Paths to Better Futures

We’ve started telling people how they are expected to act. That’s a phenomenal start. We’ve started making it clear that there are paths to justice, in the case that those expectations are not met. Also great. But I don’t feel like it’s enough. Often, issues are forced into a boolean framing, with only a boolean response. Either something is dismissible, or scorched earth. And so many things go unaddressed, and the few things that aren’t are either viewed as “how did we wait so long?!” or “that seems like overkill.” The former continues to vilify the perpetrator, and the later vilifies the person(s) on the receiving end.

If we simply kick out anyone who messes up, we end up with empty communities, and that’s not a new future.

If we don’t hold people accountable for being abusive, we end up with rooms filled only with those who love their pre-existing power, and that’s not a new future.

League of Legends is the best example I know of how to deal with this properly, or at least better than usual. If you are an asshole to someone, you go to Tribunal. They do this because there are rarely “problem players,” but most incidents are “players having a bad day.” And if you got rid of all those players, you wouldn’t have anyone left. If you put a bad mark on “problem players” or some other permanent thing, people simply recreate accounts, and are pissed off while they play in the beginner brackets, and then you have a toxic environment for the newcomers, only the toxic stick around, and then the whole place sucks.

Let’s bring this to issues of gender and sexual advances specific to our geek communities. It cannot be fun for most of the people who are causing these problems. Just think – you try to make a pass, it either isn’t well received or seems to be but then later it turns out wasn’t, and no one is telling you what is actually expected. Except sometimes that you’ve done something wrong. Of course yes to consent! Yes to enthusiastic consent! But women especially are also socialized to give what is seemed to be desired. For safety. For society. Etc. And so consent is the first essential step along a path, but is not the end-all-be-all.

What I’m proposing is this: if someone violates a safe space agreement, or continually makes people in the community feel squicked, or whatever else… we need to have a path laid for them to get better. And if they’re not willing to take that path, we know they’re doing it because they’re an asshole, and not because they’re socially awkward. Awkwardness can be because of a commitment to consent, and is no excuse for many of these issues. Just ask someone I’ve dated. I am not smooth.

So what are those paths? Restorative justice seems to be a useful alternative for urban communities with generations disappearing into the legal system, but which has been co-opted by the privileged to avoid accountability. I’ve asked around about programs for people who are abusive to “get better,” with little luck. Are there paths already out there? Do we need to create them? Please do comment here, let’s have a discussion.

Expressions and Understanding

We have such an investment in the written word in our world right now. And it’s beautiful. Uses different parts of the brain at the same time, allows for storage of thought to be passed down and through and re-examined and loved through time. I love the written word.

But I am also dyslexic. I love books, but I hate reading – I feel like an idiot. I have to read each sentence twice (at least), at the same pace that I’d read aloud. I still don’t always understand what I’m reading – not the concept, mind you, simply the written words which are used to express it. I know the deep knowledge represented on each page, and yet I dredge through it like a 7 year old, frustrated by the time it takes to get through the simplest components. Still. At 30.

Listen – I ingest information best audibly, loving stories read aloud, going through most of my online reading through text-to-speech (thanks, Quinn), and learning best from the lecture, not the readings. Because of this, my writing cadence matches my speaking cadence nearly exactly – mainly because there were years where I would record myself speaking, and then transcribe it. It wasn’t writing. I don’t know how to write. I know how to speak. But that dyslexia isn’t just in reading, it’s in general language processing, and that includes the spoken word. Which means I miss chunks sometimes – able to hear beyond the normal audio range, but the content simply doesn’t land at times.

When I started drawing, 4 years ago, it helped me link together what I was hearing, with what I knew, in a way I could see how it all connected. No more missing gaps. There was something new that was coming out in this way of understanding and expressing the ideas that were already being expressed verbally or textually. It seemed that I like to ingest information audibly, but process and re-state visually. And try this out – I can make a proportional sculpture, because it feels right, while my stick figures are disproportional in order to indicate movement, and because I can’t get two dimensions to be technically correct. Each method lossy in its own way.

