UNDEF update

(Writing this here in response to an urgent request from @nadia as she prepares a meeting.)


The concept note that @anique.yael prepared as part of her job application was meant for the United Nations Democracy Fund. Applications for 2017 have since opened. We have decided to apply, since it rests nicely with our Open Village operations in MENA and helps strengthen our ties with parts of the community.

The original concept note will be treated only as a point of departure, because (a) the priorities for 2017 have since been unveiled and (b) as we thought about it, things got clearer in our head. We are now envisioning a multi-site citizen science project in the MENA region, such as civic monitoring of water quality. Data are collected, released as open data and discussed online (“What are we seeing? Can we trust our data as evidence? Can/should we do anything to improve water quality?”). Both the datasets and the results of the discussion are then offered to the local authorities as a contribution.

The idea is:

  1. Democratic activism by young people can be problematic, as élites fear it might degenerate into unrest and view it with suspicion.

  2. On the other hand, all countries in the region are clamouring for STEM.

  3. That makes science a safer (and rhetorically more powerful) way to participate.

  4. Additionally, people in our community are worried that biohacking is coming to Africa in an “imperialistic” way.

  5. So, we use the project to train (northern) Africans in basic wet lab skills and data interpretation. We propose a model of mentoring; slightly more senior people in the biohacker community train “absolute beginners”, like Rachel did in the Open Village Festival.

  6. We give the project a strong gender focus, calling in the female biohackers we know to both make up an advisory board and get involved on the ground as mentors) and prioritising women and girls as participants to the project. Again, this is about preventing the biohacking scene to become female-unfriendly as the software hacking did. It can be done in Africa, where the scene is still embryonic at best and nonexistent at worst. When the first spaces open, basic wet lab skills will be more than most people have.

  7. We partner up with local community spaces. Ideally some of them will end up starting biohacking labs.


We cover the following UNDEF priority areas:

  • Gender Equality
  • Community Activism
  • Youth engagement
  • Strengthening civil society interaction with Government
  • Tools for knowledge


  1. Does this sound like the kind of stuff they would consider doing?

  2. We could do this as a one-country project or a multi-country one. Which path do we choose? 80% of the fund is allocated to national (vs. regional or global) projects. On the other hand, I imagine that 90+% of the applications will be for national projects. I personally think we should exploit ER’s regional scope.

  3. Any suggestion on the partnerships?

Thanks for this @alberto

I actually have a slightly different framing in mind and a number of additional partnerships - now that I understand the urgency of information required for @nadia’s meeting will add to this before the start of the day EST tomorrow.

Um no Im meeting person in 3 hrs so I need rough idea now.

Right ok, well this is a very sound set up by @alberto. Let me scratch some more info together - give me 30mins.

@hugi hej, kunde detta vara nagot for oss? En separat ansokan. Jag kan nog fa med ett antal tyska partners, alternativet i danmark, Smari mm. Vi hade ju redan ett antal samarbetspartners kring en forsta ansokan.

Ok so @nadia this is rough and really just bare bones that are in the process of being more deeply scoped and set up but should do. Thank you so much for gauging with Gina.


I think @alberto has set the context well as a starting point. Additionally / in other words, I see the project responding to democratic opportunities in four areas:

  • environmental and infrastructure management through community led citizen science and biohacking responses
  • the burgeoning fablab/ living labs/ social entrepreneurship/ smart city fields by incubating women practitioners and fostering inclusive workplaces towards a gender equal/ democratized labour market
  • access to knowledge, knowledge production and autonomy in the context of digital neocolonialism, where the development of “Smart Africa” calls for a response from empowered citizens in the face of increasing monopolies driven by Western capitalist interests
  • civil society decision-making and governance models that respond directly to the needs and cultural specificities of each community rather than unsuitable or exclusive “democratic” models


