Monthly Archives: January 2014


Sticky Ideas

ushahidi teamwork

….And then we broke out the sticky notes to make ideas dance. We all have been there. You are in a room, your feet itch, and your mind is waiting: If only we could just break out the sticky notes to collect, flush and organize our thoughts. It is so second nature to any event I run and any event I participate. My mind goes to the technique. How can we make a world of bright people across disciplines sing like a choir on mission? Well, for those of us who have participated in Aspiration Tech events, we are in the “sticky way“. I like to call us Gunnerites. We are the converted who use this methodology to help each other move forward.

Gunner Listening

Gunner is a friend and mentor. I’ve had the awesome honour to participate and learn in his events for over 4 years. Each time I glean another strategy or technique to add to my toolkit. When I think about the rooms I’ve been in from Mark Surman’s house to the World Bank to a Fort on the coast of Lamu (Kenya), I reflect on how Gunner helped large and small rooms of people get to the heart of conversations and ideas. He does it modestly and with such adept skill that you often don’t realize the hand of excellent execution. The results truly highlight the value of participatory sharing for learning and events.

wall of ideas

Yesterday I had the honour of participating in an idea charrette at Stanford University. My role as a Board Member of Humanitarian OpenStreetMap was to provide insight into real world data ethics challenges that Crisismappers face. We used this methodology to help a very diverse room get cracking on great ideas. Thanks Lucy and Gunner.

Aspiration Tech and the engine room are hosting a Responsible Data Forum. You should go if you are in the SF area. And, if you are looking to join a great team of folks who make a huge difference in many non-profits, do apply for a Communications role at Aspiration.

(Photos from events: Ushahidi team meeting, Lamu (Kenya) (January 2013) and Data Charrette, Stanford University (January 2014))


Every interaction is a gift

When I think of value in Tech 4 good communities or any other community / network, the core value I rest my mind on is: every interaction is a gift. This means every map edit on OpenStreetMap, every commit on github repo, every edit to translation set, every event organized/attended and every voice on a community hangout or mailing list. As community and programme managers, we aim to help people get involved. This is a one by one – very personal connection. This is especially true for those of in the Digital Humanitarian Network (umbrella of communities) or Crisismappers Network and more. These communities exist by the hub and spoke model. Each of us believes (to some degree) that we are incrementally changing the pace of humanitarian aid by connecting and sharing.

A few years ago (way before I changed up my career and volunteer paths to Tech 4 Good), I became an avid reader of Chris Brogan and his frequent co-writer, Julien Smith. At first it was to learn better marketing skills for my tech job at Tucows Inc., but soon I realized that I had virtually met people who understood the qualities and growth paths of people like us. Trust Agents really highlighted this for me.

Anyone who has ever gotten a “here’s a link I thought you might like” or “I’d Like to introduce you to x” email from me knows that I live by Chris’s network simple formula:

Be helpful + meet helpful people + connect really helpful people = potential for future amazingness.

Chris has a weekly newsletter (selly sell: subscribe for it). It is my Sunday cup of coffee to really consider our craft. This week his post really resonated with me. With his permission, I am quoting the simple formula and some key guidelines. Happy building.


(Chris Brogan)

1.) Be open to connecting with anyone. You never know.

2.) When introducing others, ask first privately if you can make the introduction (lots of times, people introduce me to others that I can’t much help, for instance).

3.) Upon meeting someone new, think of ways you can help them. I promise this is MUCH more useful than thinking of ways they can help you.

4.) Set calendar reminders or ANY other method to keep in touch with people on a semi regular basis. Cold networks don’t help.

5.) Connect great people in your network together. It’s always greater than the sum of the separate parts.


(Photo taken in Venice, Italy by moi)

Thanks for Sharing, Chris.


Open Badges in a Crisis

Recruit, Track, Assign, and Give thanks. These are volunteer management steps in the digital age. Many organizations are looking at ways to train, incorporate and support digital skilled people in their workflows. The Crisismappers Community and the Digital Humanitarian Network (DHN) highlight the convergence of new technology/smart design like open badges, digital community networks and making. How do we get the next 10, 000 participants in a community? How do we manage the surge of new digital humanitarians and make it a valuable experience?

