Getting involved in HFOSS


[Cross-post from Opensource.com: This article is part of the HFOSS column coordinated by Jen Wike Huger. To share your projects and stories about how free and open source software is making the world a better place, contact us at osdc-admin@redhat.com].

Lending a digital hand for humanitarian projects is just a click away. Whether you have five minutes or a few hours, you can make a difference with a variety of HFOSS projects. The level of skills required vary from web search, verification, mapping, translation, training, and open source software development. Along the journey of changing the world, you can meet like minds and hone your skills. The key is to ask yourself: What do I want to do? How can I get started? How can I find the right project and community?

Over the years, Opensource.com has featured a number of articles about HFOSS and digital humanitarianism. We are in an unprecedented time of openness for international governmental organizations (INGOs) and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Citizens and civil society have a place at the table to affect change via digital humanitarian efforts, often using free and open source software.

This primer provides an overview and touches on some amazing projects.

DHN logos

What can I do?

Many of you already contribute to open source projects, or you arrived at Opensource.com to seek a new adventure. When it comes to HFOSS, remember that you can’t break the Internet by trying. There is an element of seriousness and a sense of “matter” which might deter you. Don’t worry, we have a sense of humor and camaraderie like many open source communities.

Digital humanitarian communities vary in size, structure, and focus. There are well-established groups like Sahana Foundation or Ushahidi, as well as the growing Digital Humanitarian Network. Each of these organizations, and many more digital communities, seek your expertise. Sometimes theses groups have full blown “get involved” programs complete with “community task” labeled GitHub repositories, while others are just getting started.

Each community needs seasoned open source friendly leadership, mentorship, and development. Digital humanitarian communities also have more diverse opportunities to do small to large tasks. You do not need to develop code to contribute, though many of the HFOSS projects count on open source ethos and software development to thrive.

This is a quick cheat sheet to show you how you can get involved in HFOSS. The list is by no means complete, but it gives you an idea of how you can make a difference. Keep in mind that some of the communities require only small bits of time (less than 5 minutes to crowdsource or microtask), whereas others can evolve to larger tasks. And, if you are a serial volunteer like me, you can join a board or become an advisor. There is simply no shortage of opportunity. We, the HFOSS organizers, just need to find ways to make it easier for you to get involved.

11 ways to start with HFOSS

Task HFOSS community
Learn AIDR, all the projects
Map MapAction, Ushahidi, MicroMappers, Sahana, Standby Task Force, Google Crisis Response, Crisismappers, Esri, Mapbox, Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team, GIS Corps and many more
Data Statistics without Borders, DataKind many of the listed projects
Technology Disaster Tech Lab, UAViators, Public Lab, Brck
Tell all the projects
Share Humanity Road, Veri.ly, CrisisCommons, Info4Disasters and all the projects
Translate Translators without Borders, all the projects
Reward Open Badges
Lead all the projects
Teach School of Data, all the above projects
Make Peace Geeks, Geeks without Bounds, all the projects need open source contributors

Each of these groups provide value insights, software-driven products, and information management to support humanitarians. The drive to participate openly and to have all the details shared openly is compelling. The key question becomes: what if the time I spent volunteering on humanitarian responses and/or software could make a difference in someone’s life?

With the Digital Humanitarian Network providing a direct collaboration avenue, this hypothetical question is becoming a possibility. My colleague at Qatar Computing Research Institute, Patrick Meier, recently published a book, “Digital Humanitarians,” all about the rise of these groups. Now is the time to find ways to better connect our efforts with the larger open source and corporate social responsibility programs. If we are collaborating with the official humanitarian groups, how can we better reinforce our partnerships with our big brothers and sisters in open source?

The big dream

This community builders Infogr.am chart should help community managers to think about programs and strategic planning from the point of view of the contributor. It is focused on the types of tasks that people might want to contribute and the suggested time allotment. In reviewing various HFOSS sites, there is not really an up-to-date master index by skills required or types of projects. The onus is really on new upcoming groups and organizations to tap into the larger open source network. There are many established digital humanitarian organizations that need to be added to this wiki. Finding this site has given me homework. If you have any suggestions, please do edit away.

HFOSS organizers need to make is easier to help people get involved. One recommendation that I have is a simple navigator that asks people what they want to do or what they want to give. The aggregator would then help match them to tasks and communities. Think of it as a global Match.com for giving. We would give love to open source organizations, corporations, nonprofits, community-based organizations, and citizens. Truly, this is all hands on deck to make it possible for anyone and any organization to connect. We could tailor it with the code to help people choose their own adventure based on topic, time, location, and their learning/doing/giving path. Really, we need to dream big more and build it.

