Accountability in Response

I’ve started writing about response over on the Aspiration blog, but this one still has cursewords in it, and is very much in my own language, so I figured I’d post it here first.

The problems our planet is facing are becoming more extreme. People and politics mean there are larger populations more densely packed in cities. Nomadic populations traveling along their historical routes are now often crossing over arbitrary (have you *seen* some of the country lines people in Western countries have drawn in places they might never have even been!?) political boundaries, making them refugees or illegal immigrants. Climate change means more and more extreme events are impacting those populations. We have *got* to get our shit together.

In all this, the people who have been historically marginalized often become even more so as those in power see scarcity encroaching on their livelihoods. But the ability to hold people accountable in new ways (through things like social media), as well as (I hope) a real awareness and effort in the long arc towards equality, means there are groups of people seeking new ways to better allocate resources to those most affected by these events. Often, these groups are also in a post-scarcity mentality — that, when we work together, wisely, we can do a whole lot more with a whole lot less. These are folk who think we *can* reach zero poverty and zero emissions (within a generation). These are the folk who see joy in the world, and possibility.

The resource allocation and accountability necessary for these transitory steps towards a world that can survive and even thrive won’t happen in a vacuum. In the organizations, governments, and grassroots efforts there are entire supply chains, and ways of listening (and to whom), and self-reflexive mechanisms to consider. In these are embedded corruption, and paternalism, and colonialism. In these, too, are embedded individuals who have been Fighting The Good Fight for decades. Who have added useful checks and amplifiers and questions. It’s into this environment we step. It is, at its core, like any other environment. It has History.

It’s in this context that I’m so excited about Dialling Up Resilience. It taps into questions of efficacy in programming by using and contributing to metrics for success in building resilience. It assumes good faith in policy makers and implementers by offering up data for them to do their jobs better. It protects against bad actors by providing granular, speedy data aggregated enough to protect data providers but transparent enough to be clear when a program is working (or not, if those we’re assuming good faith in don’t actually deserve that). And, my favorite part — instead of contorting and posturing about what makes people able to bounce back faster after a climate-related shock… we just ask them. Of course, it’s a bit more complicated than that. But the core is there.

We’ll be working with a few different groups in Kenya, including the National Drought Management Authority (and their Ending Drought Emergencies program) and UNDP on their existing surveying initiatives, as well as groups like GeoPoll (SMS), Twaweza (call center), and Kobo (household) on stand-alone surveys about how communities estabilish and track their own resilience. If we get the grant extension, we’ll work more directly with communities using tools like Promise Tracker and Landscape (a digitized version of Dividers & Connectors) to be closer to their own data, and to subsequently be able to have more agency over their own improvement as well as accountability.

What’s also exciting is that our means and our ends match. I was recently in Nairobi for a stakeholder workshop with not only the project partners, but also with the organizations which would eventually make use of the data. We’ve been conducting community workshops to test our basic assumptions and methods against reality, as well as to be sure community voice is at the core of each component we consider. We’ve thrown a lot out… and added some amazing new things in. We’re hoping to break down the gatekeeper dynamic of accessing communities in the Horn of Africa, and we want to be coextensive with existing programs (rather than supplanting them). It’s feminist and it’s development and I’m kind of fucking thrilled.

Another Whirlwind Tour

The Bank booked my tickets for me (yay no financial overhead!.. but–) with an 11-hour layover at LHR. So I popped on the Heathrow Express to Paddington. I’m sitting in a Starbucks, of all places. They’re playing Morrisey. It’s pretty awful, but it’s also a holiday and everything else around here was closed. I was meant to have been back in Boston for the past week, after a long stint of travel, but things got extended by a continent, so here I am.


I gave a keynote at Cascadia.JS, and the event and its people were absolutely wonderful. Even played some pinball with Case (oh, PS, we’re throwing a CyborgCamp at MIT in October and you should come). I was soooo stressed when I gave this talk. Not from the talk itself – this community is lovely! I even wrote about it on the Civic blog – but because of the things surrounding this entry. When I watched the video later, it’s actually pretty alright. They gave me a full 30 minutes, and I wish I had padded it with more information. C’est la vie. Huge huge hugs to Ben and Tracy and the rest of the crew. You made a rough time easier through your care.

