I presented the following in Nashville, Tennessee on May 6th, 2019
I presented the following slides at the Open Camps Conference in New York City.
COLLECTIVE INTELLIGENCE FOR DEMOCRACY 2018 was a program of the MediaLab Prado in Madrid, Spain, funded by the Madrid City Government.
I was lucky enough to be invited to participate in the two week program where I worked with a team to improve the Consul Participatory Democracy software platform.
It was an extremely significant experience for me, as I felt I was living briefly in a future where municipal government had genuinely committed to making their operations as participatory and democratic as possible.
Here’s the presentation my team and I gave at the end of the program.
“Mixing Tool Sets from Madrid and Taiwan to Improve Participatory Budgeting in New York: Leveraging Participatory Budgeting to Create a More Open and Participatory Government” was presented at the g0v (pronounced “gov zero”) Summit 2018 on October 6th, 2018 in Taipei, Taiwan.
It was an ambitious presentation attempting to align the participatory democracy movements in Taiwan with those emerging at the municipal level in Europe.
It wasn’t the most polished presentation, but it was great fun to give and sparked a lot of interesting conversation.
Below is the summary from the program.
I had the honor of presenting “The Open Aid Movement” at the 2018 NVOAD conference in Providence, Rhode Island. This presentation offers an overview of the Open Aid Movement and its four components. Each component had a case study that was prepared by an expert in that specific area.
The four components and slide contributors are:
- Grassroots Disaster Relief Networks – Case Study by Jeff Reichman of Sketch City who responded to Hurricane Harvey in Houston Texas.
- Volunteer Technical Communities – Case Studies by Willow Brugh, coordinator of the Digital Humanitarian Network
- Open Source Software – Case Study of Crisis Cleanup by Aaron Titus, founder of Crisis Cleanup.
- Open Data Practices – Case study by Javier Teran of UNOCHA’s Humanitarian Data Exchange Project.
Thanks to all the contributors who offered their slides and knowledge, and to those who attended the presentation and engaged in lively discussion during and after the session.
Without further ado – here are the slides:
“Open source” is a method for putting intellectual property in the public domain, allowing anyone to use it however they see fit. I’m an advocate of the “open source way” because I believe that if more people shared intellectual property of all types – whether its farming techniques, software code, music, etc – then we’ll eventually be able to meet the basic needs of everyone in the world, allowing all people to pursue their own happiness without fear of material scarcity.
This type of thinking can lead to some pretty impractical theorizing, so my route in actualizing this belief is to help build the open source movement by demonstrating how open source can improve the world. As president of the Sahana Software Foundation, a world leader in open source information systems for disaster and humanitarian aid management, it’s gratifying to work with talented people who feel similarly about open source and its role in the world as I do.
In my work with Sahana, I’ve discovered that there is a lot of curiosity among disaster management professionals about how open source thinking is impacting their field. I’ve given presentations about this topic at nearly a dozen disaster management conferences including those organized by IAEM, NVOAD, OASIS, IEEE SIGHT, NYCEM, ARC, STAR-TIDES, and other acronym-ed groups.
The basic thesis of my talk is that an “open aid movement” is emerging because of two factors: (1) The maturity of free and open source software tools; and (2) The proliferation of open data practices among NGOs and government agencies. Together, these expand the public’s capacity to respond to disasters and enable them to form peer-to-peer disaster relief groups that can become assets during disaster relief efforts.
These groups come in two formats: (a) “grassroots disaster relief networks” organized by local people affected by disasters and (b) “volunteer technical communities” consisting of volunteers who organize information online from anywhere on the globe to serve those affected by disasters.
This June, I had the pleasure of talking with an audience who has an affinity for open source, as opposed to a sole interest in disaster and humanitarian aid. This presentation took place at the Open Source Bridge conference, which is held annually in Portland, Oregon and “focused on building open source community and citizenship.” The presentation was modified to be more relevant to this unique audience. You can see it below.
Despite the conference’s general nature, most of my time was spent in conversations with people involved in other open source humanitarian projects such as Open Data Kit, Digital Impact Alliance and LibreHealth. These conversations focus on two critical topics: (a) how we understand, articulate and build awareness of open source as a coherent movement within the disaster/humanitarian sector, and (b) how open source projects within the disaster/humanitarian sector can achieve sustainability and scale without building centralized bureaucracies that ultimately undermine the peer-to-peer structure that makes open source projects so dynamic and successful.
The takeaway? We have A LOT of work to do on both fronts to address the challenges ahead.
The first challenge is that there is very little collaboration taking place between the people and projects advancing open source in the humanitarian sector, despite the fact that open source developers and advocates within the sector recognize that they’re doing complementary work, encountering similar challenges and overcoming them in similar ways. This is something many people have identified as an issue, and something folks from DIAL’s very new Open Source Center are likely able to affect. DIAL’s OSC plans to “convene a vibrant, inclusive, free & open source software community that promotes knowledge sharing, collaboration, and co-investment in technology & human capacity to support positive social change in communities around the world.” Really exciting and certainly needed!
The second challenge is to define the “open aid movement” and use that shared understanding to organize an ecosystem of support services that make it easier for open source projects to deliver humanitarian practitioners the solutions they need while also ensuring those projects are stable over the long term. By doing this work, we can demonstrate that open source is more than just a useful “type” of software, but also a production methodology that enables the disaster and humanitarian management sector to most effectively utilize networked communication technologies.
As the maker of Sahana EDEN, the world’s most widely used information system for disaster and humanitarian management, Sahana Foundation can help define the movement and leverage its unique organizational format and administrative capacity to offer fiscal sponsorship and other support services to aligned open source humanitarian projects.
My Open Source Bridge experience confirmed to me that this is the right way to go. Let’s do it!
The AIANY invited me to present my perspective on Occupy Sandy at their event “Stand Up! How to be Part of the Solution after a Disaster.” My presentation argues that Occupy Sandy, and the mutual aid work of its predecessor Occupy Wall Street, were physical-world manifestations of the “Open Aid” trend taking place in the disaster relief and humanitarian aid sectors.
The presentation begins by pointing to the fact that “faith in institutions” is at an unprecedented low in the USA at the same time as our economy is being transformed by widespread access to networked communication technologies. These technologies enable autonomously organized, local grassroots disaster response efforts to network with each other to create a new type of entity that the Department of Defense is calling “Grassroots Disaster Relief Network” (GDRN). In the virtual world, networked communication technologies are also allowing people with specialized technical skills to organize themselves into groups that can provide information processing services through a wide variety of tools including social media, GIS and collaborative documents. These groups are called Volunteer Technical Communities (VTCs).
I argue that GDRNs are a local/physical manifestation of the “Open Aid” concept, and VTCs are a global/digital one. Currently VTCs tend to serve formal response organizations such as UNOCHA, but in the not-too-distant future they’ll be able to collaborate directly with GDRNs, giving disaster survivors and their communities unprecedented access to information.
The presentation ends with some suggestions for how we can set up simple, open source systems to streamline information flows related to disasters.
I gave a very similar presentation to disaster response personnel at the Disaster Preparedness Exchange in Indianapolis a week later.