State of the Map US: Building Community


What can every community learn from OpenStreetmap? Often community managers particularly in OS communities cite OSM and Wikipedia as the top models to compare.

At State of the Map US, there is a whole track to share best practices. John Firebaugh (Mapbox) and Kathleen Danielson (OSM US) gave great talks on their experiences. It is a good thing they are recorded as I’m adding them both to my list of Community is hard and beautiful resources.

Community management and stewardship

In the past year, OSM has incorporated a number of big changes including implementing ID and changing the look/feel of the website. While paid staff (John) helped curate and design the process, the projects were community-driven and transparent. Listen to the talk for more in depth context and outside resources. Here are some of the core points:

  • Work in the open and be transparent
  • Over communicate
  • consult, consult
  • Set bounds
  • Call for cloture
  • Be patient

So, at a time of change in a number of communities, we should really heed John’s sage guidance, and, of course, remix for our own context.

(Side note: organizations need to hear this loud and clear. I am very keen to see this actually occur in every community. Over the years, I’ve seen so many teaching moments. As community managers and organizers, we can only do our job to the truest form of this type of feedback if allowed to be free.)



Building offline and online

Community starts with us online or in a room. A few hours into SOTMUS and I am even more bonded to the project, have caught up with old friends, met some new ones and feel inspired to learn/do more. Kathleen spoke about the importance of getting together locally. She provided tips and guidelines for community building and event planning. A few key points:

  • save community, save world OSM
  • Every community is unique
  • Take care of yourself
  • Community scales -up or top down
  • One topic that Kathleen raised is her distain for discourse loops via mailing lists. Another commenter mentioned their dislike of wiki(not always updated). I guess we could call this the old wars for communities(as one friend opines): mailing lists vs. x (x=forums, irc, wiki etc). As far as I am concerned there is no one source of truth. We need to use all communication tools to reach community where they are. Tall order, but as John rightfully pointed out: over communicate.

Cat in a tree

State of the Map US: OSM in Biz and Map Roulette

Finally, it is spring. What better way to wake up brain cells than spending the weekend with maps, map nerds and ideas.

For the morning sessions, I attended sessions to consider the true potential of business and technology in the OpenStreetmap community and the wider network.

Eric Rodenbeck of Stamen Designs uses OSM for half of their map projects. Giving back to the community, Stamen provides some of their beautiful designs for free (eg. Watercolour). They served 250 million free tiles in March 2014. An example of the extensibility of OSM is the potential to add a layers of useful information on a map highlighting the park than just the roads. (They did a National Park project which used OSM which included custom pins.) The potential of OSM in business, according to Rodenbeck, is to financially viable, more exposure and paying it forward.

If I was a funder or a developer with spare time, I would invest ASAP into helping MapRoulette.org build a mobile and localized process to grow it internationally. Imagine the potential in a very mobile, global space. Every community should learn from them: easy interface, small task, clear and solid mission. The tool serves easy errors/bugs to fix. They focus on accomplishment and rewards. As we think about how to grow community and support for OSM, the window to success can be seen from the recent Connectivity errors map Roulette. The tool served up 40 000 map errors which messed up the intersections and the ability to create routing maps. The community repaired these within 6 weeks. In the future they may do a leaderboard or better stats in the future. Right now there are two core developers and they could use help

Martin of MapRoulette advised that the following are key to creating a good challenge:

1. make it armchair: Tasks that can be resolved by just looking at data no local knowledge

2. Small ask, brief time allotment: Tasks that can be easy to fix -taking seconds not minutes

3. Watch the tangents: Fix one thing, load and move onto the next task


About the Event: Stateofthemap.us

All the sessions are being recorded so you can watch the talks after Monday.


(Photo: cat in Cherry Blossom trees (Washington DC), April 2014)


Toolkits Sprouting up

Toolkits are important for any project, but should be embedded into software or on a usable website. The other day I was shopping for personal business cards, so I hopped onto Moo Cards. As any software developer or community manager knows, you are always “on” when it comes to great work. What do you see in other products, communities and programmes that you can learn from and potentially grow your own projects better. Moo Cards really inspired me by taking a process and making it user-friendly and fun. Simplicity at its best.