Develop a MENA regional network of female changemakers in the citizen science, livinglabs and smart cities fields that responds to an already male dominated labour market and cultivates opportunities for grassroots governance of local resources

This could look like:

  • Establish a fellowship program for young women leaders in the MENA region that will offer mentoring and resources to coordinate a protoype citizen science initiative

  • 1 - 2 fellows will be chosen from Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt, countries where Edgeryders is currently establishing its OpenVillage network and therefore will have resources and local collaborators available

  • Strategic, collaborating and grassroots community partners will guide and support each fellow and their community teams through the following stages:

    • Situational and stakeholder analysis and project co-design
    • Establish grassroots community partners across fablabs, living labs, co-working spaces
    • Data gathering on local environment and infrastructure using citizen science tools
    • Knowledge sharing, community management and coordination of responses on the ER platform
    • Undertake biohacking response projects that address the findings of the data gathering
  • Underpinning these stages will be ongoing:

    • skills development workshops for the fellows
    • analyse of the collective intelligence on the ER platform through Graphryders
    • community consultations across the local civil society networks
  • It is intended that at the end of each initiative, the findings - as an open data - will be presented to local governments and decision-makers by Edgeryders and its local strategic partners, with the intention of fostering an ongoing government supported program

In summary:

Data gathering provides

  • Access to training and skills development
  • Platforms for dialogue, visibility, mutual understanding and social cohesion across the horizontal and vertical axis of the community
  • Data on local community, ecological and infrastructure needs

Data informs

  • Autonomous response projects led by community members
  • Policy makers and other decision-makers

Responses provide

  • Access to training and skills development
  • Opportunities and visibility for women and youth leaders
  • Increasingly inlusive fablabs/ social entrepreneurship/ smart cities labour market
  • Conservation and development of resources
  • Strengthened civil society through community collaboration


Overarching strategic partners

  • MENA and civil society
  • MENA and gender
  • MENA and smart cities/ social entrepreneurship

Collaborating partners

  • Women training and mentorship
  • Citizen science
  • Biohacking

Grassroots partners

  • Fellows
  • Open Village houses
  • Living Labs/ co-working spaces

Current partners being explored

Other potentially relevant stakeholders


Oh and Sample Advisory Board

  • Nanjira Sambuli – researcher, policy analyst, advocacy strategist and Digital Equality Advocacy Manager at the Web Foundation (digital colonialism, gender equality, policy)
  • Cindy Regalado – University College London (citizen science, collaborative network infrastructures)
  • Malika Hamidi – theorist and activist (Muslim gender studies, policy advocacy)
  • Beth Simone Noveck – GovLab (digital governance, public interest)
  • Michel Bauwens - P2P Foundation (open data, commons, peer-to-peer networks)
  • Baram (Ramy) Kim - Open Oakland/Code for America (open data, smart health)
  • Rachel Aronoff - Hackerium (researcher, educator, biohacker)
  • MENA civil society / policy TBD
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Clarification. I am using “partners” in the EU consortium sense. A partner is a legal entity that has formal responsibilities on the project, and the budget to carry them out. In this sense there cannot be more than 3 partners in a project this small, because adding partners adds to the overhead. Even 3 only works if we are firmly in the lead and manage two thirds of the budget.

For the others, we need to get creative (buy a membership? co-opt a person from the entity on our project board?). And selective.

sorry I am so late to see this!
I fully support the idea and hope there will be some way to really participate!!!
I have experience in putting together proposals, participating and managing multi-partner big EU projects, and look forward to helping!

Hi @rachel thanks for piping in. You’re not at all late to this so nothing to worry about! We choose to openly plan our projects but this is still very much in early stages. We had positive feedback from Nadia’s meeting, and Alberto and I will be moving forward on the application (which is due in just over ten days). It’s wonderful to hear you have such depth and breadth of experience and I’ll certainly keep you in the loop - for now your enthusiasm is more than enough, so heartfelt thanks.

I think this is an excellent focus.