To find your way in HFOSS, you might hear a talk, see a tweet, then join a mailing list, participate in a working group, or scan a Wiki/website to drill into the types of tasks and contributions you can offer. What if there was a “Hot or Not” or “Ask not” (Mozilla community code) tool that allowed new contributors to find various HFOSS projects based on the contributor’s interests, time available, and skills? This type of user-driven search tool already exists for odesk and LinkedIn, which has the awesome volunteer.linkedin.com.

Now is the time

Humanitarians are at the table with HFOSS. We have a huge opportunity to give back our knowledge and skills to support people around the world. The World Humanitarian Summit is hosting online and in-person consultations to help the traditional organizations move forward. Many INGOs and NGOs are turning to digital humanitarian, civil society, and software organizations to provide input to affect change. There are amazing innovators like Andrej Verity of UN OCHA calling for open humanitarianism. (See the new Open Humanitarianism website for more details.) Your help on these individual HFOSS projects or the larger goals is needed. All you need to do is take the step and ask yourself: “How can I help?” We will welcome you! Every interaction is a gift.

Beginners to
Open Source

A collection of articles about how to get started in open source.

(Photo note: DHN logos from the Digital Humanitarian Network website.)


Open Source and Mapping Communities in Qatar?

Katara stage

Everywhere I travel in the world there are open source and mapping communities. Sometimes you just have to ask around to be connected. There is a vibrant technology and innovation community in Qatar and in the Gulf (GCC). But what of communities focused on open source? Mapping? As a new resident of Doha, I am keen to connect with other advocates. Every city and job I have had involves some component of open source or mapping. Plus, I am a bit of a community firestarter known to simply organize a meetup on topics of interest.

At Qatar Computing Research Institute, part of Qatar Foundation and based in Doha, we create open source software for social innovation and humanitarian efforts. Tasked with building an open source ecosystem, I am simply excited to meet like minds and encourage local citizens, especially students to get involved in our work. Two of our open source software projects are used globally: AIDR (Artificial Intelligence for Disaster Response) and MicroMappers. AIDR combines human computing with artificial intelligence to automatically identify relevant information in very large volumes of tweets and text messages (SMS). MicroMappers is a collection of microtasking apps called Clickers used to crowdsource the analysis of tweets, text messages, Instagram pictures, Youtube videos, satellite imagery as well as UAV/aerial imagery. We have been featured in the Guardian, Mashable and more.

Who are the existing open source communities in Qatar and the GCC? Are there any OpenStreetMap, Crisismappers, Digital Humanitarians or simply mappers around? A quick survey shows that Maptime does not exist here yet. That might be my first project once I acclimatize.

Are you in Qatar or the GCC and keen to collaborate on software projects or technology for good? I’ve created this list but I think there are gaps. Please connect me or introduce yourself.

Qatar Open Source and Mapping Communities

This is a rough assessment of the open source ecosystem in Qatar. I’d also be happy to meet allies and folks in the GCC. Help me improve this list.

If you have a contact, even better! My email is heatherleson at gmail dot com. Please feel free to do an introduction.

(Photo: Katara in Doha (November 2014)CCBY)


Fractual Matter

Matter. One of my core life goals is to help people get involved in their world with technology. Along journey, I am often struck by the participant’s desire to make a difference and to matter. Many of us research and write about how to get to the next million contributors in a healthy and quality way. But are we building communities and spaces that make this possible to matter without fracturing?

It has been 5 years since the earthquake struck Haiti. Last night I attended the Canadian Red Cross photo exhibition of Johan Hallberg-Campbell’s Photos called Haiti Five Years On: An Fom! One of the speakers asked us to reflect on why we do this work and consider each person we help. Rarely do I focus on why or how I got involved, because the mission is bigger than one individual, one organization. But, since asked here is my answer: My sister is a medical professional who once volunteered in Haiti before the earthquake. On January 12, 2010, we spoke on the phone both in tears. What struck me from this conversation was that she has these ‘immediate skills’ which could help someone recover. My brother-in-law, as an engineer, also has strong ‘immediately applicable skills’ with his expertise in water and sanitation. My sense of helplessness was fleeting as I found others like myself who also felt like our technical and digital skills could maybe help a humanitarian and an affected population. Asking what can I do is the first step on a beautiful, complex journey. While the contributions we apply may not make an ‘immediate’ difference, it could be a applied like a layer cake of information insights. Maybe someday our diligence, our time and skills would ‘get to matter’. This tenacity drives many of us. We trial, we error, we get back up and we keep seeking ways to apply technology.