The drawings I did for other people’s talks are all here.


This was my first Wikimania, and it was stunning. So so much fun. Many things to think about, frustrations in new light, conversations over cider, and even more stick figures. And! Some lovely person taught me how to upload my drawings to the commons, and so now I’ll be hosting from there instead of from Flickr. Got to spend too-short time with Laurie (who I’ll see more of in Boston! Yay!), AND found out about Yaneer’s work on networked individuals and complex systems which rings closer to true in my intuition than most anything else I’ve run across recently.

Getting to know a neighborhood in London that I actually like, with art in the alleys and a bike repair and tailoring shop with a pub and wifi while you wait that is totally hipster gentrification and I so don’t care. And a strange moment in a Bombay-style restaurant of a half-recognized face, that ends up being the brother of the heart-based Seattle ex-Partner. We hug fiercely (as is the way of his family, and mine), until his manager gets angry. We laugh and promise to catch up.

Thence to Future Perfect, through the too-early fog of morning, and a panic attack, and dear Sam handling the accompanying compulsive need to stick to The Plan, even if it did not make the most sense, with the sort of calm curiosity and fondness which is exactly what is needed in those moments, and jogging through far away airports to finally arrive at our not-even-yet-boarding gate.

Future Perfect

A short flight (slept through) and a longer ferry ride (also slept through) through the archipeligos of Sweden, and Sam and I are on the island of Grinda for Future Perfect. We’re here at the behest of one Dougald Hine, long-time mirror-world not-quite-yet-cohort, to be Temporary Faculty at the festival, and to “difficultate.” It’s a strange thing, to be encouraged to ask the hard questions, and Ella and I are a bit adrift in the new legitimacy of our usual subversive action. “Ella, I think we’ve just been made legible.” “Shit. Quick, act polite!” But there’s an awfully strong thread of Libertarianism and Profiteering From The Future, so it’s not a difficult thing to ask stir-up questions. I sit on a panel called When Women Run the World, and mock the title, and question the assumption of binary sex, and point out matrixes of power. I draw as people talk, and post the print-outs to a large board for all to see, a strange combination of digital and analogue. Another panel I’m pulled onto I advocate for inclusion and codesign on the basis of values – not everyone bites. So then, pulling from Yaneer’s work, I point out that hierarchies fail at the capacity of any individual, whereas examined networks can scale in complexity. They nod. I grit teeth.

We also meet Bembo and Troja Scenkonst and Billy Bottle and Anna and the Prince of the Festival Lucas, and see old friends Ben and Christopher and Smari. We walk through the cow and sheep pasture as a shortcut from breakfast to festival, avoiding dirty boots and communicating via body language to over protective rams. I jump into the half-salt water of the archipelagos after a long sauna stint, and we drink sweet Swedish cider, and we sing Flanders and Swann across our joined repertoires. Ed gives me access to his audio book library, and I’m high on dopamine and scifi for hours to come. Our tiny temporary faculty crew sleeps in adjacent cabins, keeping the floors swept and porches clean.

And another early flight, stomach dropping as the pre-booked taxi service couldn’t find us and didn’t speak English (and Sam doesn’t hold Swedish in his repository of languages), no Ubers showing up on the app as they had the previous night, and finally finding a taxi app that would generate our location and sent a lovely driver for us. Getting to the airport, again, in time, with an uncertainty of how to part ways from this other human-shaped being who moves at high velocities, having been caught up in each other’s orbits for a short period of time, still texting threads and punctuation past gates.


And then I went back to Dar. And I realize in writing this how worn down my travel-muscle is, exhausted to the core. Less able to appreciate the beauty of a second wrecked ship on a calm sandy beach, unable to see the trying and hurt at the core of some of the people we hear speak. I am frustrated that the workshop I have been flown here to participate in has people reading verbatim from slides, that at the core of this workshop are not the people who are the most marginalized. I am brief, and I am blunt, and I do not show the same care that I expect to be shown to everyone. I become even more blunt with those who are unkind to others, a sort of brute force function into civility, and I and others know it will not work.

