The Service Provider must describe how it will address/deliver the demands of the RFP; providing a detailed description of the essential performance characteristics, reporting conditions and quality assurance mechanisms that will be put in place, while demonstrating that the proposed methodology will be appropriate to the local conditions and context of the work.
In deliverable 1 we will provide a detailed activity plan based on the following principles:
In complex societies, change tends to start at the edge. Individuals farther away from the mainstream are less shielded from systemic change (mass unemployment, ecological crises, etc.), and therefore harder pressed to respond and adapt to it; at the same time, they are also less constrained by “business as usual”. In the 21st century, the spread of hacker culture – with its emphasis on DIY, knowledge sharing and technological progress has turned on a spotlight on a small but influential minority of social innovators, activists and technologists that are emerging as a massive, distributed R&D lab for the global society. There is much to be gained from a constructive dialog between the center, where policies are decided upon, and the edge, where people at the forefront of change and adaptation are gathering precious data on what change really looks like from the inside. However, bootstrapping and sustaining such dialog is challenging. Profoundly different world views and experiences separate policy makers and innovators at the edge; a history of mutual mistrust makes each side weary of engaging with the other.
Edgeryders grows out of a joint Council of Europe/European Commission project to bridge this gulf. The approach we advocate – and that we have successfully deployed elsewhere – is based on three main activities:
- traversing the social graph to reach cutting-edge trends and their protagonists just as they happen. Social innovators, hackers, civic hackers and activists tend to be a global community, connected across the planet by personal ties. We make use of the many edgeryders who are themselves part of it to identify individuals in Armenia, Egypt and Georgia – as well as working with relevant UNDP country offices – to act as entry points to the networks of innovators in those countries; and of the social Internet to traverse the social graph, using their early involvement to signal to other, less visible innovators what we are doing. Each step is validated through the credibility of the people passing the word around, generating an initial investment of trust: its collateral is the positioning of so many edgeryders in this community.
- peer-to-peer validation through a curated online conversation. Cutting-edge projects and experiences are shared on an online platform optimized for meaningful conversation, with unrestricted (but moderated) comments. This means that the Spot The Future (STF) community functions as its own validation mechanism: anything written by one user can be corroborated or challenged by all other users. This is the same mechanism at work in open source software development, that famously prompted Linus Torvalds to remark that "given enough eyeballs, all errors are shallow". This assures highest quality and timely error- and bias detection.
- conversation harvesting through online ethnography and network analysis techniques. Qualitative (ethnographic) analysis is deployed on the many voices participating into the online STF conversation, to identify the trends and criticalities that innovators at the edge in Armenia, Egypt and Georgia find most compelling. We supplement this with quantitative indicators: social network indicators (computed on the conversation, not on mainstream social networks) to best assess the influence of individual participants, and content network indicators (such as H-indices) to best assess the depth and the breadth of the peer-to-peer validation processes underpinning each contribution to the conversation. We also prototype a method to combine social network and document network, based on a recently proposed network measure called entanglement. .
The platform, the people, the hosting culture
In deliverable 2 we will design and deploy the technical and social infrastructure appropriate for the exercise.
We suggest deploying the project on a dedicated section of the Edgeryders platform (https://edgeryders.eu). Besides being a fast, cost-effective solution compatible with the time and budget constraints of STF, it has two added advantages. Firstly, unlike any existing national platform, it brings together innovators and hackers in all three STF countries, maximizing the opportunities for interaction with each other and with many of their Western European counterparts. Secondly, it stays at arm’s length from UNDP: it can make bold decisions and live with their consequences. A partially separate identity lets UNDP take credit for the exercise’s success if it succeeds, and yet shelters it from the fallout of failure should it fail. This means we can build a truly innovative prototype with no risk to compromise the client’s credibility. We employed the same strategy with Edgeryders vs. the Council of Europe, Kublai vs. the Italian Ministry of economic development etc. The Edgeryders platform is:
- already up and running
- free, open, user friendly
- enjoys high-grade tech support
- inhabited by a diverse community of close to 2,000 people, predominantly young and European. The existing Edgeryders community is likely to take interest in STF, thereby reducing the "empty room effect" and speeding up takeup.
- fully customizable
For the STF exercise we propose creating and customizing a group within Edgeryders (with its own URL); fitting it with support for multiple languages and one-click machine-translation (see below).