This type of change does not happen over night. Years and hours of brainpower continue strive to solve this problem set: How can we help people get involved and use technology/digital skills to make a difference? At Qatar Computing Research Institute (QCRI), I am working with researchers and computer scientists on human and machine computing solutions. In my spare time, I’m on the Board of Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team and am one of the organizers of the International Conference of CrisisMapping. Truly, I am fortunate to spend my career and personal time focused on “matter”.

Why are you a Digital Volunteer or Humanitarian (quick survey)?

romanesco broccoli

Fractured and Fractal Matter

Fractals fascinate me. The nuances of shapes surprise the viewer. I often think that communities really are like fractals, all the varieties with complexity and beauty. As Digital volunteers (Humanitarians, FOSS or HFOSS), we aim to put the people and the mission ahead of our story and our needs. But, this where our sense of “matter” becomes very fractured. This year I hope to do more research and writing around digital volunteers and humanitarians in addition to the Community Builder’s Toolkit. How can we grow communities globally and help people get involved? Well, we need to be mindful and address the problem of fractured matter. It really comes down to: How we see ourselves in a community and in our own lives. And, how a community is a place where we can thrive no matter the level of our contribution. In a recent article “Decelerate to Accelerate“, Michel Bachmann and Roshan Paul wrote:

It’s ironic that the people who seek to create a more sustainable world often live the most unsustainable lives of all, sacrificing their finances, their relationships, and sometimes even their health to pursue a broader social mission.

So I am starting the year with some questions:

  • How can we better support our digital communities to not fracture their “matter”?
  • What can we do to build large, healthy sustainable programmes and communities?

Recently, I am focused on allocating my time and energy to “matter” on many levels. It has greatly improved my quality of life and mind. This is not an overnight sensation for me personally. In the various communities I belong, I constantly see how fractured matter can actually do more harm to the individual and the community. While we are changing the world and ourselves, it is super important to teach ourselves breathing lessons. I think that the change we are trying to build will take substantial time with some great bright spots and some lows. We should be ready for a long journey and traverse in a more healthy way. Honestly, I think that the communities and goals we are trying to achieve will be all the richer.

Matter to yourself. Matter to your communities. This is how we get to more people involved and how we get to “matter“.

(Photo of Romanesco broccoli, Union Square Market, November 2014)


Get Involved: MicroMappers Coconut Expedition

What are you doing this weekend? What if you could spend 5 minutes, 30 minutes or an 1 hour on a Digital Humanitarian Project? As noted before, it is one of my life goals is to build spaces and community activities to inspire people to get involved in their world. As my colleague, Patrick Meier, wrote – How can we get to the next million people. It is up to organizations and communities to make it easy for you to fit these small Tasks into your busy lives. This is why I am excited to collaborate on the MicroMappers Coconut Expedition. Our collective contribution will be used to assess food security in post-disaster zones. Time well spent.

On December 5 – 7, 2014 MicroMappers from around the world will participate on the Coconut Expedition. Join us.

MM coconut screen

About the Coconut Expedition

The SkyEye Project (based in the Philippines) used Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) technology to take 1000s of digital photos. The Qatar Computing Research Institute processed these images, then inserted them into our MicroMapper tool: AerialClicker. MicroMapper tools enable digital humanitarians to interact with text or images. MicroMappers (that’s you!) make decisions about the content. In this case, you will draw or trace lines indicating healthy and damaged trees. Each image will be reviewed by at least 5 different MicroMappers. All the data will be tabulated and given to researchers at Simon Fraser University Computing. This team will create an algorithm to assess damaged coconut trees. In the future, this type of machine computing could be used to assess damage in post-disaster zones. We will also share results with you over on the MicroMappers blog.

Coconuts are the “tree of life” and a key part of the Philippines’ economy. Discover all the ways that these trees are used:

coconut uses infographic

How am I involved?

I am delighted to officially join the Qatar Computing Research Institute, Social Innovation Team to support projects like MicroMappers. You can join this MicroMappers project simply be joining our mailing list and waiting for instructions on December 5, 2014.