But some of the workshop has us figuring out hairy problems like reducing the 16-digit identifier for water points to locally useful and uniquely identifiable phrases for the database lookup table. I listen while the People Who Decide These Things think their servers won’t have the troubles other servers have. And some sections have people talking about appropriate technology and inclusion. It is productive, though differently than I’m used to.

I exchange a quiet conversation in the front of a taxi that waited for us at a restaurant, a practice which I hate, on the long journey home. The driver having not said more than a word or two at a time at first, now sharing anger about high taxes and now visible payout. The roads are paid for by other countries, the buildings, the power grid… where are his tax dollars going? We talk about schools, and his sister, and about how he has no way to speak.

We work with the Dar Taarifa team, who are unfolding and learning to push back, hours into github and strange google searches and odd places to encourage and odder places to encourage disagreement. We pause for translations, and I try to bow out so they’ll operate at full speed in Swahili, rather than moving slower so that I might understand.

Oh, also:

One of my drawings ended up all over the place:

Morgan’s research is pretty boss, and Barton did a great job writing.

It looks like I’m going to be in Kenya in parts of October and November playing games around climate change.
This post is apparently in the memory of LJ.

Happy Birthday Debcha!

I’m about to get on a plane to the West Coast. Three incredible guitar players practice so adeptly nearby that the desk folk have turned the overhead music off – think Triplets of Belleville soundtrack. This morning I kicked off SpaceApps Boston, and then I got to sit for awhile to listen to a great lineup of my friend Deb‘s friends give talks for her birthday. My talk was to draw everyone else’s talk, and then show them at the end. I’d usually post this over on bl00viz, but it’s more personal, and I do try to not cross the streams too much.

Deb was/is a core part of why I now feel so at home in the Boston area. She reminded me that part of having a history with people was building that history with them, inviting me out to dinner parties, talking on Twitter, checking in on text. And always amazing music, Zoe Sighting, Emergency Leroy. Thanks for being persistent proof that people can be amazing, intelligent, kind, calm, and stimulating. Happy Birthday.

The Architects of Houses

My most recent hex tattoo says “throw away the scabbard”. The full meaning is that when the time comes to fight, you draw your sword and throw the scabbard away. Because you either face a foe you are unlikely to beat, or that you will not be forgiven, or that there is no going back. It’s also a quote attributed to Stonewall Jackson. Who was a right git. But the quote is thus both a reminder that I get to make a choice, once, to draw my sword; as well as that those I rally against have conviction to rival my own (as well as some things to say that I do believe in).

It’s a manifestation and reminder of the ongoing battle within myself between the desire to fix what we’ve got, and the desire to build something alternative and independent while tearing down the current structures. I mean this for education, for economies, for law, and for societies. It’s a constant balance, and one I’m lucky to be surrounded by individuals and groups in both extremes as well as others also balancing. What I hope for are more people I can share nuanced views with – there are a few, but it’s been an alienating experience to examine possibility between these two worlds. I hope this post can help open up that conversation. And I truly feel that, with enough understanding and allies, it will be possible to both do damage control with the current system by creating where we want to be – either with existing or with new.

Here’s the main strain between the two sides for me :

The master’s tools will never dismantle
the master’s house. – Audre Lorde

At the same time, those who are harmed most in
tumultuous times are those already most at risk.

Scaling is hard, and we have a responsibility to the people who already exist on the planet in whatever actions we take to make a better world. Is the suffering caused by the current set-up greater or lesser than the process of shifting to a less damaging system?

One of the reasons I sit in this balance is because of my work with Geeks Without Bounds on humanitarian and disaster response work. I see how amazing groups of people can be if you just get out of their way. Social media in response is not about a curated format for intake for FEMA or OEM or even Red Cross. It’s about a group of people (in this case, in an affected area) that already know how to talk to each other, and who know what they need, finding a new audience of people who want to help them. It’s about mutual aid. But FEMA and OEM and Red Cross have a place in this system, as experts and as providers of specific and prolific resources. And that sort of interaction needs people like me, at least right now, who can talk to both sides about how to get what they need and how to avoid being trampled on.