At Mozilla Drumbeat in 2010 (precursor to Mozfest), I joined the first ever Open Badges hackteam. We spent the weekend talking and building around the idea of credentials. Fast forward 4 years, I joined a Mozfest team in the Emergency Hack Lab. We brainstormed on a technical workflow for badging using the scenario of Hurricane Sandy.

Uchaguzi community badge 3

Cracking crowdsource or brainsourcing has been a mighty task that many are working on. We as organizers know that anyone who wishes to get involved is a gift for community. We know that there are small asks and big tasks for engagement. Tackling digital knowledge skills with surge support can be a full-time job during an emergency. We all have networks and there are a number of strong community groups or NGOs that are building better methods to train and support digital humanitarians. Last year I lead a digital community mapping effort called Uchaguzi for the Kenya Elections. The Ushahidi designer, Jepchumba, created badges for all the participants to use. This was to build solidarity and give thanks. Crowdcrafting (micromappers) was used during the Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda). I wrote a bit about ‘hacking’ during the Typhoon response mainly due to the sheer volume of emails and conversations.

Building Use Cases

We could use Open Badges for UN OCHA/Noun Project icons (emergency standard) Digital Humanitarians and emergency wayfinding. Earlier this week I pitched it on our Emergency Hack Lab call, including our partners at Geeks without Bounds.

Humanitarian OpenStreetMap and Open Badges

Digital humanitarians need to build trust and get thanks. Open Badges across the various communities enables standards but also gives recognition and thanks. The DHN really helps digital volunteers join specific skillset groups. The ideal is that the volunteer engagement occurs via these individual organizations. DHN exists to connect people to real actionable tasks to solve real world problems.

The Humanitarian OpenStreetMap had over 1600 mappers do over 3 million edits for the Typhoon Response. We are part of DHN. With the help of Imagery to the Crowd and many other partners, the community received imagery which was added to the Task Manager. The task manager organizes the imagery into tiles and helps digital mappers coordinate. They sign in with their OSM account.

How easy would it be to add an HOT OSM Badge into this process?
There are two core goals with this concept: credentials and thanks. HOT participants could use these for their social media or linked in profiles. Or, Open Badges could be used on the Task Manager or OSM Wiki. As a HOT board member, I continue to think about how to help thank the virtual, global community. Open Badges allows us potentially solve a gap.

Learn more Haiyan response from my fellow HOT OSM Board member, Harry Wood. (podcast)

Murmur + Wayfinding:(SMS solutions)

Ever since Hurricane Sandy I have been thinking about the power of Wayfinding during an emergency and how to connect and map community responders. Jess Klein, Creative lead of Open Badges has been a big inspiration on this journey. As well, Daniel Latorre of Wise City worked with Occupy Sandy communities to design and sign.

It struck me that Murmur plus Wayfinding plus Open Badges might be a way to connect those amazing ‘first responders’. While they may not be associated with formal organizations or NGOs, there are some community responders who make a huge difference in the field. Jess has written about this importance in response to Hurricane Sandy.

[murmur] is a documentary oral history project that records stories and memories told about specific geographic locations. We collect and make accessible people’s personal histories and anecdotes about the places in their neighborhoods that are important to them.

Around Toronto there are Murmur signs. You call the number on the sign and you get a poem or story about the space or area. It is sheer magic in community and public spaces. Well, if Wayfinding is amazing to help people design and coordinate and Open Badges assigns and gives thanks, why not add an SMS number to sign up to volunteer, get SMS tasks and plus, a Badge. This idea about SMS task management is not new, but is missing is the pieces of thanks with Open badges.

Example: A Wayfinding sign is designed using the UN OCHA/Noun Project Label, but also includes and SMS number. This SMS number ties to the volunteer management choice of the community plus Open Badges. The NGO could use any number of SMS apps to help manage the volunteers and link them to an Open Badge process. Some examples include Frontline SMS, Medic (sim apps), Swara (Interactive Voice Response tool) or many others. The goal here would be to recognize mobile plus open badges as the way forward, especially in the majority of the world.

This idea needs more work, but you get the picture. The power of Open Badges during a Crisis is full of thanks.