See you there!


Crisismappers Pre-Conference Training 2014

Crisismappers are converging in New York City this week for the 6th Annual International Conference of CrisisMapping. The term “crisismapping” is fairly loose as the global community includes diversity in maps, data informatics, humanitarian technology and research. We are a collective of people who use maps, data and technology for humanitarian aid and international development. This year’s theme is: Affected Communities in the Spotlight.

More about ICCM

ICCM continues throughout the weekend. The main event is Friday, November 7, 2014 with keynotes and ignite talks. This will be livestreamed so that you can watch along from home or offices. Join the Crisismappers community to learn and build with us.


Follow us on the live stream: bit.ly/iccmnyclive

The ICCM 2014 Agenda

ICCM 2014

As the ICCM pre-conference training and field trips organizer is it my goal to unite the different disciplines in unique zones to build, learn and share. Our training offering is a community driven effort with 3 tracks: Maps, Knowledge and Mobile/Hardware. Sessions are ongoing all day today.

About Crisismappers:

The International Network of Crisis Mappers (Crisis Mappers Net) is the largest and most active international community of experts, practitioners, policymakers, technologists, researchers, journalists, scholars, hackers and skilled volunteers engaged at the intersection of humanitarian crises, new technology, crowd-sourcing, and crisis mapping. The Crisis Mappers Network was launched at the first International Conference on Crisis Mapping (ICCM) in 2009. As the world’s premier humanitarian technology forum, we engage 7,000+ members in over 160 countries, who are affiliated with over 3,000 different institutions, including more than 400 universities, 50 United Nations agencies & projects, first responders operating in both the civilian and military space, dozens of leading technology companies, several volunteer & technical community networks and global, national, and local humanitarian and disaster response and recovery organizations.

Pre-conference Training

The Maps track including many diverse map software organizations and communities. Sessions include Google (Christiaan Adams), CartoDB (Andy Eschbacher), Mapbox (Matthew Irwin, Aaron Lidman), Ushahidi (Sara-Jayne Terp), HOT/OSM/American Red Cross (Chris Daley, Dale Kunce) and ProPublica (Brian Jacobs sharinig about remote sensing verification).

Research/Knowledge: What is the impact of Crisismapping? What are some ways to monitor and evaluate projects? Which ethical scenarios do we encounter? How can design of a map or data collection tool change the data? Can we use human centered design? What is the current state of research in crisismapping?

There are two sessions in this ½ day Research/Knowlegde track:

1. Open Data for Resilience Initiative (OpenDRI) (John Crowley)
Natural hazards with low frequency can lurk in history’s invisible depths. How do we use open data to help affected communities to map and see these risks? How can open data help governments and donors invest in building resilience in the areas which have the highest impact for affected communities? Learn the tools that the World Bank’s Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery has built to use Open Data to drive Resilience.

2. Education project in Guatemala tracking mapping needs. (Colette Mazzucelli, NYU) introduces the Pre-Training Session. Kyle Matthews, Senior Deputy Director, Will to Intervene Project, Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies (MIGS), Concordia
University will begin the conversation. Kyle will introduce the Digital Mass Atrocity Prevention (DMAP) Lab at Concordia University as well as the ways in which MIGS Professional Training Programmes on the Prevention of Mass Atrocities have integrated analyses of mapping
technology projects. Cristian Silva, Director, IFIFT, will highlight our experiences in Guatemala participating in the Multidisciplinary Field School: Forensic Investigations. We will then respond to questions from those in attendance. This will be followed by a brainstorming session with NYU GIS Librarian Andrew Battista and NYU Senior Technology Specialist Him Mistry coordinated by Colette Mazzucelli and the ICCM 2014 Team.

Mobile and Hardware

Mobile and Hardware (eg. mobile apps, Google Glass, imagery, satellites, drones etc) are incorporated into many crisismapping projects. Crisismappers are exploring new technologies to collect data and map in the field. This session will highlight tools and techniques.

The following workshops will be provided:

Integrating inclusive technology (Valerie Oliphant, Social Impact Lab)
This workshop will explore the idea of inclusive technologies. What makes a particular technology accessible in a certain place and time? How can implementers assess their operating environment to choose technologies, channels and tools that best fit their needs?