It is I who should be apologising, Rachel. You would have received a formal invitation from Anique – this is why I wrote “Rachel” instead of “@rachel”. On the other hand a little clumsiness is the price of the radical openness of planning one’s moves in broad daylight, on an unrestricted web forum, so hopefully you will forgive us.

just one more point: if water quality is really the main goal, we should try to also get some chemistry collaborator(s), in order to look into other elements besides microbes, like lead and arsenic, which are of great concern.
I would love to find a DIY lead detection method!
no need to apologise, Alberto!

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Thanks for your input @rachel, that’s kind of you, and excited about your excitement. Alas water quality is not the main goal no. That is a key example @alberto gave when summarising the latest project idea (I was unavailable to provide the initial summary to Nadia at the time).

While citizen science and biohacking are two key mediums (as will be community dialogue sessions), the main goal is to: [quote=“anique.yael, post:6, topic:7797”]
Develop a MENA regional network of female changemakers in the citizen science, livinglabs and smart cities fields that responds to an already male dominated labour market and cultivates opportunities for grassroots governance of local resources

While the project is evolving in response to UNDEF updated priorities (eg. gender) and deeper research into the context, if you haven’t already feel free to read my initial concept note linked above to get an idea of the overall strategic vision. Appreciate your care and input - feel free to share any other ideas or insights at this time :cherries:

yes, I see… the big research aims are supported by doing real actions (like community water quality monitoring)!

Exactly! :blush:

@natalia_skoczylas Thanks for your reflections and offer of support in terms of merging big picture Edgeryders’ objectives!

So further to your and myconversations elsewhere, we’re at a point now where the concept has been simplified and has had to be locked in. With the grant due in under a week and partnerships still being brokered, as well as vital problematizing of the democratic context in the region, we’ve needed to really hone in on what this project is focusing on.

Which means that we’re not in a position to incorporate OpenVillage Festival 2019 into the UNDEF project proposal specifically (that’s not to say that - as mentioned - OpenVillage as a project isn’t being weaved in). BUT :cherries: incidentally what you’re talking about in terms of storytelling is super aligned with some side conversations and movements of thought around Edgeryders and the dilemma of storytelling and media that I’ve been involved in with @nadia and @unknown_author (yipppeeee). Perhaps we could include this as a talking point in the OpenVillageFest call scheduled for next week (see here) for those interested) and see what strategic maneuvering we can do to get more support (in addition to the potential AdvocateEurope grant idea)…? For example, I’ve been thinking VICE Impact could in fact be an option worth exploring… Whatcha think?

I’ve read the guidelines, tried to access your document (waiting for approval;)) and I think the best idea at this stage is not to duplicate offers - especially because your concept already looks good, but also because for me more important at this point is finding the funds for the next OpenVillage Festival. What I could offer is help with writing the part about the festival in 2019 (as the funds come too late for the festival next year anyway) which we could include in the application - if that would be of interest.

The second thing I could add to this is based on our idea with @alex_levene to experiment a little with the stories we have on the platform (and those we don’t have here yet) - and focus on storytelling and journalistic aspect of edgeryders. If you’d like to see that as an addition to the application, for example, a production of zines, or other visual and/or literary media as a spin-off from the project, I think we could also help working on it. I’d be especially interested in storytelling workshops delivered by women from MENA region to their European friends, finding interesting and suitable modes of preserving and presenting stories.

This way we could offer support based on the projects we would for sure like to concentrate our energy on in the future.
Let me know if it makes sense @anique.yael and @alberto if you find it useful - for now, the application is very brief, but I could assist a bit with the vague idea for the first submission and then join for the second stage as well.

2 posts were merged into an existing topic: Edgeryders and the dilemma of storytelling

I’ve moved the conversation that is emerging around Edgeryders and the dilemma of storytelling to campfire here to not get it confused with the UNDEF project and to allow more voices to chime in.