I’ve created, reviewed and advised a number of toolkit projects. While at Ushahidi, we helped take the important toolkit research and embed it into the design for the next Ushahidi version. End users can and should contribute to and ever change software to serve their purposes. We took the Ushahidi toolkits and remixed them for the Kenyan elections using Atlassian Confluence wiki software. This way the documents can be more sustainable and remixable.


Toolkits everywhere

Lately, it seems that every ICT or social technology programme is booting up a toolkit project. Why? Well, there are gaps in process, gaps in software and, most of all, big opportunities to learn and share. I like to think of toolkits as the new handbook, but often well-written in clear language that is easily translatable across domains of knowledge. We are in a toolkit frenzy. Even I’ve even written before about the Community Manager toolkit.

I think that we have a lot to learn about building toolkits that have the following attributes:

  • Easy to use
  • Translatable/Localize ready
  • Remixable (on github or a wiki)
  • Plain, Clear and concise text (eg. web copyediting)
  • Easy to learn
  • Delivers to many audience levels across domains (eg. types of users from different fields)

The next time I am building a toolkit, I am going to use the Moo Cards Test. If it can address those elements, but still serve the end goal, then great. It is hard to serve so many masters and audiences. Given some of the core missions of development or technology for good toolkits, it is worth the effort to communicate right.

Recent Toolkits

There seems to be a launchfest around new toolkits lately. It is super exciting to review them. From open data to open development to evidence-based research to building better social innovation, these projects have you covered. The best part is that all the projects are open for feedback and continue to improve based on community input.

Happy learning and doing.

(Photo: Tulips from my garden (last year and soon to be this year.))


Spring renewal: Pysanky and Community

One of my favourite rites of spring is to create Pysanky with family and friends. It is about renewal, taking off the wax and welcoming the rebirth of colours. As with most years, I host a pysanky day with friends and family. This year I decided to create a pysanka in honour of a community I admire that needs to renew. I’m answering Emma’s call with an art kitchen party.

Emma Irvin, Mozilla Rep: “I think blogging, or sharing positive messages about Mozilla and community would be most welcome. I agree the more the merrier – we know what brings us to Mozilla, reasons we contribute (or work) for Mozilla, and those perspectives and stories tell the Mozilla story better than any single attempt ever could.”

About Pysanky:

Pysanky is a traditional Ukrainian and Eastern European art based on many designs and stories. Some designs are very religious eggs such as the 40 triangles while others design pagan art or even modern art. It is up to the artist to remix.

Imagine you have a fragile egg in your hand, you use a stick, beeswax and colours to create a simple or intricate design. Then, after layers of colour, you wipe off the wax by the light of candle. Revealed is this egg – handmade by you. Often it takes hours to do. In the end, your home smells like honey and beeswax. You’ve created something fragile and beautiful. Smiles abound.

Reflection in photos:

1. Mix your dyes

make dyes

2. Prepare your workstation

eggs ready

row of dye

3. Get your decorating station ready

supplies for decorating

4. Design

Colours are added from lightest to darkest. Dip into colours. Each line that your draw with your kitska (stick) using hot beeswax becomes that layer of colour.

open web

5. Be sure to snack on candy

basket of candy

6. Wax off

wipe off colour

7. Create something special

mozilla egg

8. Share the experience with friends

all eggs

9. Spread the happy in your neighbourhood

sidewalk art

10. Most of all: have fun


About the Mozilla community

Mozilla is one of my community homes online. Truly, as a community organizer, I learn so much which I remix and share in other communities. I’ve participated in some local Toronto meetups. Mozilla Drumbeat which became Mozfest continues to one of my favourite events. I believe in an open web. And, I think renewal to share all the parts of the community will take time, integrity, trust, dialogue and a willingness to build something special together. Mozilla’s global and diverse community inspires me. I am sure that each of us will work to keep building an open web.