We’ll be looking at how to determine the accessibility and usability of different initiatives for different projects and contexts. Do people own or have access to mobile phones? Do they use SMS? Which mobile networks have coverage? How can SMS empower community workers? We’ll also cover how to map out your project in a simple way that exposes risks and incentives.

PUNYA (Lalana Kagal, Fu-ming Shih, Andrew McKinney and Evan Patton MIT))
We have been working for the last two years in a system that allows anyone to quickly prototype and build mobile applications for crisis mapping and other humanitarian ends. The project name is PUNYA (http://air.csail.mit.edu/punya/), and it is completely free and open source.

(Kuo-Yu (Slayer) Chuang)
This session will be discussing and testing disaster responding scenarios with ICT tools (SMS).


Reality Check on Mobile Health
(Michelle Hamilton-Page (Ushahidi))
In this workshop we will look at some examples of how health promotion is leveraging mobile – including near field communication, SMS and smartphone apps – to work with communities to build relevant, iterative tools for health. Let’s crowd-source some successes and failures in health and mobile tech and check in with where things are going from the local to the global context.


ICCM Field Trips

From Balloon Mapping to oil testing kits, Public Lab is leading the way with environmental data collection. How can we have the earth talk to us and how can we collect environmental information around the world? We can build our own sensors and stitch our own maps. This workshop will teach you the skills in an urban setting.

Neighbourhood Resilience Field trip with Green Map: Hurricane Sandy Zone
(Wendy Brawer)
Occupy Sandy and local communities built placemaking and infrastructure to communicate and support a community in need. Emergency managers are building programmes to make the region more resilient. How can crisismappers learn from this field experience?


Office of Emergency Management - City of New York
(Jim McConnell)New York City has one of the largest urban emergency ops centers. In this field trip, you will learn about their work and how they use crisismapping techniques.

Thank you to all the organizers, sponsors, participants and especially the Black Box Communications team for making this a success.


Infusing Ethics into Data Projects

Education, assistance and enforcement are needed to build better, ethically balanced data-driven projects. The Ethics of Data workshop on the Data lifecycle discussed ethical scenarios and key aspects of a data-driven project. This lead to many sticky notes and attempts to create the big asks and some outputs. The participants came from many different disciplines, which helped us quality check and inform our review.

Our group together created 3 asks for further review:

  • Resources: This should be a center online for people and NGOs to share and find guides on building ethical data driven projects.
  • Tool/Template: There should be a data risk/benefits/costs template as part of every grant application to build better ethical projects from front to back.
  • Review: Could there be a non-profit assistance group that provides free, consultation on ethical questions? How would they enforce standards? Could it be like a review board for research projects?
  • Milestones for an Ethical Data Project:

    We created over 100 ideas and grouped them into categories as milestones. There should be checklists for each milestone including key questions for the team. While the EoD team started on the mini-ethical checklists, this really needs more iteration. We also highlighted some milestones that are often overlooked or underfunded such as: a data collection checklist, pilot, quality control, verification, documentation, secondary use and impact/monitoring & evaluation. One other observation in our conversations was proper project management skills to scope many of the ethical minefields in advance of the project pilot.

    Key milestones on the Data Drive project

    Without trying to influence the room, the key project milestones resemble the toolkits we created at Ushahidi. Toolkits, including the Ushahidi one, do need to include more ethical statements/checklists to improve the success of building better projects. But, toolkits are only as useful as those who use and enforce them.

    Infuse with Ethical Checklists

    We gifted the Responsible Data Forum with a list of 70 questions, terms and ideas for the key milestones. If all the various milestones of a data-driven project are infused with ethical questions, checklists, and recommendations, this resource would be incredibly useful. Participants suggested that the checklists start with very generic items, but be broken out into topical domain recommendations/checklist items. This is to ensure adoption and remix in diverse fields from human rights to health to science. Some of the questions that really drove conversations included:
    Data analysis: What do you do when your data analysis provides negative results (from your hypothesis)? Quality Control: Can the data be re-identified? Resourcing: Who can collect the data and why? Secondary data: What is the time horizon on the data and future use criteria?

    Key Questions from the Ethical Checklist

    Ethics of Data – Resource Center / Review Board:

    One of the outputs of our first day of brainstorming was the need to have an Ethical Resource and Review Board. The team split off to debate the pros and cons of this idea. They even determined some of the needed services such as legal referral.
    Ethics of Data Review board

    More resources:

    The EofD team recreated a list of additional Ethics reading. It might keep you up all night with worry, but better to be ‘in the know’.