We provide a content-level integration with the World We Want platform as follows: World We Want is based on Drupal (according to fingerprinting in its HTML source), as is the Edgeryders infrastructure. This means that the standard way of migrating Drupal content (the Drupal Migrate project: https://drupal.org/project/migrate ) is a comfortable way to get this integration done without any loss of structure or metadata like author, date and reply-to information. We already have extensive experience with Drupal Migrate. For the World We Want application, we would develop a custom Drupal module that can be installed by the administrator of World We Want to install and update the content generated in this project. If desired, these content imports can run in regular intervals (say, hourly, called automatically). Drupal Migrate automatically works in such a way that only new content will be imported in such a case.
In addition, relying on Drupal and Drupal Migrate makes it possible to include the content generated for this project into the data pool available for analysis with the World We Want Discover tool. On our end, this means tagging the content (through Drupal taxonomies) with content type, region and topic, and also importing this information during the Drupal Migrate import. No action is required at the side of World We Want administrators to allow the analysis, other than an initial agreement on compatible data structures.
For all the above tasks of integration, we will develop the import tool with a sandbox version of World We Want before handing it to the World We Want administrator for live use.
Engagement: people and culture
Any distributed foresight effort needs a way to attract and engage many contributors. In the case of Spot The Future there is a further complication: the exercise happens across multiple countries and multiple languages. Fortunately, we have faced similar situations before. We address this challenge as follows:
- we employ an engagement manager in each country. These roles are defined by embeddedness in the local social innovation/civic hacking scene; proficiency in the local language; and social media traction. The role of engagement managers is to point us at people doing interesting work in their respective countries; "put the word out" on the country's most used social media, inviting their countrymen and -women to the conversation; and taking part in it themselves. "Social media" in this context means essentially Facebook – the likely exception being Egypt, where 2% of the country's 30 million Internet users are active Twitter users (source: http://goo.gl/Xyfi4X).
- we procure, in each country, paid content – asking some of the more interesting innovators to share their experiences and vision in the form of blog post to be posted on the Spot The Future platform. These posts act as seed for the nascent conversation.
- we employ an experienced community manager to assist new participants in the onboarding process and help them become protagonists of the conversation (guidelines: http://goo.gl/DuiVf2). Edgeryders believes in a "human touch" approach to community, exemplified by the "call a human" button on our home page.
- we weave a narrative: engagement is more likely to happen when there is a powerful story to attract participants to the project, outlining a common purpose and key values of the interaction space: openness, inclusiveness, tolerance and respect. The narrative in the case of STF will emphasize participants as protagonists of a global conversation and future spotters lending their unique expertise to better policy outcomes. Conveying the narrative is to be done through inspirational blog posts, calls for participation spread by the team and engagement managers, as well as customization of the web platform (graphics and other visual and textual cues).
- we invite the existing 2,000-strong Edgeryders community to participate, making the exercise more exciting and advanced for everyone, furthering opportunities for peer to peer learning and support, as well as collaboration that can extend beyond geographic boundaries. Content in the platform is linked to accounts, so it is easy to separate content by users in STF countries from that of other users.
- we deal with multiple languages as follows: key content (basic info, how-tos) will be in Armenian, Arabic, Georgian and English. Procured blog posts will be in the language of the country they refer to and English. Users will be given the choice to write in English or in any other language; one-click automated translation will be made available on the platform. A strong social norm of not looking down on anyone on the basis of spelling or grammar mistakes will be in place.
Deliverables 3 and 4 are produced by means of an open online ethnography exercise, with some quantitative reinforcements. Ethnographic methods are particularly well-suited to horizon-scanning exercises because they allow researchers to convey the point of view of the group being studied into the research. In the case of STF, this promotes constructive dialog between policy makers and innovators at the edge, as it makes explicit the different world views standing in the way of collaboration. Also, it tends to amplify weak signals by looking at (in this case) social innovation through the eyes of social innovators, taking on board the reasons why their initiators think these practices and experiences are important. It entails the following steps:
- generating (broadly defined) questions. Presumably based on the priorities emerging from the post-2015 consultation run by UNDP, they are likely to focus on "how" to do things, for example "how to define high-quality education opportunities? how to provide them to all?"
- seeding a community to take them on (as explained above).
- peer-to-peer validation all across the project (see above).
- ethnographic coding: platform content is parsed by ethnographers and coded according to a pertinent ontology. We have worked in the past with ethnographers from various European universities, but we are also willing to consider a collaboration with researchers in Armenia, Egypt and Georgia.