Some of my Mozilla moments:


Ethics in CyberDialogue

The Internet connect us in so many ways. As we navigate online global activism and data-sharing, how can we find our ethical compass and the core principles across disciplines?

In the Crisismappers wider network, we actively discuss issues pertaining to ethics and digital humanitarians. When should digital volunteers review and assess imagery? Who owns that data? What is the agenda? How do we protect the communities we serve? Which data types should be collected and shared? Which data types should we anonymize or refuse to publish? With new technologies, what are some key guidelines for data collectors, consumers and citizens? Can this data be used as evidence for conflict zones and peace-building? Should it? Citizen Lab are great convenors for wide networks to talk about surveillance, security, and privacy. I am super honoured to be co-hosting a CyberDialogue Working Group. with Meredith Whittaker of Google Research. The sessions will be on Monday, March 31, 2014. One of the ethical scenario groups will review the Humanitarian UAV Code of Conduct (draft) and provide input to this new community of interest.


The CyberDialogue Session: Our Data, Security, and the Digital Commons: What are the Challenges and Opportunities?

The world of Big Data is revolutionizing research, humanitarianism, conflict prevention, open accountable governments, and the work of secretive intelligence agencies. This working group will explore the opportunities, tensions, and challenges of data collection and use in business, government and civil society. What are the data needs from different stakeholders? What are the unforeseen risks, especially security risks, that go along with them? How can we ensure the privacy and confidentiality of our data? Do we need to encourage more emphasis on digital security? What are the ethical and legal issues that need to be considered? What are the tradeoffs and risks?

I’ll be sure to post about some incites post-event. Note: I am participating as a Board Member of the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team.


WFA: Work from Anywhere, but Deliver

The Future of Work is on my mind: for individuals and organizations. I get dressed up and goes to ‘work’ every day in my home office or an associated city coworking space. I’ve spent the last 4 years digitally working and/or volunteering for some digital humanitarian and social tech organizations. On my journey to think about how to work better, I’ve been collecting books, websites, blogs and stories all about how others consider the work.

When was the last time you picked up a book about workstyle and drank all of it in a matter of days? Well, The Year Without Pants: WordPress.com and the future of work now tops that list. How can all of us learn from WordPress? Reading about remote working is kind of soothing. The insanity of ducktaping together various tools for global collaboration and basic communications is a microcosm of the Internet. We are a growing oddity of remote workers. A few months ago a dear friend had his job relocated. While the work he does is Internet-based, he has to travel up to 3 hours a day to get to work. Last fall while temporarily living in London (UK), I spent over about 4 hours a day commuting to the co-working space just so that I could have solid internet and co-work in person. The toll was insane. In the past years, I’ve always worked biking distance from employment. This is my continued plan: WFH or bike distance. As a community organizer, I tend to have verbal calls in various timezones. This makes co-working hard on occasion because you need to be at a location at 07:00 ET or take over a board room for a day.

Berkun is hosting a webinar this Thursday. I highly recommend that you read the book and attend. Go! You have 3 days to deliver.

words on metal

In the Social Policy Forecast by Stanford’s Center for Philanthropy and Civil Society, they cite non-profits like Mozilla and Ushahidi:
“They are blazing new paths regarding community accountability and decision-making, cross-border (and-currency) financial management, and multiple layers of reporting. For these organizations, and many to come, the governance requirements of nonprofits – particularly in terms of how decisions are made, how they are reported, who has final say, and to whom results are reported – are more limiting than helpful.”

They go on the highlight the need for the possibility of new governance needs for global, digital, networked civil action. This really means thinking about how we interact and work with communities while getting things done. Their research into the various types of funding and models for sane, stable organizations is just the surface.

Both Mozilla and Ushahidi, like Automattic, have highly distributed teams. There is no one formula for work style or funding models, but each of these bodies of thought are helping me unclutter the “what works” and “needs work”.

