environmental, gender issues, safety (in the road/on the sidewalk), solidarity, media.

Approaches

As we can see, there are different organizations and initiatives at work in Armenia, Georgia and Egypt. However, there are some things that all of them have in common. First of all is a belief in bottom-up approach and that changes can be delivered locally and on a small-scale first. Cooperation was another theme that underlined the conversations in the STF forum. People from Armenia, Egypt and Georgia start by sharing their experiences, then looking for common goals and common resources that they have and later opt for real action, instead of just networking.

Although some of the participants can be called true-born leaders that started certain initiatives by themselves (for example Carpool Armenia), but the strength, believe the Edgeryders from all three countries, lies in a strong team of people who share the same ideas.

On one hand the grass-root activists are taking after DIY, arts-and-crafts, simple engineering, sustainable living initiatives, but on the other hand they also rely a lot on the newest technologies and open-source data: using maps and geographical data for information and for advocacy seems to be a panacea from everything – harassment, road safety, carpooling, trustworthy media and so on.

Vertical and horizontal relations:

  • Cooperation (perceived lack of, changes during and after STF);
  • relations with governmental institutions: problematic, what are the possibilities? (still ongoing discussion on the STF platform). From focus group: govt resistant to change, similar to feudal system, enemies, avoid direct work with public institutions, preferencial treatment of some NGOs. There is a need of more publicity, public need to be more educated about NGO-state relations, state is against public improving things on their own, but there is a need to work together.
  • relations with donor institutions: what does work and what does not? (still ongoing discussion on the STF platform). From focus group: some people are not aware of funding possibilities, different donors, different approaches, fund-chasing leads to no outcomes, donors impose their conditions and you have to fit into their boxes with goals set from outside.


Social Media Calendar: Spot The Future
Research team: moving to the final report
#2

Can we group keywords?

Just a preliminary comment for now: can we merge keywords? For example, we have now “environment” for Armenia, “eco-friendly” for Egypt and “environmental” for Georgia. They all allude to the same thing, is there a reason why they are spelt out differently? Similarly, Egypt has “media improvement” but Georgia has “media”.


#3

Will do!

Will work on it. Just a side note:  in my head and notes (coming back to the note of the subjectivity of the qualitative research) these keywords (which are intended as a guideline for more narrative summary and description) allude to a slightly different things: environment in Armenia - to surrounding urban and nature environment; eco-friendly - to recycling, reusing and bioenergy initiatives, environmental in Georgia - well, yes, this is the same as in Armenia. Media in Georgia refers to new approaches to media, such as data vizualisation etc, and media improvement is more general topic of reporting the truth (for example - an app that verifies place and time of a picture taken with phone).

But I agree with you and will try to crystallize it more, to demonstrate similar struggles that people go through in all three countries. Especially if we will try to visualize this data later with the help of Jumpstart - the same keywords will be more useful.


#4

Embed your futurespotters presentation?

Hi @Inga, thanks for all the work.

Since we are about to spread this on social media to encourage more community members to validate or review the findings, I’m wondering if you could embed here your presentation from Tbilisi? Mostly because not everyone reads this much and a visual synthesis would be helpful.


#5

Presentation from Tbilisi

Here it is:presentation stf.ppt


#6

Final report?

When do you think we can have it?


#7

My goal is to finish it by the end of the upcoming week (approx. July 20th), I will upload it here then, for some final comments/remarks. Would it work?