At Wikimania, I’ve been surrounded by incredible, intelligent people… all of whom place a huge value in cataloging, expressing, and defending through the written word. They use copyright to protect copy. It’s been like visiting an alien world I know I can never emigrate to, where my methods of expression are valued but not import-able. Something you’d see in a museum, but never purchase a gift for your loved one as you exit through the shop.

Understand this: When Tricia gave her talk at Berkman, she had visual cues, she delivered verbally, on a subject she had written about, and I expressed that visually. Each of these is a different expression of the same idea. It is not the same expression re-done verbatim (ha!) in another format. I don’t want to listen to a re-reading of the transcript of the audio. I want to listen to the writing on the subject she did. These are different aspects of the same knowledge set.

Another example: when the always fantastic RadioLab did a particularly stunning episode on color, there was a bit on the visual capabilities of the Mantis Shrimp. While a diagram of the eye’s capability can be drawn and compared (see diagram), and what happens with that extra perception vectors can be described in text, it was the choral rendition of complexity of vision that made what was actually going on readily understandable to we who have 3 vectors in our eyes.

Coding and software, and more recently the opening up of fabrication technologies, are about more people being able to express themselves in a way that is best for them, and that also means people who ingest information in those formats have a better chance to understand more of the world. The more vectors we have of expressing, the more vectors we have of understanding. And isn’t that what being human is about?

If that’s not enough, consider this: one of the things about code is that it has opened the doors for some to income and prestige that otherwise would have been closed. It broke down entrances to what “legitimate expression” is. When we stick to only the knowledge expressions and storage we understand, those who are best able to use those (i.e., those who have already been in long practice) will continue to benefit. And now, so many other things are possible to digitize, to pass on and posterityze. Why remain so hyper-focused on the written word?

“I am, somehow, less interested in the weight and convolutions of Einstein’s brain than in the near certainty that people of equal talent have lived and died in cotton fields and sweatshops.”
Stephen Jay Gould, The Panda’s Thumb: More Reflections in Natural History

I care less about “accessibility” as “bringing ‘disabled’ people into a world as ‘able’ people experience it,” and more into “everyone having the best opportunity to express themselves, and to be understood.”

Lovingly Dealing with Abuse

I’ve told you all before about my past abusive relationship. I’ve also been doing a lot of work in how to be more accepting of people. It’s a strange and new thing for me – to stand up for myself, to know my Self well enough to NOT be trampled on, not in a way that requires blustering or forcing respect.

I had wanted to tell you a story. But that’s not something that’s allowed in these situations. Our social and legal systems prevent me from talking about what, specifically, happened1. I don’t believe in unexamined support, and so asking people to express solidarity when I can’t express all the details (nor do I particularly want to, in the interest of the other person maybe… changing… one day?) is pretty weird. So let’s say this: I had to cut someone off recently for abusive behavior. Not one of my wonderful partners2. And while the situation is being handled, I wanted to talk a bit around what the experience has been like, socially, and how I think it can be handled responsibly.

Of those people I can talk to about it (for legal and social reasons), their responses are aiming for protective, seeking understanding, and solidarity. But these can easily end up instead falling into one of the following buckets: infantalizing, dismissive/justification, and overkill. While in this situation, it’s more difficult for me to do affective labor (cognitive and emotional processing) for other people. I need them instead to help me with mine. So here’s a general breakdown, in the hope that it helps me out, as well as others (if it fits with them/you as well).

  • I want to help you deal with this” / “You shouldn’t have to deal with this any more than you already have” can quickly shut out the person from the process of their own restoration. A big part of what sucks about abusive/bullying/harassing situations is being disempowered. Further removing someone from the process of recovery and justice does not help. The person on the receiving end very well might end up wanting to not have to deal with it… but it needs to be by explicit choice.
  • How long has this been going on?” can come across as questioning or justifying rather than for understanding. Maybe it’s not real, or as bad as you think, etc. Coming forward about these things is HARD, and not a pleasant experience at all. Even if the individual asking these questions is doing so to better understand and assist, much of our culture is based upon being dismissive of the person coming forward. Many times the affected person will explain the context in a story format as a way of processing. If they don’t offer details or a story, ask yourself how important it is that you know details not readily offered.
  • I will destroy everything that person has ever held holy” is honestly my knee-jerk reaction as well, but now having been on the other side, feels like having to manage even more people. Will this person I’m talking to take actions which later make dealing with everything less effective? Expressing upset is one thing – expressing a desire to act in anger can be disempowering for the affected person. And so much anger has often already been managed in unhealthy relationships.

