Facilitating a distributed conference

I was pretty sure it was going to be a disaster the day before. Hell, the week before. Having multiple tracks of participatory sessions meant that people would need to move from video conference link to video conference link. We didn’t have a shared chat space consistent across all the “rooms,” and I was anxious to go to other links myself to gather people, leaving the core room unattended.

It could have been terrible. Instead, RecoveryCon was a smashing success, with people joining from all over the US, plus the UK, Germany, and Turkey. We ran (mostly) on time. We shared back what had happened in sessions. We cried a bit together. And we ended 3 minutes early.

Another blog post will happen soon with a summary of sessions, links to notes, and our Joy Gallery; but for now I wanted to tell you about facilitating a multi-track open-spaces style event. A caveat that a high proportion of my friends are facilitators and/or are tech savvy. YMMV.

The logistics

We had as many video conference “rooms” as we had tracks. This will come into play with the agenda. One “room” should be both a track and also where you start / regroup to. This means anyone coming to the conference at weird times is swept up in a session without extra overhead. It also gives a consistent sense of a “common room” that people know to go to if they get lost or booted or whatever.

Start a notes doc for each track, including headers for each session and reminders of when to come back to the main room. That way, folk don’t need to ask about it. It will be a bit of a Thing when times change and you have to go update each doc, but oftentimes folk will have already updated it for you. You will be able to see this in the notes doc when the content overview post goes up.

If I were going to do this again, I would have a chat of some kind with the session leads and facilitators to coordinate and remind about coming back. This time it worked out great, tho!

The agenda

This was bananas to me. I am in the school of facilitation that does not share the agenda for an event, but rather encourages people to be fully present by asking them to trust me and giving folk whatever comes next as it happens. This time, I shared a spreadsheet of when various things were going to happen. This spreadsheet also provided a source of truth so far as links to video conference rooms and notes docs so folk could self-sort.

All sessions ended up being the same length of time, which was different than originally planned. I tried to add in complexity where it wasn’t needed, and we organically got back to a simpler state.

Expectation setting

In addition to a version of the participant guidelines from Aspiration I give (and was reminded to do so this time — thank you), we also had the expectation of all watching the clock together, and of returning to the main room. I asked at least once on each front for those to be repeated back to me, and made the main room clear in the communications emails sent out to attendees.

We also set the expectation of collaborative note taking as active listening and of reporting back on sessions so folk who went elsewhere still felt like they got something out of the sessions they missed.

Thank you

Thank you to all the amazing folk who came to RecoveryCon and made it what it was. Special shout out to Greg, for helping with organizing; to Liz, for having boundaries; to Adrienne and Heather for facilitating tracks; and to Cheryl, Beatriz, Nathan, sevine, Julie, Courtney, Lou, Ahmet, B, and two other folk I missed for leading sessions.

Recovery Con

I think all of us are worn down at this point.

Inspired somehow this morning by this tweet from Quinn, and this article from Laurie, I realized I wanted to start thinking about how we can make the world better as we move from pandemic and quarantine into whatever comes next.

We’ll have talks.

We’ll have a joy gallery.

We can even have karaoke, even tho it’ll go poorly over video chat.

We’ll have spaces to talk to each other about how hard this is, yes of course, but also what we can dream of coming after.

A lot of it is yet to be figured out. You can help me in doing so by signing up here. It also includes indicating you’re interested in helping to organize, facilitate, give a talk, etc. Charging $5 to be sure people are actually committed, all proceeds will go to groups in need as selected by attendees. Obviously and as always, ping me to have the fee waived.

May 23rd (because let’s be honest, we’re going to be in this for awhile) 9a-1p PT / 12p-4p ET / 5p-9p BT / 7p-11p EAT.

Natural Disasters and Environmental Justice

This post was collaboratively written by Liz Barry, Greg Bloom, Willow Brugh, and Tamara Shapiro. It was translated by Mariel García (thank you).

Every year, communities are affected by “extreme environmental events.” These might include hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, or floods. There are, of course, official response agencies with mandates to rescue, feed, heal, and rebuild; however, the true first responders are always people who live in the affected regions — neighbors and community leaders.

The matter of who responds — and who is supported by formal institutional response — is complicated by patterns in which historically marginalized people are often ignored or unseen by outside actors.

These patterns have been further complicated in the aftermath of recent disasters during which spontaneously-forming networks have “shown up” to assist in ways that are more rapid and distributed than is typical of the formal disaster response sector — yet without any of the accountability that formal institutions (supposedly) uphold.