- analysis of coded content to single out the most important and most widely shared attributes of innovators at the edge and what they do
- computation of network metrics for further validation of the online content. This takes advantage of the fact that the ethnographic data are, originally, in relationship with each other (posts respond to research questions; comments respond to posts or other comments), and therefore can be conceptualized as a network. This network of content implies a social network of people talking to each other. We intend to study both the network of contents and the social network, using computer code from Cottica’s Edgeryders Mapper (https://github.com/dragontrainer/edgeryders-mapper)t and Renoust’s Data Detangler (http://tulipposy.labri.fr:31497/). Quantitative network analysis complement qualitative ethnography in three ways: it validates qualitative conclusions by assigning an influence score to individual participants in the conversation (via centrality measures in the social network); assigns a reliability score to units of content (via h-indices or similar in the content network); uncovers the patterns of co-occurrence of ethnographic tags, leading to a fine-grained understanding of how the different social innovation, values, and issues are socially connected – in other words, finding out what makes “innovators at the edge” a social group (via entanglement measures).
- online publication of drafts, one for each country, for the whole STF community to discuss, draw parallels and validate.
- further validation in the course of a physical meetup of representatives of the STF community across the three countries (see below).
This process has several desirable characteristics.
- open: anyone can participate in the study, not just as a respondent but as a researcher as well. In fact, respondents are encouraged to put on a researcher's hat. This happens through two mechanisms. The first one is the accessibility of the research process itself through a kind of open notebook science, with researchers publishing their provisional results on the platform itself as they go, giving everyone a chance to have a say. The second one is the publication of the coded data in open formats (though anonymized. A discussion about the privacy issues of open notebook ethnography in the context of Edgeryders can be found here: http://goo.gl/Hn5nD5).
- accessible: since the exercise lives online, any citizen can participate in it at her own pace, in her own time slot, from wherever she chooses to.
- computation-friendly: the raw ethnographic data are generated in written form and on an online platform. This means saving time and money in transcription; it also means being able to perform more sophisticated analysis by being able to associate every post or comment to its user, and ideally each user to a vector of characteristics (age, gender, country, education...).
- fair: ethnographic research has a strong mandate to incorporate the point of view of those being studied in the results. This makes it especially suited for fostering dialog and building trust.
- robust: quantitative indicators reinforce and supplement qualitative analysis with insight that is prone to different biases than qualitative analysis itself.
A three day Living on the Edge event (video: https://vimeo.com/82554988), fostering mutual support and horizontal learning that gathers innovators from different parts of the world. The contents of the event will be based on the online conversation and co-designed by the STF community on its platform, by and with attendees. The event will be open for anyone who wishes to participate in it; especially active or inspiring contributors to the STF exercise will be funded to participate.
- Build and share across the participants a synthesis of the qualitative evidence being uploaded onto the online platform
- Experiment involving participants from different countries as mentors to each other, expanding one another's knowledge and acting as a mutual support network for innovators working outside structured/funded r&d environments
- Experiment involving Edgeryders community members as full-fledged experts in the projects, by getting them to present their stories and activities and discuss them with other event participants
- Confront contributors and mentors with the data and bring them up to speed with respect to building the final foresight report
- Plan the final phase of producing the final foresight result
- The emergence of a fledgling network connecting innovators at the edge across the selected countries
- Discovery and exchange of new perspectives, knowledge and themes amongst participants
- Discovery of new “societal solutions” and their challenges across countries
Tentative schedule of activities
Online interaction social dynamics has its own laws of motion, that are not necessarily compatible with traditional “waterfall” project management. That, in addition to the tight time constraints of STF recommends a tight management of the project’s timeline, as well as some overlapping between the different phases. We envision completing the project in three months, roughly as follows.
- Week 1. Plan activities
- Weeks 2-5. Complete the research and engagement teams; produce "seed" content and calls for participation in multiple languages; prepare the platform; build the data model
- Week 3. Pre-launch activities: start a blog, establish a STF social media presence etc.
- Week 6. Platform launch; preliminary foresight report
- Weeks 7-10. "On tour": missions to Armenia, Egypt and Georgia, for small scale offline meetings and community animation. Driving online engagement. Start ethnographic analysis. Start the network analysis.
- Week 12. Final event to present and validate preliminary research conclusions.
- Week 13. Complete the network analysis and finalize the report.