To me, what it takes to be a good ally in these situations is to simply say “I am sorry” / “that sucks” + “What do you need right now?” That gives space to decide what is needed, in relationship to the person asking. Often the same places are gotten to, but together. And remember, listen to the person who is affected. Just like codesign. Just like anything else in life. The person living it is likely the expert in their experience.

So far as the person I cut off, I went through these steps, which I find important: expression of care, re-statement of disregarded boundaries (and how those had been crossed), new boundaries (ie, “don’t talk to me, on any platform”), consequences for crossing those new boundaries (legal action), and recourse (“until/unless you’ve completed an abuser program”). This leaves no ambiguity in the situation, and I’ve also laid a path to action for myself that I can read and stick to when/if things get complicated.

  1. Although support from some will be contingent upon my explaining myself, the other, etc
  2. See, even here I can see how I want to caveat and manage. How to express things in a way that doesn’t seed distrust, but still encourages people to consider the people they spend time with, and their responsibility to not take part in bystander effect.

Accepting Religions

I went to Catholic school for 9 years - my atheist parents sent me as it was the best education available in my hometown of 20,000 people. My best friends and extended peer group, the same 15 other kids in my class for those 9 years, thought that I was, at my core, wrong. We found other things to talk about. As the only atheist in the class, I was constantly and consistently told I was going to Hell by other students, instructors, and priests. In response, I vindictively aced “religion” (not really “religion” but rather “teachings of Catholicism”) class – I knew what answer was wanted, and it drove them nuts that I would answer what they were looking for, rather than what I believed. On bad days I would get in arguments with teachers about conflicting parts of the bible. The day I found the passage on questioning faith as the best way to strengthen it was particularly rough. Occasionally it would escalate to tears – rarely mine. And the whole time, they didn’t kick me out because my parents didn’t belong to the parish, and so they were providing income sorely needed for the school. Talk about weird privilege.

From this, I learned to stand up for what I saw in science, even when every. single. person around me (peer and authority) thought I was drastically wrong. I learned how to have long-term, deep relationships with people with whom I had conflicting core views. I also learned to have an immediate and visceral reaction to people who expressed strong religious views. There were a few years where I envied people who were religious, seeing it as an easy comfort I was fighting so hard to gain. After resolving to learn more about this thing that had such a strong hold over me, I took one of my minors in Religion, specifically around the Old Testament. I learned that others had celebrated, and continue to celebrate, the questioning of those texts. I learned to think about religion in a sociological context, and became more fascinated than envious. But still a visceral reaction, even if more subtle.

When I moved to Camberville, my new set of friends meant that I was invited to a few Judaic holiday gatherings. I heard stories, drank wine, and asked questions; comfortable with friends I already knew and respected. Their joy at sharing upon request, without expectation, was a different interaction than I had experienced in the past. Far enough from the Catholic structures of my youth, curiosity bloomed in a way that was safe for all of us. More of my generally-directed anger faded. I learned to think about religion as a way of describing the world, rather than as a mandate of being.

After begin in Camberville for about a year, an academic cohort I thoroughly enjoy working with, who does incredible things around gay rights and gender equality, “came out” to me about being Evangelical. I got my still-present visceral response in check, and we talked. They experience incredible ostracization in both of their main groups – from those with whom they has a spiritual home because of the work focus, and with their academic crew because of their beliefs. This caused a lot of mixed feelings in me. This is someone I care about, who is in turmoil, and who I had no way of helping.