During these experiences, we’ve seen clearly both the promise and the peril of modern digitally-enabled and network-led crisis response and recovery. After 2017’s alarming hurricane season, a network of people formed with interest in improving the capacity for disaster response to more effectively support local priorities and leadership in times of crisis. We are now calling for the convening of people who have worked together through crises such as Sandy, Harvey, Irma, Maria, and the like. At this “Crisis Convening,” we will share experiences and skills, explore ways to promote equity and justice through modern crisis response, and build resources for the type of assistance that we offer.

Here is our key question: in times of climate crisis, how can outsiders — formal ‘disaster response institutions,’ grassroots community organizers from other locations, emergent networks of volunteers on the ground, and ‘digital responders’ — most effectively engage and support community-based responders to achieve a more accountable, humane, and adaptive response?

At this ‘Crisis Convening’ event, we will converse and take small, actionable steps towards addressing some of the following questions, and many more we haven’t considered:

  • How can formal institutional responses best support those who are most impacted by a crisis?
  • How can spontaneously forming networks provide assistance in a way that centers the needs, interests, and leadership of people who are experiencing the crisis?
  • How can we ensure that data about a community stays in that community’s control?
  • In what ways are environmental justice and disaster response related?
  • How can outside intervention support recovery as well as response?

We hope you’ll join in this conversation with us here, or (better yet!) at the event. If you are interested in participating in the convening, please fill out this form to let us know – and we’ll be in touch.

About the Event

We’re excited to announce that we’ve been invited by Public Lab to host this convening during their upcoming network gathering on July 13-15, in Newark, NJ.

Public Lab is an open community which collaboratively develops accessible, open source, Do-It-Yourself actions for investigating local environmental health and justice issues. Twice a year, they convene in an event called a “Barnraising” in the spirit of coming together to achieve something larger than can be achieved alone. At a Barnraising, people share advocacy strategies through telling stories from their lived experience, build and modify tools for collecting data, deeply explore local concerns presented by partner organizations and community members, and connect with others working on similar environmental issues across regions.

During this convening, we will gather between 30-60 people from areas that have been hit by climate crisis in the past 15 years to discuss real-world scenarios and discuss actionable steps to help ourselves and others practice more effective community-centric crisis response.

Here’s how we hope to do that:

Dedication to local voices and representation

The impacts of crisis often fall heaviest on those who are already struggling. We hope to include those most impacted, though we also understand such folk might have a diminished capacity to engage. To address this, we are inviting an intentionally broad set of people, actively supporting child care at the event, and offering scholarships to those who express interest and need.

We will need all kinds of help to make this happen. Will you sponsor a participant who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford to participate? Click here to contribute to travel and accommodation costs.

An advance day for Crisis Convening

On Friday, July 13th we will gather to focus on the matter of crisis response. Attendees are encouraged to have a quick conversation with the facilitator in advance to shape the agenda. We might share skills, contribute to a resource repository for communities entering a time of crisis, or further explore how inequality plays out (and can be counteracted) in response.

Public Lab Barnraising

Building on the energy coming out of the Crisis Convening, we can continue our conversation in the same location Saturday and Sunday as more people join for Public Lab’s Barnraising. On the first morning of the barnraising, all participants, including those from Crisis Convening, will collaborate to create the schedule via an “Open Space” approach. This process will ensure that the agenda speaks directly to the interests of the people present. Crisis Convening delegates will be welcomed to add their topics to the schedule. The Code of Conduct applies here as in all other Public Lab spaces.

Please Let us Know What You Think

  • In comments
  • Reach out to discuss directly
  • Join us at the event.  If you are interested, please fill out this form to let us know.  We will follow up with an official registration form shortly
  • Sponsor a participant who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford to participate. Click here to contribute to travel and accommodation costs

Together, we hope to discover small, actionable projects together which will equip community-first response, whether through organizing, technology, institutions, or things we have yet to discover. We hope you will join us.

 

Este post fue escrito en colaboración por Liz Barry, Greg Bloom, Willow Brugh y Tamara Shapiro. Fue traducido por Mariel García.

Cada año, hay comunidades que son afectadas por “eventos ambientales extremos”. Éstos pueden incluir huracanes, terremotos, tornados o inundaciones. Por supuesto, hay agencias de respuesta oficial con mandatos para rescatar, alimentar, reconstruir, etcétera; sin embargo, los verdaderos primeros intervinientes siempre son personas que viven en las áreas afectadas: vecinos, líderes comunitarios, etcétera.

La cuestión de quién responde, y quién recibe apoyo por parte de la respuesta institucional formal, es complicada por los patrones en los que poblaciones históricamente marginadas tienden a ser ignoradas o no vistas por actores externos.