That bridging requires a lot of talking and trust building. Neither of these sides is especially fond of the other – the formal out of confusion and fear, and the informal from righteous indignation and historical awareness (caveat caveat caveat on both parts – most individuals I’ve met do not fit these descriptions, but as collectively held viewpoints, it holds depressingly true). On rare occasion, such as in response, both sides end up being both hard-pressed but hopeful, forgetting to be wary.

Running with these rare moments has changed things. But it requires being open to possibility, trusting in good will, and standing strong with your source and vision. It requires seeing what people want to offer, and what is non-negotiable. And it does require the understanding that at any point, this balance might change. While I might trust some of the people within it, I do not trust The System, while it sure can be useful.

So when a chance to possibly tweak a part of our executive branch came up recently, but in a way that is daunting and consuming, it caused a lot of internal angst. Here’s a 5-minute explanation, to be watched before the rest of the post is read:

Yes, their goal is that of recruitment. But this is where shared vision can come into play – the world where any of the folk I love and trust would be willing to recruit to this group is also a world in which external oversight is fully supported and embraced. Hopefully, it’s a world in which such a group wouldn’t even be needed. And I’m willing to work towards that world with many people. Our inputs and outputs may be different, but it all starts to look the same the further towards our core it goes.

But! Even if the gents we are entertaining the thought of talking to might have the best of intentions at heart, and a vested interested in making it work out well for all parties involved, it might not be safe to do so. Even if they work to protect a spark of understanding and collaboration, to fan it towards making their organization one worth working for, anyone else from within that organization might ensure information from interaction snaps into the proscribed uses – that of targeting and undermining dissidents. The whole path and system of interaction is not safe, the architecture is lacking for intentional systems shift. Which means the tiny, squishy people not protected by that system will be severely damaged, and in a way that continues allowing the current track of harm. No martyrdom here will work.

That is why so many things have been allowed to get so messed up. There’s no self-referential nor -checking mechanism for our systems. There’s no pause [wait, are we sure this is where we want to be?] function. And that is simply ridiculous. Ridiculous because it is simple, and it makes everything better and easier, regardless of where you’re wanting to go.

So what’s to be done? I can do small things, and so can you. Make sure the organizations you associate with, the social interactions you are a part of, and even your self have self-checking mechanisms. Meditate. Do not-project-focused gatherings where folk say, without fear of firing or abandonment, how they think things are going overall. Where you don’t have direct influence to make such things happen, find allies and work towards it together. And if you have the chance to talk to someone from the Other Side, be sure they can actually follow through on what they’re going for. Help them understand why it’s vital, and help get there, if you can.

So much love to all the folk who listened to me parse through this incessantly for the better part of a few weeks. Their hearts and minds are folded into this world view, and I could not be the person I am without them. You know who you are.

We’re not even sure you need that

In talking to someone I would rather see as both infallible and immortal about going under the knife, I lightened the situation by telling them they could be altered within several deviations of themselves and still be tolerable. Bantering with SJ around what are organs even for, if you don’t need entire parts of them, lead us somehow to my drawing this image.


Thank goodness for humor.


Advancing Visual Thinking / Graphic Facilitation

I’ve recently launched bl00viz, a way for people to hire me for my graphic facilitation and visual thinking skills. This is the third in a 3-part series. The first part covered various sorts of vizthink, and the second covered the tools used.

So, I do these live drawings while people are speaking in order to demonstrate their ideas. I started doing visual thinking in earnest when someone turned left in front of me, causing a shattered radius. Since, it’s become my primary method of note taking, and a wonderful way to augment written notes.


Now that I can record the process of drawing, it’s even more fun to show ideas develop through the process itself, rather than just the completed ideas overlaying each other. So far, I’ve figured out how to tell a story on top of a drawing, like for Galway’s Ignite:

And taken an already-done talk, drawn it, and synced back to the audio:

This takes more energy, but I’m really pleased about the storytelling style.


The next bit that I’m super interested in exploring is that of how to collaborate together in drawing. I’m looking forward to the next unconference I get to go to where others are willing to play with me in this space. Whether in physical space on pieces of butcher paper, or in the collaborative editing capabilities of Prezi, I can’t wait to further explore this space. SO EXCITED.