There is much more thinking and hacking to happen, but it is an exciting journey.

Join the next Open Badges call


Powering up a global community

Global communities and collaboration are often duck-taped together. There is no one set way to do real-time collaboration for community development. Add to the often cited request of some open source communities to only use open source tools.

As a community leader, I have a few priorities:

  • Share
  • Connect: build community, often with a human touch (Video, picture)
  • Reach: activate the curious, invite new participants
  • Document
  • Remix

Add to this: we want to morph time and space which means content/events that can be translated and recorded across timezones and potentially in multiple formats. Tall order.

What’s in the toolkit?

Rings (Lamu 2013)

Rings (Lamu 2013)

Over the last few years, I’ve been a toolkit consumer, user and creator. At Ushahidi, we wrote and remixed the Ushahidi toolkits. These were shared almost every day via PDF/slideshare. A few months of that and I decided to make wiki pages of each of the key pages of the original toolkits. This was followed by creating new advanced toolkit pages: Data Cleaning Guidelines or the whole Ushahidi Kenya Elections Toolkits. We made the toolkits active and remixable for the community. Anyone with an account can edit the community wiki.

There are many toolkits examples in the ICT4D ether. Recently, I had the pleasure to review an upcoming Nesta Toolkit. They will be announcing the updated toolkits in the spring. See a previous version of this: Nesta’s Open Workshop.

More and more, we are looking for templates and best practices. Often tookits are just kludges for ideas. I think we need to look at them in a lean kanban sort of way. What can we keep? What do we remix? What assumptions or biases do toolkits make?

Will it ring?

After a number of notes on the OKF Mailing lists about which tools people should use for tasks, I promised to think about tools and workflow. The tool suggestion lists provided are fairly generic for many different types of jobs. There was talk about not using Google Forms for community surveys but to use: LimeSurvey or Libresoft. References were given to this stunning list of Open Source Alternatives. Another comment mentioned the Tactical Tech guide for alternatives.

Global Community Toolkit – a draft

I think we need to be very realistic about which tools a community manager needs to use in the global space. Some of the open source tools are excellent, some of them are missing key components such as reach. How can we get the next 1000 or 1 million people engaged in open source projects. If your community doesn’t use it, will they if you do? This is a juggle. We, those who work in technology, assume that our favourite tools have a low barrier to entry. If our goal is to use the best open source technology to connect the global community, then I think there are a few core tools missing. It is a tradeoff. Use the best tools to reach your current community while building a new community network or test new tools. Sometimes testing with community is a great idea. But this assumes that people want to learn yet another new tool just to learn or do stuff. My list:

Tool /Task Type Example
Blogs WordPress*, Drupal*, Joomla*, tumblr, medium
Video Vimeo, Youtube, Miro*
Social Media Twitter, Facebook, G+
Collaborative storytelling cover it live, storify, scribble live
Video Editing/Translation Webmaker*, Amara*
Hangouts G+ Hangout
Audio Mumble*, skype
Document sharing Google Documents, Dropbox, Slideshare, Scribd
Collaborative Writing Hackpad, Etherpad*
Wiki Mediawiki*, Atlassian*

KEY: * = OS software

This makes my Community Manager toolkit a little over half OS software. I did not include browser (always Firefox), project management (Basecamp) or mail (which is gmail), but you get the picture. What will ring with the community but incorporate global community engagement and open source tools?

Google Hangouts is one of the best community tools to connect global folks to ideas and each other. Last year I hosted a BRCK G+ hangout which now has over 2000 views. This is small potatoes for some communities. Ubuntu and Mozilla are both great open source communities with great G+ Hangout engagement.

I find Hackpad much easier to use because you can connect a series of collaborative documents. I’ve used versions of etherpad since 2010 and am a fan (especially considering the OS piece.) But with Google Apps for Business and the ability to easily collaborate on massive documentation, I remain at a loss on how to use other options.

Now, I realize that some folks don’t approve of using Google products. I understand and have read many of the articles on NSA. I juggle this with “tools that are easy to use with the global community” and the fact that Google is open of the biggest contributors and supporters of Open Source. Google Summer of Code has infused many a small tech for good project.