Estos patrones se han complicado aun más en las secuelas de desastres recientes a lo largo de las cuales redes de formación espontánea han “llegado” a asistir de maneras que son más rápidas y distribuidas de lo típico en el sector de respuesta formal a desastres, aunque sin la rendición de cuentas a la que las instituciones formales (supuestamente) están sujetas.

A lo largo de estas experiencias, hemos visto con claridad la promesa y el peligro de la respuesta a y recuperación de crisis modernas, habilitadas por tecnologías digitales y redes. Después de la alarmante temporada de huracanes en 2017, se formó una red de personas con interés de mejorar la capacidad de respuesta en desastres para apoyar liderazgo y prioridades locales de manera más efectiva en tiempos de crisis. Ahora estamos llamando a personas que hayan trabajado juntas en crisis como Sandy, Harvey, Irma, María, y otras similares. En esta “Reunión de crisis” compartiremos experiencias y habilidades, exploraremos maneras de promover equidad y justicia a través de la respuesta moderna, y construremos recursos para el tipo de asistencia que ofrecemos.

Aquí está nuestra pregunta clave: En tiempos de crisis climática, ¿cómo pueden los extranjeros (las instituciones formales de respuesta a desastres, líderes de desarrollo comunitarios de otros contextos, las redes emergentes de voluntarios y las personas que hacen respuesta digital) involucrarse y apoyar a los respondientes locales de la manera más efectiva para promover la respuesta más humana, adaptativa y responsable?  

En esta “Reunión de crisis”, conversaremos y tomaremos pasos pequeños y accionables para abordar algunas de las siguientes preguntas, y otras más que aún no hemos considerado:

  • ¿Cómo pueden las instituciones de respuesta formales apoyar de la mejor manera a aquéllos que son impactados por una crisis?
  • ¿Cómo pueden las redes de formación espontánea proveer asistencia de una manera que se centre en las necesidades, intereses y liderazgo de quienes están experimentando la crisis?
  • ¿Cómo podemos asegurarnos de que los datos de una comunidad queden bajo el control de esa comunidad?
  • ¿De qué maneras están relacionadas la justicia ambiental y la respuesta a desastres?
  • ¿Cómo puede la intervención externa apoyar tanto la recuperación como la respuesta?

Esperamos que te unas a esta conversación con nosotros aquí, o (mejor aun) en el evento. Si estás interesado/a en participar en la reunión, por favor llena esta forma para comunicarlo, y nosotros nos pondremos en contacto contigo.

Acerca del evento

Nos emociona anunciar que nos invitó Public Lab a ser anfitriones de esta reunión en la próxima reunión de su red del 13 al 15 de julio en Newark, NJ.

Public Lab es una comunidad abierta que colabora para desarrollar acciones accesibles, de código abierto en el espíritu de “Hágalo usted mismo” para investigar salud ambiental local y temas de justicia. Dos veces al año, se reúnen en un evento llamado “publiclab.org/barnraisingBarnraising” (“construcción del rebaño” en inglés) en el espíritu de juntarse a lograr algo más grande de lo que se puede lograr en soledad. En un barnraising, la gente comparte estrategias de defensa a través de contar historias de su experiencia vivida; la construcción y modificación de herramientas para recolectar datos; la exploración de preocupaciones locales presentadas por contrapartes organizacionales y miembros de la comunidad; y la conexión con otras y otros trabajando en problemas ambientales similares en distintas regiones.

Durante esta reunión, juntaremos entre 30 y 60 personas de áreas que han sido afectadas por crisis climáticas en los últimos 15 años para discutir escenarios del mundo real y pasos accionables para ayudarnos a nosotros y a otros a practicar respuesta de crisis centrada en la comunidad de manera más efectiva.

Esperamos hacerlo de la siguiente manera:

Dedicación a voces locales y representación

Los impactos de la crisis seguido caen con mayor peso sobre aquéllos que están de por sí batallando antes del evento. Esperamos incluir a los más afectados, aunque también comprendemos que estas personas podrían tener una capacidad disminuida para involucrarse. Para abordar esto, estamos invitando a un conjunto intencionalmente amplio de personas, activamente apoyando el cuidado infantil en el evento, y ofreciendo becas a quienes expresen su interés y necesidad.

Necesitaremos todos los tipos de ayuda para lograr este cometido. ¿Podrías patrocinar a un participante que de otra manera no podría costear su participación? Haz clic aquí para contribuir a los costos de viaje y estancia.

Un día de preparación para la Reunión de crisis

El viernes 13 de julio nos reuniremos para enfocarnos en el tema de respuesta de crisis. Se alienta a las y los participantes a que tengan una conversación rápida con el equipo de faclitación con antelación para influir en la agenda. Podemos compartir habilidades, contribuir a un repositorio de recursos para comunidades que entran a un tiempo de crisis, o explorar más cómo las inequidades operan (y pueden ser contrarrestadas) en la respuesta.