    As well, here is a compilation on Domain-­specific digital ethics, practices, and conventions. The one that really opened my mind was the Bellagio Framework: “Big Data, Communities and Ethical Resilience: A Framework for Action.” They provided criteria to consider: Governance, Place, Socio-Cultural Context, Science, and Technology.

    Thank you

    Thanks to our hosts at Stanford Center for Philanthropy and Civil Society (Kim Meredith, Lucy Bernholz, Rob Reich and Sam Spiewak) for making the Ethics of Data event possible. Thanks to my co-host Patrick Vinck of Harvard Humanitarian Initiative for great conversations. As always, Aspiration (Gunner and Misty) supported us with facilitation that inspired a collaborative and productive event for all. And, lastly, thank you to all the participants for being so thoughtful and inspiring teachers as we all trundle down this journey to bring better decision-making to all of our work.

    (Note: It is my hope that we can infuse HOT with some of this work and trial some ideas in our work. I’ll be sharing it with my fellow Board members and the HOT Community.)


Data Cycling: From Choices to Consent

Stanford University has convened the Ethics of Data conference this week bringing leaders from industry, humanitarian, research and civil society together to discuss and build plans for data ethics in all our work. I’m participating by co-leading a workshop on the redefining the Data Lifecycle with my colleague, Patrick Vinck of Harvard Humanitarian Initiative.

Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team

The Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team and the wider Crisismappers community are discussing and using drones and satellites to capture imagery of land changes, displaced camps and post-disaster areas. Some of the topics we are discussing within these communities include how to include local NGOs and the government. In times of crisis, humanitarians and technologists are moving very fast. We need to have more guidance, research and best practices. At the Ethics of Data event, we will use HOT as an example data project in our conversations.

The HOT community is incredibly committed to helping humanitarians and affected communities with maps. We are frequency discussing how and what types of aerial imagery be shared. What kind of training do we provide for review and use of aerial imagery? What happens to the data after the emergency? What kind of ethical code should we provide for all Digital Humanitarians? As HOT builds Open Aerial Map and groups like the UAViators come to existence, we need to consider data education and use beyond text and include video, photos and drone/satellite imagery. In the US, Mapbox is educating use of drones by creating a map of where not to fly. This work is moving faster than the research. It is my hope from the Ethics of Data event that I will be able to convene conversations within HOT to determine our next steps. Keeping in mind that every humanitarian situation is different as are the jurisdictions in which global, local and remote contributors participate.

What about the Data Pipeline?

Data Storytelling via Infogr.am

Data Storytelling Lifecycle via Infogr.am

All around the world journalists, civil society groups and governments are working on open data projects. HOT is just one of many projects aimed at using open data to affect change. Determining the new data pipeline could be informed by HOT’s experiences. In the past year, I have been at countless events where people talk about the importance of open data, the importance of the data pipeline and the impact of data storytelling. I also believe that data needs to be open, when appropriate. But, I am wary about preaching about open data without including a clear ethical compass. One of the main reasons that data is not open is that people do not trust how the data will be used. And, frankly, it is very unclear what constitutes a clean dataset. Over the past years, I have worked with Geeks without Bounds, Ushahidi and Data Science for Social Good to try and solve this challenge with checklists or tools. Every dataset begets new questions. All of our work needs to be infused with questions about data accuracy and data ethics. It is misplaced as an afterthought.

Processing the Data Pipeline

This is a Data pipeline via OKFN:
Data processing pipeline (OKFN)

We need to create communities and tools with the data ethics checklists embedded into every aspect of projects from inception to funding to creation to education to analysis and to impact assessments. I’m truly looking forward to rethinking data project lifecycles and sharing the outputs with various communities to discover and remix together.

How would you rebuild the Data Lifecycle?

(Thanks to Nika Aleksejeva from Infogr.am for the Data Storytelling diagram.)


Ok go! What are you doing at OKfest14?

Ok go! This week 1000 people converge in Berlin for Okfestival with many more participating and observing online. We are here to instigate open action and open minds.

The Open Knowledge Festival 2014 will be our biggest open data and open knowledge event to date. It will be global, inclusive and participatory. We expect it to create a significant local and international surge of innovation.