Wish list

Top on my open source tools for Community Management wish list are: Video Hangouts and Document sharing. If you can make these tools usable and open source, I will happily try it out.

(Footnote: Last month on the Open Knowledge Foundation Community Hangout we started a list of tools for community building. Feel free to remix and add: OKFN Community Building Tool Directory)


Canada: Open Data for Development Challenge

The day is finally here! After years of building open community connections with governments, each one of us can look to this a turning point. The Canadian government, Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development, is officially hosting an event inviting the open communities to join them in a 2-day hackathon, er, Open Data for Development Challenge. There have been many hands and minds to make this possible. The government has been very keen on listening and observing Open style events globally. This is likely the first of many Challenges for Open Data in Canada. They are taking idea submissions until January 8, 2014.

Crisismapping background with DFATD (DFAIT)

Heather @ DFAIT

Since the Haiti earthquake, I’ve participated in a number of informal discussions with the government. They were keen to learn more about how open communities map during emergencies. In September and December of 2011, we had two meetings to learn more about each other’s work to build a common language. In February 2012, DFATD (formerly DFAIT) hosted an Open Policy day. Along with Melissa Elliot of the Standby Task Force, we pitched a Crisismapping simulation using OpenStreetMap and open data sets. This lead to the first ever Canadian government sanctioned CrisisMapping simulation in March 2013 with Humanitarian OpenStreetMap (Pierre Beland), Ushahidi (myself), and the Standby Task Force (Melissa Elliot and virtual SBTF teams). The sessions invited various levels of governments from different departments to observe our work.

This is a small window into bringing open communities closer to government data and cooperation for humanitarian purposes. I am more than certain that others have great stories about the road to opening up Canada.

The Open Data for Development Challenge idea that I am working on stems from the School of Data Expedition into Nigerian Extractive mining. I’m keen to learn more about Canadian company transparency for their work. This is the document I’m using to track datasets.

Hope to see you at the Open Data for Development Challenge!

Open Data for Development Challenge – January 27,28, 2014 (Montreal, QC)

You can register for the event (by January 10, 2014) (updated link)
(challenge submissions are due on January 8, 2014 via the same website)

Questions about the event should be directed to: opendata.donneesouvertes AT

From the Announcement:

Do you want to share your creative ideas and cutting-edge expertise, and make a difference in the world?
Do you want to help Canadians and the world understand how development aid is spent and what its impact is?
Do you want to be challenged and have fun at the same time?
If so, take the Open Data for Development Challenge!

This unique 36-hour ”codathon” organized by Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada will bring together Canadian and international technical experts and policy makers to generate new tools and ideas in the fields of open data and aid transparency and contribute to innovative solutions to the world’s pressing development challenges.

The event will feature keynote speakers Aleem Walji, Director of the World Bank’s Innovation Labs, and Mark Surman, Executive Director of the Mozilla Foundation. It will have two related dimensions:

  • Technical challenges that involve building applications to make existing open aid and development-related data more useful. Proposed topics include building a data viewer compatible with multilingual data, creating a publishing tool suitable for use by mid-sized Canadian non-profit organizations, developing and testing applications for open contracting, and taking a deep dive into the procurement data of the World Bank Group.
  • There is room for challenges proposed by the community. Proposals should be submitted through the event website no later than January 8th. Challenges will be published prior to the event, along with key datasets and other related information, to enable participants to prepare for the event.
  • Policy discussions on how open data and open government can enable development results. This would include the use of big data in development programming, the innovative ways in which data can be mapped and visualized for development, and the impact of open data on developing countries.

The international aid transparency community will be encouraged to take promising tools and ideas from the event forward for further research and development.

We invite you to register, at no cost, at: as soon as possible and no later than January 10. A message confirming your registration and providing additional information about the venue and accommodation will be sent to confirmed participants. Please wait for this confirmation before making any travel arrangements. Participants are asked to make their own accommodation arrangements. A limited number of guest rooms will be available to event participants at a preferential rate.

To find out more about the Open Data for Development Challenge, please go to DFATD’s website.

(Note: content snipped from the civicaccess discuss mailing list)

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