Barnraising” de Public Lab

Para aprovechar la energía resultante de la Reunión de crisis, podemos continuar la conversación en el mismo espacio el sábado y el domingo con las personas que lleguen al Branraising de Public Lab. En la primera mañana del barnraising, todas las personas que participen, incluyendo a las de la Reunión de crisis, colaborarán para crear la agenda a través de la técnica de “espacio abierto”. Este proceso ayudará a que la agenda apele directamente a los intereses de las personas presentes. Las y los participantes de la Reunión de crisis serán bienvenidos a añadir sus temas a la agenda. El Código de conducta aplicará en éste y todos los demás espacios de Public Lab.

Por favor dinos qué piensas

  • En los comentarios
  • Contactándonos para platicar directamente
  • Viniendo al evento. Si te interesa, por favor llena este formulario para informarnos. Te contestaremos con una forma de registro oficial.
  • Patrocina a alguien que de otra manera no podría costear su participación. Haz clic aquí para contribuir a los gastos de transporte y estancia.

 

Juntas y juntos, esperamos descubrir proyectos pequeños y accionables que equipen respuesta donde la comunidad esté adelante, ya sea a través de la organización, la tecnología, las instituciones, o mecanismos que tenemos aún por descubrir. Esperamos te unas a nosotros.

Well Met: Equity by Hackathon Awards

Originally posted on the Truss blog

Hackathons are a way for a community to rally around a cause, to learn from each other, and to push collective work forward. Here’s some research on it. Hackathons are also about publicity and headhunting. Think about the last few hackathons you read about. The piece was probably about the winners. Hackathons are, in general, further the “one great man” narrative.

But feminist hackathons now exist. We wrote a paper on the 2014 Make the Breastpump Not Suck! Hackathon which was about exactly that. But one thing we didn’t get quite right in 2014 was awards.

So for the 2018 Make the Breastpump Not Suck Hackathon, we took a different approach. We made our objectives explicit and described how we would reach towards them by devising a strategy, putting that into a process, and then implementing. This post is about that journey.

Explicit Objectives

Awards are often used to reward the most “innovative” ideas. Prizes are often given out of the marketing budgets of businesses, based on the anticipated attention gained. In contrast, when I have given prizes at open access and disaster response events, I have focused on rewarding the things one’s brain doesn’t already give dopamine for – documentation, building on pre-existing work, tying up loose ends. Our goals for the MtBPNS award process were few, and at first glance could seem at odds with one another. We want to:

  1. encourage more, and more accessible, breast pumping options, especially for historically marginalized populations;
  2. support the burgeoning ecosystem around breast pumping by supporting the continuation of promising ideas, without assuming for- or nonprofit models; and
  3. recognize and celebrate difference and a multitude of approaches.

Slowing down

There’s also an implicit “f*ck it, ship it” mentality associated with hackathons. The goal is to get a bare-bones prototype which can be presented at the end. But combatting *supremacy culture and ceding power require that we slow down. So how do we do that during a weekend-long sprint?

What’s the road from our current reality to these objectives, with this constraint?

Devising a Strategy

Encouraging more options and supporting continuation assumes support through mentorship, attention, and pathways to funding. Each of these could be given as prizes. Celebrating difference assumes not putting those prizes as a hierarchy.

Non-hierarchical prizes

First and foremost, we decided upon not having a hierarchy to our prizes. We put a cap on the maximum value of awards offered, such that the prizes are more equal. And, unlike last time, we removed cash from the equation. While cash (especially for operating expenses) is a vital part of a project moving forward, it complicates things more than we were set up to handle, especially in immediately setting up a hierarchy of amount given.

Strategic metrics

Half of our judges focused on strategic movement towards our objectives, and the other half on pairing with specific prizes. The strategic judges worked with our own Willow as judging facilitator and the MtBNS team to devise a set of priming questions and scales along which to assess a project’s likelihood of furthering our collective goals. You can see where we ended up for overall criteria here.

Awards offered, and who offered them

The other half of the judges were associated with awards. Each award had additional, specific criteria, which are listed on the prizes page here. These judges advocated their pairing with teams where mutual benefit existed.

The process we thought we would do

Day 1

  1. Post criteria to participants on day 1
  2. Judges circulate to determine which teams they’d like to cover
  3. Map the room
  4. Judges flag the 10ish teams they want to work with
  5. Teams with many judges hoping to cover them are asked their preferences
  6. Run a matching algorithm by hand such that each team is covered by 2 award judges and 1 or 2 strategy judges. Each judge has ~5 teams to judge.