At a dinner gathering a few days after this conversation, I was still mulling it over, and brought it up while keeping the person anonymous – I could only assume people would be dismissive of my friend in the same way of my now tamped-down knee-jerk reaction. But instead, these friends told me about their similar experience – bringing equal access to their churches in the South. Using sermons to teach about inequality and to support those most in need. Their being ostracized by those who would otherwise have been their friends in social and academic circles. This also made me sad. Unable to provide these amazing people the solidarity they needed, I put them in touch with each other. They’re now all meeting regularly, along with other people in similar sets though different faiths.

From all this, I’ve started noticing how dismissive and demeaning the attitudes around religion are in my social groups. It reminds me of when I started understanding the language of feminism, understanding how it relates to me, and being hyper-sensitive to the smallest turns of phrase and utterly oblivious to some of the worst bits. I’ve started looking for signals that friends are closeted in their faith, trying to make safe space for discussion. One amazing, long-time friend ends up to be Mormon. And I realize how many times I’ve made off-handed comments which must have cut to the bone. But that’s just a part of his everyday existence.

I still don’t know what to do with all this. I love my friends, and I want them to be safe and welcome for who they are. I also believe in critiquing flaws in systems, and that religion (on the whole) allows and encourages flaws, as well as detracting from the encouragement to examine and act. But, just like everything, it can be more nuanced than that. In their religion, some of these folk are finding language to discuss experience and intuition that otherwise doesn’t have definition nor words. They’ve found a way to express care and intent in the world, both of which tend to be sorely lacking. But now, instead of being jealous, I’m deeply grateful they’re willing to share that, without expectation that I’ll carry it in the same way. We’re seeing each other as individuals, not as the systems of which we are a part.

Adventures in Government Grants

Over at Geeks Without Bounds, we’re working on filing some grants, including with the USG, and that involves a convoluted process of website registrations, number assignations, and security nightmares.

The site you use to register for your DUNS-number (which stands for Data Universal Number System. What I don’t event.) emailed me my password in plaintext.

The next site in this process asked for a password to act as my sig – exactly 9 LETTERS long, in plaintext. I made that password “plaintext” just for kicks. You might as well know, because it’s just hanging out there anyway. And it’s far more complicated to figure out which address they’re asking for at any point on a form than it would be to crack.

That same site called me the executor of consent, which is pretty badass, and makes me hope the USG might be starting to consider enthusiastic consent from the governed.

I was then asked to enter my CAGE. Which I did not consent to.

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Teachable Moments at #CivicMedia

Cross posted from the Civic Media blog.

A panel at the MIT-Knight Civic Media conference was about the Open Web’s Second Chance, and the problems we are facing with growing the open web movement.  The panelists were Mark Surman, Executive Director of the Mozilla Foundation and Seamus Kraft, Executive Director of The OpenGov Foundation.  Mark kicked things off with the story of the open web, how Mozilla was born in 1997 and where he sees the movement today.  Then the conversation turned to Seamus, who was first logging online 17 years ago when Mozilla was founded.

Seamus first went on the Internet in the late ’90′s for two main reasons.  Not as an activist, or as a software developer, but as a young teenage boy both hoping to trade live Grateful Dead and Phish concert recordings…and looking to meet and chat up his preferred gender on AOL Instant Messenger.  Fast forward to today: Seamus became a fighter for the open web in 2011 when he, as a conservative Congressional staffer, saw the impending SOPA and PIPA laws threatening the everyday Internet he had grown to love over the intervening years.  He is someone who dearly loves what the Internet has enabled him to do, exchanging music and knowledge, and connecting with others…and he has dedicated his life to protecting it.  A beautiful story – we need more activists generally, and the more diverse we are in our origins the more vectors we can understand these issues along. So it was pretty rad that he showed up to a conference that is diverse in some ways but not in others to talk about this shared ideal. I love this – it gives us more dimensionality to our ideas when they hold up under different objectives and sources as well as the ones we’re more used to.

But Seamus’ story of discovering the web wasn’t told that way.  The phrase “going online to get girls” kept cropping up during the panel discussion.   Indignation bubbled up on the back channel, and then turned into outrage. When Seamus left the stage, he saw the Twitter Storm, was shocked and aghast at the interpretation, and spent the rest of the day owning up to his mistake and personally apologizing on Twitter…all far away from the conference.  I would have done the same. I am amazed and honored that he returned the next day, and even more so that he’s willing to write this with me.