(photo credit: Heather Leson (October 2013) The Crystal Sustainable Cities Initiative: Safe and Sound Exhibition)


Faith in Using Technology for Good

Have a little faith is what Neelley Hicks and the United Methodist Church remind us. Today they have launched their paper about their experiences in using Tech for Good.

“Technology is a tool for economic and social development that can aid in the reduction of poverty and change lives.” – Larry Hollon, Chief Executive, United Methodist Communications

I’ve talked with Neelly and her team a number of times throughout the last year regarding their Crowdmap. The experience taught me that we should all be partnering with faith-based organizations to help them learn and use technology for good. The United Methodist Church is using Ushahidi, Frontline SMS and other technical tools. Community organizers, especially CrisisMappers or ICT4D programme managers, know that the best projects include matching offline and online networks, training and planning, testing/iterating, having a strong infrastructure, taking care of your volunteers and doing something meaningful. As the United Methodist Church proves, faith-based organizations and technology are a great match. Neelley’s team taught me much about their sense of community and dedication to do great work. They have global, active community members who give their time and energy. Great community programmes should consider collaborating with local community centers (eg. Harassmap’s best practice) and local church groups (eg.United Methodist Church’s best practice).


Need convincing? Here are their #ICT4D Best Practice – 10 Tips: (follow their hashtag #ict4dBP)
#1: Put people first.
#2: Understand the local landscape.
#3: Design using appropriate tools.
#4: Prototype, fail, iterate, succeed.
#5: Build in #monitoring & #evaluation.
#6: Consider privacy & security.
#7: Enable user feedback loops.
#8: Remember community is critical.
#9: Build for sustainability and scale.
#10: Don’t lose sight of the bigger picture.

Congratulations Neelley and UMC team! Keep inspiring us to do good with purpose.


Get the full Using Technology for Good report.

The United Methodist Communiciations Press release.


Community is hard…and beautiful

We are polygamists. Seriously, do you belong to one community? I like to think that a number of us are all involved in many communities both locally and globally. For community leaders, we know that this journey is both beautiful and hard. We want to encourage active participation in a collaborative method.

Community Management – my top 5 go to list

Montreal Lights

Over the past months, I’ve had a few conversations with folks just starting out in Community Management, especially HFOSS Communities. They all ask for resources on how to get oriented and meet others. There are Community Manager Linked In groups and regional organizations. This is my top 5 go to list for community managers:

1. Community Roundtable
While the audience is focused on corporate Community Managers, they provide rich data with regular Roundtable newsletter and annual community survey.
2. Community Leadership Summit
OSCON is the largest OS conference in the world. The Community Leadership Summit happens right before it. I find that HFOSS groups still get a ton of value. You can read our notes from last year.
3. The Art of Community
Jono’s book, The Art of Community, is fantastic.
4. Dave Eaves – Django talk
Community is negotiation. I tend to re-listen to Dave Eaves’ Django talk (video) at least once a year. There are books on negotiation, but he really nails the nuances of global open source community.
There is a wealth of articles on here about community engagement and open source projects.

Tech 4 Good Organizers

I started a google group for folks who lead in HFOSS or Business (corporate social responsibility) who run tech 4 good events or communities. There are a number of groups out there, but I feel like there is a gap for leaders in Tech 4 Good. It is just getting started but you are welcome to join: https://groups.google.com/forum/#!forum/tech4goodorganizers. We are stronger if we learn and engage together.

How to analyze and build a community:

Another question I often get is how to activate community. People have a finite amount of time and energy. If you build spaces and interactions, they will stay. To me the basics of service design are core to building community. Do something that is relevant, build ‘With‘ the community not only ‘For‘ your goals, and plan for the community to change you and your organization.

