Posts Tagged ‘ushahidi’
1. To what extent to you believe soft skills can be trained online?
“Believe” is probably the right verb for this question. Learning technology is still too often driven by opinions. Having said so, I definitely believe in it. First: a lot of soft skills have become online skills: how you behave in an online community, how you share knowledge through microblogging, or how you can be a good team member in an international virtual team. Additionally, it’s perfectly possible to practice all sorts of soft skills online. I see a natural increase of the “fidelity” of the practice process: from practicing in simple webchats, to practice in teleconferences, to practice with webcams or maybe even telepresence spaces. Finally, I think good design enables training of all sorts of skills.
2. What developments in the field of online training of soft skills do you find most promising? Can you name an example?
The biggest “opportunity space” is gaming. Recently I have been investigating two examples of games that try to train soft skills online:
- X-Team is a 3D game in which you have to visit as many pagodes as possible, before getting to the finish line in time. These pagodes are at islands that can only be reached through bridges. Each bridge can only be crossed a limited number of times (you are with 12, but only 6 people can cross the bridge, wat do you do?). Everything is measured, making it easy to guide a teambuilding process through facilitation and adjusting the game’s parameters.
- Code 4 from Hubbub and Demovides is a game that is played in runs of three weeks. This video explains the game (Dutch):
3. What do you think is the biggest challenge in training soft skills online?
Practice is key in developing skills, so that’s the biggest challenge: How do you get people to do what they find really difficult? How do you get them beyond their fear of trying new behavior? Well developed games might just be the solution to this.
4. In the evolution of learning, are there things you hope/desire and/or you’re afraid of? Alan Kay has a famous definition of technology: “Technology is everything that didn’t exist when you were born”. His pal Danny Hillis has an even better definition: “Technology is everything that doesn’t work yet”. We no longer call an elevator, technology. So I’m looking forward to seeing things we still call technology, actually work. For a nice example of how that could look like for smartphones with apps, read this (under “Why Mobile Apps Must Die”).
Being afraid is not something that fits in with how I look at life. I think we, as people, will always figure out our relationship with technology. But if I have to name something, I worry about the integrity of the Internet with the web as a platform for innovation on top of it. The five ”stacks” (as Bruce Sterling calls them): Amazon, Apple, Google, Microsoft and Facebook are all working hard to build closed ecosystems. We are going to suffer from this in the coming years and it will probably really have to hurt before these silos will be opened up.
5. What weblogs, people or organisations inspire you?
The person I learn a lot from is Stephen Downes. He writes a daily newsletter about this things he, as a philosopher, technologist and education theorist, finds interesting. His newsletter is published under a Creative Commons license and you can freely subscribe. Additionally, I keep a close eye on George Siemens and the Internet Time Alliance and I try to make time to read Audrey Watters: a learning technology journalist with a punk attitude. I keep on top of internet technology in general by listening to Guardian Tech Weekly and the shows of Leo Laporte (especially This Week in Tech). Thinkers such as Clay Shirky, Yochai Benkler, Lawrence Lessig and Douglas Rushkoff guide me.
One of my personal heroes is Martin Dougiamas, inventor of Moodle. It’s his natural leadership and personal character that have made Moodle as succesful as it is today, making even a giant such as Blackboard take notice.
Other organisations that inspire me are those that democratize education and technology in a non-commercial way. Think of Mozilla architects of the open internet (they also have a learning outfit and work hard at an Open Badges infrastructure), or the Peer 2 Peer University, Tactical Technology Collective and Ushahidi. It is no coincidence that all these projects are open-source. I believe in the value of open-source a lot, from a practical and a moral standpoint.
Anita Pyke (Petproject.mobi) moderated a panel with Juliana Rotich (Ushahidi and Afrigadget), Steve Daniels (Makeshift Magazine and writer of Making Do) and John Kidendafor a discussion that was billed as follows:
From bicycle-powered mobile phone chargers to a helicopter built from an old Honda Civic and the remains of a crashed 747, Africa has been producing a unique strain of innovators long before the maker movement started trending in the US. With projects ranging from the practical (DIY biofuel systems), to the whimsical (home-made robots), street-level makers in the most resource-poor communities show time and again that the only essential materials for innovation are ingenuity and ambition.
They started with sharing some examples:
- Small-scale incubator made by Geoffrey Kago.
- Sonic fish trap from electronic scrap made by Pascal Katana.
- Kiira electric car made by Makerere University.
- Jua Kali wind turbine made by Access Wind.
- The Fablab in Nairobi.