Seamus here:

“As I sat outside the conference, reading every single Tweet and comment, and soaking in how my non-inclusive language made people feel, it was like getting punched in the stomach…by myself.  It was brutal, searing and embarrassing, all at once.  How could I be so blind with my language?  Had I actually become the Idiot Tech Guy?  I should have known better, and used the language we celebrate as open web activists, instead of what you’ll too often find in the darker corners of the Internet.  Reading the civic media hashtag and all the tweets directed at me, I felt like I had irreparably insulted everyone in the room, everyone watching the webcast and everyone fighting for the open Internet.”

“In telling the story of how I logged on as a young teenage boy, I had allowed myself to use the language of a young teenage boy.  And in trying to share my passion for growing the open web movement, I had accomplished precisely the opposite.  Showing up the next day was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but I am so thankful for the kind and amazing people who put aside their justifiable anger, sat down with me on the conference sidelines, and literally helped me become a stronger, more aware and – I pray – more linguistically inclusive person moving forward.  You gave me another chance, a lesson in humility, and some sorely needed hugs that I will never, ever forget.”

Now Willow here, with an exercise in empathy:

I’m reminded of being in New Orleans, and trying to make a point about NOT being an expert – the people who live in the area are experts in their own experience. I said “I’m clearly not from around here, look at me.” As in look at how sunburned I am, I don’t spend time outside or know how to take care of myself when I do. But guess how it was perceived, and how I immediately knew it must have been perceived. I was mortified. The best I could think to do in that moment was turn even redder and say “well, that came out wrong.”

But no one called me out. There was no discussion. And that, I think, sucks even more. What we have in this moment from the Civic Media conference is a chance to learn and teach.

I was more upset about how my community reacted to this than I am at Seamus’ comments. The comments were unwitting, and bumbling, yes. It’s good (I would argue necessary) to call those things out. I honestly feel that if he’d been speaking directly to the audience (not on a panel) he would have seen that immediate feedback from the audience. I’m upset the other panelist and the moderator didn’t call him out on it, gracefully, in the moment. In fact, they may have cued, or at least amplified, it. And I am upset that a community that considers itself open worked itself into a frenzy over such comments — and that I was a part of that.

This is an amazing moment to learn – and certainly not just for Seamus. Here’s the question: If someone well-meaning uses language that triggers response from an esoteric community, how can we inform them in a way that assumes their good faith and alliance? I don’t know of any discipline or approach (including feminism) where I think “don’t come back until you can meet us at our level” is an appropriate response to people who are trying but might stumble. Especially given intersectionality, and that as feminist values start showing up in new arenas (yay!) the people already there don’t understand those nuances yet. How could they?

I’m reminded of how I trained ballet and gymnastics for the better part of a decade and yet had terrible balance. I had no stabilizing muscles because if a movement wasn’t perfect, I was supposed to bail. With parkour, I practiced to fight to stay on a ledge, by whatever wiggling and arm-waving necessary. The imperfections of maintaining footing trumped perfection of form. The thing was, in doing this, I gained enough minor muscle control to start landing things near-perfectly.

Being an ally is HARD. To me, the important thing is not never messing…which I see as impossible. Even the most linguistically precise shift contexts (intentionally or through context collapse). The important thing is returning to a conversation after a misstep. And it’s on me, as the one being allied with, to make it safe to have those post messup-talks when I think they’ll be useful (and I have the bandwidth, and etc etc). I’m not remotely suggesting not to get mad about something that is horrible, as anger is of course merited a human emotion etc etc. But after anger… then what?

If the point is the understanding, and the respect and equality that comes of that understanding, that means learning. And while there are some great resources out there on feminism, equality, behavior, etc, I assume we all know that there’s a difference between reading a book on how to do something and doing it. While it’s not necessarily on us (women) to teach men what’s going on, people are going to have to learn somewhere. If it’s up to men to learn, and we’re (feminine types) not the ones teaching, it’s probably going to be other men. Which is awesome, but I want to be open to questions and check-ins – “are we doing this right?” because we know the vacuum chamber hasn’t exactly worked out well so far. And this sort of exchange means there will be faux pas. And we need to know how to handle those in a way that encourages the growth of the other person in the process. That is what learning is, after all. It is my prerogative if I want to be a part of those conversations, but I am advocating here that it is worth it and a responsibility, not an obligation.