Throughout the festival, I will be leading the Community storytelling team. I’ll mostly be using twitter and storify to curate stories. Also, expect pictures and maybe some videos with attendees. During this event, I am also running or assisting on a large number of sessions and side events, plus attending some key sessions.

okfest logo

Here’s my schedule for the following week. See some of you soon! And, for friends who aren’t here, see you online (all items are at the OKFEST venue unless stated otherwise):

Sunday, July 13th (completed)

Watch Germany win world cup, walk to celebration at Brandenburg Gate (checkmark)

Monday, July 14th (completed)

Hold informal #geobeers with mapper and activist friends in Berlin at Strandbar (so amazing, done-so)

OKfest Opening Day: Tuesday, July 15th
Open Knowledge Community Summit (13:00 – 16:00 CET)

stickies are love

This is a community-driven event to talk about the Open Knowledge community. See all the details. I’ll be hosting a sub-group to talk about the last 5 months of community programming and get input into the next steps.

Storytelling team meeting (17:00 CET)

Sharing stories, ideas and moments is such a big part of community events. I’ve had much practice curating and encouraging stories at large events. Join our Storytelling team and meet other digital curators. Look for folks with blue ribbons or tweet us at #okstory with blog links, videos, photos, headlines and key themes.

How to join: Review our Storytelling wiki page, add your name to our etherpad, tweet @heatherleson or with #okstory to meet team members. Our first meeting is at 5pm in the Media Hub room at the Okfest venue. We will have other informal meetings to be announced throughout the event. Stay tuned.

School of Data Table at the open night (18:00 – 21:00 CET)

Come meet the School of Data existing and new fellows, local partners and team. Ask questions, get involved.

Community Drinks (21:30 – on)

The Community team is hosting an informal drinks night. Join us for chats and connecting.
Location: Prater Garten

Bike by

OkFest First day: Wednesday, July 16th

Storytelling Team meeting like at 8:30am at venue. TBD, see #okstory.

I’ll be attending all the morning sessions. Truly, super excited for Ory to talk plus graffiti activists!!

Open Coalition (12:00 – 13:00)

Help us build an Open Coalition across various open organizations and individuals. We have common missions and are stronger together.

Power, Politics, Inclusion and voice

“Data, information, knowledge is created in a political environment where power dynamics dictate who is/is not included in the creation process. Unless we consider who is involved in knowledge construction we run the risk of simply entrenching existing power structures. If open data is dominated by data produced in the Global North what chance do we have in redressing the balance of power for an equitable world? “

Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team Workshop (16:30 -17:30 CET)

Humanitarian OpenStreetMap team will share stories and do a demo with hands on support. Super excited to support Katie and other Hotties on this.

Open Mapping Party

Join the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team, CartoDB, Development Seed, Zeit Online and Mapbox to talk open mapping strategies and tools over drinks. Heather Leson, Ian Schuler, Javier de la Torre, Alex Barth and Paul Blickle are in town and ready to connect over humanitarian response, data visualizations, OpenStreetMap and satellite imagery. We are inviting map nerds, enthusiasts and friends to join us for a mapper night. Sign up here.

survey tape for teams

Okfest Second day: Thursday, July 17th
Storytelling team – meeting tbd

Day 3 of Community Storytelling. Stay tuned for more highlights and a meeting

Crisis.net (12:00 – 13:00)

Crisis.net is a new open tool from the amazing Ushahidi folks. The team will share a demo and answer questions. I’m expecting many civil society and journalists to join in the conversations. Session details.

Low Tech Data : Storytelling and Storyfinding (14:00 – 15:00)

Rahul and Gabi will be a fantastic hosts for this session at the heart of every impact for civil society and activists. See more details:

Looking for creative ways to find and present data stories in low-tech settings? We will share our hands-on, participatory techniques for bringing people together around data to find and tell powerful stories without computers. You’ll walk away with skills and ideas to help the communities you work with!

Working with data can empower or disempower. Algorithms, technical language, unfamiliar processes – these all leave many communities incapable of working with data, or understanding data-driven discussions. Most folks don’t “speak data”.

How to Teach Open Data (15:30 – 16:30)

Join the School of Data and friends to learn best practices in teaching open data. (full details) We’ll have a world cafe to share

  • How to organise tech and data workshops
  • Building effective curriculum and accreditation
  • Type of education activities: a blended offline, online
  • Designing passion driven communities (I’ll be with Bekka from P2PU)
If I had more time or a time machine, I would attend these amazing sessions too!