- Generating energy from scrap by William Kamkwamba in Lilongwe, Malawi.
- Coping with disaster in Thailand with all kind of Thai flood hacks.
- Modular tooling in Nairobi Kenya.
- Lighting homes and workplaces with water bottles (passive solar) in Manila in the Philippines:
The types of environments in which these innovations usually don’t have regulations: often a whitespace area where there isn’t a lot of control. Usually there are many resource constraints driving this type of innovation. All the resources are constanty reused and recycled. On the one hand these informal economies (in Kenya 75% of employment is in the informal economy) allow a space for experimentation, but it also comes with a lot of risks. The speed of adoption is very quick too: if something works, then it is copied fast. Sometimes this inhibits innovation in Kenya, because inventors are afraid that their work will just be copied. The copying problem led to an interesting discussion on intellectual property and how that should be approached in these informal economies. An interesting distinction was the difference between efficiency (making a particular product with as little use of resources as possible) versus resourcefulness (making as much as possible from a limited set of resources).
The final themed session at Lift 11 France is about OPEN – What happens when barriers to innovation become drastically lower?. From the introduction:
The Internet has radically open innovation systems in digital products, content and services. Today, the same is happening to manufacturing, finance, urban services, even health care and life sciences. What will this new innovation landscape look like?
She starts her talk by showing how large Africa truly is. Ushahidi shares a heritage of openness with the Internet. Africa is getting connected fast and the costs of the connection keeps on dropping. Eventually this will change the rural landscape. Initially a lot of web 2.0 services where local copies of silicon valley services, but now we are starting to see services being developed for true local (check out iHub).
Mobile technology plays an important part. The coverage is getting better. In 2015 they expect to have 7.2 billion non smartphones and 1.3 billion smartphones in Africa. Mobile money is an innovation that is a third world first. More than 20% of Kenia’s GDP flows trough the mobile money system. It is transforming many (government) services: for example prepaying for electricity.
By making the tools open source, people can take the tools, use their own data and make it their own: it really lowers the barriers for people to use the technology. Ushahidi as a platform is now used for all kinds of use-cases that were never imagined. Crowdmap has pushed the number of Ushahidi implementations to over 15.000.
Of course there are challenges: the last mile stays difficult. Nothing is as big a showstopper as power black outs. She then goes on to critique Facebook as a walled garden for its lack of generativity. When there are closed walls around technology it becomes much harder to innovate (hear, hear!). So her advice is to bet on generativity and open source.
Homesense started with a blog post. She got a bit sick of the idea of the “smart” home. Every home is different. She thought it would be a good idea to give this new simple open technology to “normal” people without any specific interest in technology and let them use it in a creative commons way. She then went looking for people who were willing to get people to volunteer their home for experimentation. In the end they found 6 households in 4 countries.
So what happened? People were given a “homesense kit” based around the Arduino. The households worked with technological experts to create things that were useful to them, like a robot that would tell you when you left the toilet seat up, or a little map that would show you were the shared bike-hubs around your house had bikes available, or something that would turn off the light when there was enough light around the house.
Then suddenly the project received a cease and desist letter from a large manufacturer who has a trademark on the word “Homesense”. Luckily, after some legal advice, they could go on. Now they’ve been invited by the MoMa to exhibit their project in the Talk to me exhibition.
Open innovation is hard to do when you are an organization. It is very hard to do when you are a big business. Smaller outfits can do this much cheaper and get the results shared much more quickly.
Brazil is now the 5th largest Internet audience with only 38% penetration. A new digital middle class is coming up in Brazil and they are the most intense social media users in the world. Portuguese is the second most spoken language in Twitter and Brazil is the 2nd largest Youtube audience in the world. Why is this the case? Brazilians are social by nature. A global average social media user in the world has 120 network friends, in Latin America this is 176 and Brazil this is 230 friends.
What happens when you mix all these ingredients? You can get things like Queremos with five guys organizing concert by disintermediating all the people that are normally between a band and the attendee. It works like this:
Another example is how they used WordPress to invite consumers to really help in designing a concept car. The Fiat Mio concept car had 17.000 consumers bringing in their 11.000 ideas in about 15 months. It is fundamentally changing the way that Fiat Brazil wants to work going forward.
What are the 3 key learnings from this?
- A collaborative environment should never be based on anarchy. Leadership, stimulation, organization and ground rules are very necessary.
- It doesn’t mean that everyone interested in your cause will feel thrilled to collaborate effectively. Make room for all interested people.
- Even for the most collaborative cause, at the end, the motivation for any and every participant will be extremely individualist.