Cohort and fellow Berkmanite Primavera showed me the Kopfschlag project, a persistent, collaborative, online drawing tool. You can play at the link, but here’s a time-lapse:

Kopfschlag from kopfschlag on Vimeo.

In the same way people have taken quickly to collaborative document editing, I see those of us who are visual thinkers sharing drawing space to express ideas in new ways.

Visual Thinking / Graphic Facilitation Tools

I’ve recently launched bl00viz, a way for people to hire me for my graphic facilitation and visual thinking skills. This is the second in a 3-part series. Part one can be found here.

So, I do these live drawings while people are speaking in order to demonstrate their ideas. I started doing visual thinking in earnest when someone turned left in front of me, causing a shattered radius. Since, it’s become my primary method of note taking, and a wonderful way to augment written notes.


Many people who do graphic facilitation use huge sheets of paper. I have a great deal of admiration for them, because I’m not that good yet! In order to layer, adapt, and correct spelling mistakes, I prefer the digital format. I also like how portable, streamable, and sharable the digital format is. After playing with a Surface and an Android tablet, I still use an iPad – the least laggy for the tools I use. Always be sure it’s charged up and backed up, yada yada.


I used to use my finger, but I find a stylus helps both in natural movement, detail, and not having dirty screen. There are tons of styluses you can get from Radio Shack, or the Apple store, or whatever, but I use an electrostatic sock over a chopstick from this dude on Etsy.

Adobe Ideas

I use Adobe Ideas is what I draw in. It provides many useful components while not being so overwhelming as to be ungainly, nor difficult for new users. Graphics are vector, though the canvas isn’t quite infinite. It exports as PDF, which can be surprisingly versatile once you get ahold of them. And, it imports nicely into Prezi.


Prezi is what a lot of this work goes into. It lets me guide the way people move through notes – nested ideas, Easter eggs, and all. That is probably a tutorial in and of itself, but here is something about how my brain works around it.

The play between an semi-infinite canvas, vector graphics, and visual layout really shines in Prezi. You can show a non-linear story while also providing a way for people see the whole system at once. It’s also great for embedding far more content than you cover in a talk, and letting people go in later to explore for themselves.

AirServer + ScreenFlow

I find it’s super fun to record the process of drawing itself. I do this by having both my laptop and iPad on the same network, and then loading up AirServer. This allows what I’m doing on my iPad to be mirrored on my laptop. Which means I can use ScreenFlow to record that mirroring (plus any audio). When played back at a faster rate, you can see an hour-long talk be drawn in 5 minutes.

This also means it’s possible to stream to screens in hallways and behind speakers at conferences.

Check back Friday for the third part in this series, about advanced techniques and collaboration!

Visual Thinking / Graphic Facilitation Types

I’ve recently launched bl00viz, a way for people to hire me for my graphic facilitation and visual thinking skills. This is the first in a 3-part series about those skills, and how I work.

So, I do these live drawings while people are speaking in order to demonstrate their ideas. Orginally mentored by James Carlson, I started doing visual thinking in earnest when someone turned left in front of me, causing a shattered radius. Since, it’s become my primary method of note taking, and a wonderful way to augment written notes.


At its most basic, visual thinking is a way to show workflow and charts. Rather than explaining in lengthy and complicating words, a drawing can often demonstrate relationships and interactions between components.

Charts can be serious and examining:

Or they can be silly and humorous:

Individual Ideas

Often, when people are speaking or beginning to flesh out an idea, it makes sense to draw the individual components or speaking points as just that – individual parts. Using Adobe Ideas on my iPad, I do one layer per point. Often, these just end up as a collection of strangely-shaped references to ideas, which can then be arranged (remember, different layers!) to look nice nested within each other. This is, I suppose, a form of graphic design.

If there are enough components, or enough detail, it’s worth embedding into a prezi and defining a path for the viewer. More on that later.

De-conflating Ideas

It also helps to de-complicate what is a part of a workflow, what isn’t, and where confusion is coming in. This is the part of the conversation or explanation where we start gesticulating or arranging things on the table to demonstrate a point.
For instance, I was frustrated that a bunch of digital disaster response groups wanted to list all the other projects that were going on for a certain topic (in this case, Hurricane Sandy). This is bulky because then there are many places to update if a project changes, completes, or dies. After spending 40+ lines of text in chat trying to explain what I meant, drawing this picture helped much more.