Everyone has their own methods, but here is a list that I tend to share:

1. Collect Data
What is the current state? Do some interviews with stakeholders, ask questions, ask to talk with people who have left the community, survey and use the stats (website, newsletter, blog, social media).
2. Do analysis and decide future goals
Assess the community maturation model. Decide what the community wants and build goals of organization with that in mind. Here are some tools to help: Diytoolkit and Reboot’s Service Design model.
3. Test ideas with the community. Prepare to adjust.
4. Start small for wins for engagement. You will know what these are because you’ve done your research and tested out the spirit of the community. Think in the frame of Dan Pink’s model of Drive: Autonomy, mastery and purpose.
5. Prioritize, co-brain and deliver
6. Delegate and co-lead
7. Global means that translation is part of your plan, not an afterthought.

(ps. Foxclocks and timeanddate are your event planning friends.)

Some Tech 4 Good Issues

I’ve been in a number of communities both volunteer and paid. These are some of the harder issues to consider. While I don’t have the answers, I think it is appropriate to share and see if we can learn to solve and adapt together.

  • How do we get to the next 1000 active community members. We know that the potential of small asks, big tasks is the key to community engagement. Communities like Zooiverse are schooling us on capacity, value and relevancy. How can we learn from them? (See Patrick Meier’s post on this topic)
  • Early adopters can sometimes scare, deter new strangers by their sense of ownership and entitlement. Building a community that serves all the types of community members, cultures, languages and, personality styles, is a tall order. But, it is necessary.I have been thinking of ways to build to the silent doers. (see my post on the Welcome Committee)
  • I think the social economy/social entrepreneurship model of NGOs builds accountability and transparency. Maybe it is my tech start up background, but I think that NGOs need to consider shaping to serve citizens with feedback loops and new funding models. In the last while, there have been a number of coalition and partnership funding programmes. This gives me tremendous hope in the adage that we are stronger when we build together.
  • There is an uncomfortable digital scramble for open territory which sometimes goes against the values of open and global collaboration. While it may be naive, I think there is enough digital space for everyone. This is not a gold rush. Being open and sharing will win. I trust in the Economic Impact of Open Source (Business model) transferring to other open communities. (see my presentation: Coining Global(especially the notes))
  • Building duplicate efforts hurts the opportunity to build with each other. Remember: Community is a beautiful gift in which people share their intellect, time and energy. We owe these folks so much as their interactions and contributions are a gift. The key is that they add value and that we, in return, reciprocate and thank them.

What are some of the community building conundrums you have encountered? Solutions, Ideas?

(Photo: The Lumiere path in Montreal, Heather Leson, January 2014)


Map Library

In my first year of university at Carleton University, I found myself drawn to the Map Library. I would spend hours scouring maps. That Christmas my gift to my grandfather was a series of photocopied maps and town directories of Western Ukraine (Bukovina, Chernivtsi) for a 100 year period. We read through town names together. It is a beautiful memory of how much the maps and data can be so personal for us.

Today I hosted Max Richman on a Community Call to share his Open Maps talk which he previously presented at Open Data Day DC. (His slides). In our chatting, which spilled over to twitter, we started to collect a list of map books that we love and that we recommend. I have too many that I haven’t read, but some that I have.

Here are some of the ones suggested:

stack of map books

What’s in your Map Library?

In an effort to keep tracking, I created this open Hackpad to build a fun Map Library. Recommendations welcome.


A Forward Looking Board with HOT

The Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team community membership has re-elected me as a Board member. I am delighted.

The announcement on the OpenStreetMap wiki.

We have a strong mandate and an engaged membership. These past few weeks have included many discussions about the role of a Board and the changes that we, collectively, need to make. It is a true honour to be charged to continue support HOT’s mission.

On that note, I found this Mckinsey Report on shaping a Board. If you have any resources on how to help a new Board, being a Board Member and organizational change in the Humanitarian and Open Source fields, please do send these my way.

“Governance arguably suffers most, though, when boards spend too much time looking in the rear-view mirror and not enough scanning the road ahead. “

The McKinsey Report on Building A Forward Looking Board.

To my fellow Hotties, thank you for the trust to continue my supportive role.

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