So how do we do this? How do we call out information in a way that it cannot be ignored which can be quickly addressed or shown that it won’t be? How do you like to have your social faux-pas pointed out? For me, I’d like people to say “HEY! Seriously?” in the moment, assuming good faith, and I’ll either drop everything for that conversation, or sidebar it for later, depending on level of urgency and transgression.

Seamus here:

“Looking back, I would have loved to have had the panel’s language called out while we were still on stage; and as a result, the opportunity to engage in a meaningful conversation and adjust was was being said in real time.  An ‘Excuse me, but could you elaborate on that last comment?  It comes across as rather sexist.’ would have instantly set me straight, as would the ability to have seen the action on the conference hashtag while we were in front of the room.

“I’m not sure exactly how we can translate into real life the instant linguistic feedback loops made possible by the open web and social media.  But I do believe it’s possible.  To me, the definition of ‘ally’ should include having the confidence within our community to call out non-inclusive language from the audience, ensure those on stage truly listen and understand, and help the person who stepped in it – like I did – right their wrong words and grow stronger from what can be a positively painful experience for everyone involved.”

Facebook Issues

Aside

The issue in the recent “Experimental evidence of massive-scale emotional contagion through social networks“is not A-B testing.

If our role as digital stewards is to bring people into a cosmopolitan view of the world, to break out of homophile (birds of a feather), we will need to do A-B testing to see what works.

The issue is that the digital should make systemic biases more explicit, not bury them further. To me, the upset about the Facebook study is about those motives and methods being obfuscated, not that those motives and methods exist.

Technology as a Means to Equality

Originally posted on Geeks Without Bounds

I had the honor recently of speaking at the Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF / Doctors Without Borders) Canada Annual General Assembly (AGA). While an international organization, each location has a very large group of people who work on decision and policy for their specific group for the year – usually in the AGA. These are three days of talks, debates, and dinners. The international group defines a focus for the discussions, but it’s up to each pod how they act around that focus. This year, it was how MSF is using (or not) technology. While most of the talks were internal, the bit of time I was there the topics ranged from telemedicine to social media in conflict zones. They asked I come speak about technology and disaster/humanitarian response.

The gist of the talk I gave (15-minute video follows) is that technology is a means to more equality in the world – a way to be inclusive. That there are many people in the world who want to use their technical skills to help groups like MSF out, but we absolutely need them at things like hackathons. That there are many people with voices and connections to the globe now, and that groups like MSF have a responsibility to listen to them directly. And that technology, when done in codesign, will be aligned with what their needs are, and is an ongoing relationship, not a one-off delivery.

Again, most all of the discussion happened behind closed doors, but I recorded my laptop and voice while I did my own presentation.

It seemed to go pretty well. We’re keeping the conversation going, and I’m excited for more points of connection. You can follow the prezi at your own pace here, and see the full #vizthink for the panel here.

Some other highlights:
The other exceptional panelists and myself advocated for F/OSS, especially in light of security, for inclusion. MSF is rightfully anxious about infiltration, ways to be transparent, and usability. Ivan and I re-emphasized open source communities, that people are committed to examining (and re-examining) code for backdoors and optimizations. That open source has been around for decades, that most technology is built upon it, and that it’s a way of performing mutual aid between countries and cultures.

Someone asked in Q+A about using things like Facebook and Twitter in the field, if use could cause problems. Problems of location or images suddenly not being as private as you thought, and kidnappings and killings resulting. Or, what if things just get hacked by governments or by insurgents? My response was that MSF, with all their weight and influence in the world, has a duty to insist upon things like Coercion-Resistant design. Insist that these companies treat their customer bases humanely.