One reason the internet is amazing is because of the ability to point sections of a webpage at other webpages (RSS FTW). Not doing that was over complicating matters, but trying to differentiate via text rather than in a drawing just wasn’t working.

Building a Story

Now that you’re able to deconflate ideas as well as delineate them, it makes sense to move on to how components of a story interact with each other. Rather than moving from node to node, this method takes layers in Adobe Ideas and stacks them on top of one another. In this way, you can start to see how ideas flow into each other, and how they interact.

System Interaction

Life isn’t linear, and at times it is difficult to express all the moving parts while not losing the trees for the forest. While all models are incomplete (but they can still be useful), having a drawing can acknowledge the boundaries of a systems model while not dwelling on those limitations.

Similar to storytelling and individual nodes, we still see the individual components. However, in a System Interaction drawing, we see how those components play off of each other, and see where leverage points might be.

Return Wednesday to see what tools I use for all this!

College To Careers

I had the joy of visiting my hometown of Logansport, Indiana recently. In fact, I’m still sitting at the kitchen table, under skylights. Might have just finished dancing like a muppet with my father to adamant piano music. I came primarily to see my parents, but also to see how my aunt is settling into Grandma’s old house, and how the forrest of magical privilege1 is growing. My mother also asked me to speak to the Rotary club. Which is amazing. As you may know, I see service, especially to one’s less-well-off origins, as an important component of maintaining the social fabric.

Which of course meant I couldn’t just talk to Rotary. I also reached out to the high school principal. Could I come and speak to some classes? Some perusal of the high school schedule later, I had some classes picked out. I’d present to the Advanced Placement Speech Class and all of the 8th graders at one of the two middle schools.

First, I landed from Ireland via Chicago2, hugged my parents, took my melatonin, and passed out. I woke in the morning, nervous but excited to head to the high school. I remembered the route from my house, driving my mother’s car like ye olde days.

I sometimes have these dreams where I’m back in high school, and I’m running late. Never naked, I suppose because I don’t care, but often late. Well. That actually happened. I arrived into the parking lot, a full 20 minutes before the class started, to an email that said “Hope you’re ok, sad to miss you in class.” Dear timezones. Dear, dear timezones. Drat.

Rotary was another matter. We ate, I caught up with friends’ parents, I talked about technology and collaboration and disaster response. The response was “we’re still not quite sure what you do, but we’re impressed!” Sigh. I must get better at this! I rewrote the presentation, laid it out differently, and prepared myself for the next day, with 6 rounds of 8th graders in a class called College to Careers.

Then, I took questions. Any question. One class was stuck on “hacking,” one on “celebrities,” but nearly all the questions were good ones. Once it became clear that I mean “any question,” more interesting ones started coming. “Why is your hair blue?” – because it’s supposed to be. “Why do you wear a tie?” – because it looks good. “What’s the worst place you’ve ever been?” – looking for invisible populations in Far Rockaway that we knew would freeze to death because they were scared to be seen. “What’s your favorite color?” – grey. “50 Shades of Grey?” – terrible fanfic of a terrible book. “Twilight?” – yup. *Gasp*

Each class had its own flavor. A blind kid was incredibly adept at translating into “kid speak.” Another, pink hair and poised nature, wanted to know where I went shopping. Two kids and I riffed about motorcycles, and how they were terrifically dangerous and here’s my scar but of course I still have one, but wait until you know how to sit still before you think about getting one yourself. And the instructor was incredibly gracious about me essentially telling kids who had signed up to a class for clear purpose and direction that I was still winging it (and loving it).

It was a great opportunity, and I’m glad to have a better understanding of what I do. Maybe other people will now, too. At least 120 kids out there are thinking that “hack” might not be a bad word.

1. My parents have taken to buying lots on their block that tend to be held by negligent landlords, tearing down the house, and planting trees. While this is a rather strange form of gentrification, as you can still easily get a house in any area of my hometown for under $30,000, I don’t feel so bad about it.
2. The first flight Diggz and I have ever been on together in 3 years of traveling!