School of Data

School of Data Summer Camp (Potsdam) (invite only): Friday, July 18, 2014 – Monday July 21, 2014

School of Data is the division that I work in at Open Knowledge. This summer camp includes fellows, partners and local instances of School of Data. We will talk about strategies, share skills and develop plans for the upcoming year. I am specifically sharing community programming and community engagement best practices:

July 22nd, 2014

FALL OVER, Report back, sleep!!!


Bring Kurios to your Community

Kurios is Cirque du Soleil’s latest creation called the Carnival of Curiosities. Recently I had the chance to attend this delightful event in Montreal. From the storylines to costumes to sheer talent to showmanship, I watched the show with marvel and true inspiration. Every day since experiencing it I’ve been thinking about how we can share sustainable positive energy and beauty in our communities. As my sister calls it: joyful noise.

What if we reimagine how we build Digital and open communities with this key sentiment?

I’m at the airport on my way to Okfestival. This event includes all the amazing elements of global, cross-topic and multidisciplinary mayhem you can muster. Having attended OSCON for the past few years, I am really keen to meet many diverse open communities that are not all baked in open source software. (Miss you guys at OSCON already. (First love))

Join the circus

We are all in this big tent and want to expand the circle. While we focus on the actions, tasks, missions, outcomes, we should also practise like a trapeze artist, shine like the instigator clown, invite like the host, tantalize like the contortionists, but more of all: tie it together by inviting all the crazy items to flow and exist.

Often lately I am confounded by how to muster community spirt and connect all the diverse contact points into a thematic joyful space. While everyone has their niche thing that they love, we, as community leaders, want to have a light touch that brings everyone together. The undying passion of building that something important, special, needed often can be so strong that it might push people away or worse, burn out the very leaders that we want to nurture. Communities need an on ramp and need to be a welcoming place. Have you ever done the starfish as part of Pilates? It is beautiful but lopsided. This is the state of most communities I’ve seen lately. To grow, our jobs are cut out as we need to build spaces that are flexible, inspiring and healthy. This week has been full of huge teaching and sharing moments. Step by step.

My favourite visual artist just completed a show in Toronto called
Systematic complexity. Etienne Gelinas combines maps, mathematical principles and dynamic colours. I’m completely infatuated with his crazy compelling lines. Every community is different. The canvas we share is remixable. The heart needs to grow and find its inner circus while being focused on having a traveling show of curiosities with systematic complexity.


Batman, Foodies, Fashion + CrisisMaps at Next Day Better

Building a common good unites us. This Thursday I’m participating in Next Day Better in Toronto. This is such a special event combining fun, food, art and technology to inspire people to make the Next Day Better. I’ll share the story of Crisismappers highlighting the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team response in the Philippines.

How will I make the Next Day Better?

I help people get more involved in their world. One example is supporting an open community-driven digital humanitarian response.

“We are a culture platform that builds and activates diaspora communities to create a better future. We believe that diasporas like the Philippines global community are hubs and inspirations for social innovation, incredible design, and world changing ideas. We bring these doers and change makers together to share their stories and make the next day better.”


Tickets are only $20.00 with amazing talks and food! Please join us.

Help Share about Next Day Better

Facebook updates:

We’re partnering with social innovation group @NextDayBetter to celebrate their launch in Toronto on June 19. It will be a night of inspired talks from changemakers – the #Philippines is ready for open-source mapping! If you’re in Toronto, RSVP here.

Amazing things are happening June 19 – board member/idea hacker Heather Leson will be @NextDayBetter’s launch in Toronto as they bring big-idea thinkers, amazing work doers and changemakers together. Get your tickets here.


We’re partnering w/ @NextDayBetter for their launch in #Toronto 6/19! Learn more: http://www.bit.ly/NextDayBetterTOR

The #Philippines is ready. Join us @NextDayBetter Toronto launch | 6/19 7pm | RSVP http://www.bit.ly/NextDayBetterTOR

About NextDayBetter

NextDayBetter is a platform that spreads ideas and actions that make the next day better. Ideas and actions are Philippines-flavored and rooted in design, entrepreneurship and innovation.

We invite innovators entrepreneurs, designers, do gooders — both Filipino and Non-Filipino—to share their stories about creating a better future.

Visit www.nextdaybetter.com for more information.

I found out about the Next Day Better group after engaging with folks around Hacking PH: focused on rebuilding a resilient Philippines. They really inspired me with their approach to building community locally and globally.

How will you make the Next Day Better?

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