Everything Wrong With How to Write Things Up In One Entry

I was just heading back from a week in Dar es Salaam and Iringa District when a bunch of people I <3 filled up my inbox. “Have you seen this thing? Isn’t that what you’re in Tanzania for?” Yes. Which made me sigh, because all the updates about this deployment and the community development have been blogged at the Taarifa and GWOB websites. Sometimes it’s easiest to uphold the very vacuum chamber lamented, rather than do DuckDuckGo searches. Nor did the author reach out to the existing community before complaining about… the lack of community… which is amusing as those two things cover most of what the write-up is about.

But maybe I’m tired from travel. 11 hours in a car to catch a 7 hour flight that was delayed enough that I wrote this while standing in the Istanbul airport sorting out a new route to North America. And all I can think is, “is this blog entry worth my time?” But as it gets to a deeper crux, I’ll go for it. From the article, Everything Wrong in ICT4D Academia in One Research Paper:

  1. Focusing on Westerners: The paper starts with a long detail about a Random Hacks of Kindness hackathon that was the start of the Taarifa software. Nice enough, but they spent 2 whole pages on it – almost 1/3 of the total report.
  2. Focusing on Software Developers: They spend the next 2 pages of the report going into detail around Ushahidi developers and who did or didn’t commit code to github. Okay… interesting to a point, but do we really care about the standard deviation of commits per contributor
  3. Forgetting about Community Members: Remember the title of the paper? Well exactly 1.3 pages of the report, less than 1/3 of the total, was spent talking about the actual community impact. You know, if crowd-sourced location based reporting can improve public service provision? And they didn’t even answer the question!

The three complaints in the write-up are spot on for trends in ICT4D as a whole, and indicative of some of the points that grate at my nerves as well. But these are not new points, especially in the GWOB+Taarifa overlap, nor does it start discussion around how to walk the fine line between tech imperialism and community involvement; discussions I agree are lacking in the field. It’s the same opening cry against tech solutionism. Which Nate and I did a whole site and presentation about recently. However, the going-for-the-face-without-looking-at-what-you’re-going-for manifest in the writeup is even more grating. The comments later show that it’s a sensationalist take on… the sensationalism of the paper’s title. And unless we’re getting into ICT4PoMo (please dear god no) I don’t see how it’s a useful rhetoric. This is a paper taken out of its highly-specific academic context and then critiqued for not being broad enough. It’s extremely short and very targeted. Of course it’s going to focus on the tech, because of the forum for which it was written. But none of that context comes forth in this critique. And if we’re going to get into the analysis-of-the-thing-as-the-thing, then the writeup is spot on, as it missed community involvement in the critique, and completely lacks context. But I digress.

The world is huge, and wonderful, and more complicated than I could ever hope to understand. Projects and people and contexts change. That’s what gives me hope in the world – that all the things that bring me tiny rage (from gender ratios to spirals of conflict to vast wealth differences) can, and will change, over time, so long as we pitch in. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: you are not at fault for where the world is right now. You are, however, responsible for making it suck less.

That the world is so complex and nuanced also means one of my favorite things is meeting people who work on making the world suck less in a way or on a topic that I have no hope of fully understanding. Because how could I possibly understand every angle on the myriad challenges we face? By all of us approaching from different angles, but together, we have better chances of making those improvements. When I have qualms with how someone has approached a topic, I speak up to them about it. I try to understand where things are misunderstood (remember this exchange with Patrick?). So, thanks to the author for doing that. Yes to speaking up, but in order to instigate healthy debate, for the betterment of the whole community. Because people and projects and the world change. The github repos of social good hackathons are paved with good intentions, but healthy debate within the community is based on good faith.

So, as in back in the old day of blogger rings and LiveJournal, what shall we talk about – with an assumption of moving into action – next? The community involvement in Dar es Salaam? How the Iringa District Community Owned Water Source Organizations are really excited about these “innovations,” and how they’re taking lead on it? The work that GWOB does around gender equality in the tech and response space? Or should we discuss how to ensure niche academic papers have easy links to other components of the continuation of those projects? Any extra support and enthusiasm thrown at online annotation platforms is a boon to not only situations like these, but also to the museum and open access communities. Hooray for building knowledge together!