Day 2

We hosted a science fair rather than a series of presentations.

  1. Everyone answered against the strategic questions
  2. Judges associated with a prize also ranked for mutual benefit
  3. Discussion about equitable distribution

Award ceremony MC’d by Catherine. Each award announced by a strategy judge, and offered by the judge associated with the award.

Where it broke

The teams immediately flooded throughout the space, some of them merged, others dissipated. We couldn’t find everyone, and there’s no way judges could, either.

There’s no way a single judge could talk to the 40ish teams in the time we had between teams being solid enough to visit and a bit before closing circle. Also, each team being interrupted by 16 judges was untenable. The judges came to our check-in session 2 hours into this time period looking harried and like they hadn’t gotten their homework done on time. We laughed about how unworkable it was and devised a new process for moving forward.

Updates to the process

Asked teams to put a red marker on their table if they don’t want to be interrupted by judges, mentors, etc.

  1. Transitioned to team selection of awards.
  2. Made a form for a member of each team to fill out with their team name, locations, and the top three awards they were seeking.
  3. Judges indicated conflicts of interest and what teams they have visited so we can be sure all teams are covered by sufficient judges.

Leave the judging process during the science fair and deliberation the same.

And — it worked! We’ll announce the winners and reflections on the process later.

Parameters of Social Interaction

What does equality look like? How do we know if we are getting there?

This is the question I asked to open my talk at SHA 2017. It is also the question carried with me as I walked into CtK.Campfire. Both aimed to look at how to mitigate the polarization of human interaction in a digital age. The talk looked at the infrastructure of human interaction, and the retreat embodied some of the best ideals towards action. I’ve written two blog posts – one about each event – but they occurred temporally and intellectually adjacent. You can find the post about CtK.Campfire here.

The talk at SHA2017 (the Dutch hacker camp) was called “Weaponized Social.” WeapSoc is a project in which Meredith and I invested heavily through 2014 and 2015. She has gone on to write for Status451 on an extension of the topic area. I’ve continued to frame bits of my work in this context but have generally not kept up. It’s some of the most intellectually stimulating and emotionally draining work I’ve ever done, and that includes disaster response in the field.

A background assumption for this talk is that the effects of violence become less and less apparent to an observer of a single instance as we push the edges of “acceptable behavior” into being more aligned with human rights.

Violence is defined by the World Health Organization as “the intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, which either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment, or deprivation”, although the group acknowledges that the inclusion of “the use of power” in its definition expands on the conventional understanding of the word.

Example: seeing one person hit a non-consenting person is (pretty) easily defined as violence. Seeing one person say “your a dumb bitch” online to another non-consenting person isn’t as easily defined as violence (it’s often instead categorized as “conflict“). We have to zoom out to see that the receiver isn’t able to be online any longer due to thousands of similar messages in order to see it as the violence (in the form of depravation to opportunity or psychological harm) it is. Here’s just one example:


I don’t want to limit what this person says, but I also have a right not to experience him saying it, if it detracts from my ability to be online. As the quote says, “your right to swing your fist ends where my nose begins.” How can we bridge this sort of contention at scale?

To zoom out like this, and to take action at a systemic level, we luckily have Lessig’s four forces for social change. As the infosec crew which was the audience at SHA is largely skeptical of law (excepting the EFF), of social norms (“don’t tell me how to act”), and that I’m skeptical of markets being able to solve problems of inequality, we are left with architecture/code.

In the talk, I asked this question:

“Do we want to take a scientific approach to equality, where we tweak our infrastructure in explicit ways to see if it changes how people are interacting?”

We, as the creators and maintainers of online spaces have a responsibility to strive towards equality in the ways available to us. How can we do this without surveillance and control of speech? We change the architecture of the spaces. The crew of Weaponized Social (namely, TQ at the SF event in May 2015) started to lay out what the different parameters of social interaction are. Such as, how many people can one account be connected to, how far a message can travel (through timeouts or limits to re-broadcasts), of if an element of serendipity is introduced. These are toggles which can be changed, sliders which can be moved.

If we change these things, we can see how/if architecture changes the way we interact. The social sciences point to us being deeply (tho not solely) affected by our environments. By changing the architecture of online spaces, we could see how it changes how we interact. Who feels safe to speak by taking part in the act of speaking. We can then make better choices about our individual instances and realities based on those results. We now have one more set of tools by which to examine if we are progressing towards equality, without impinging on the individual right to speak. I hope you make use of these tools.

Cultivate the Karass

I came away from CtK.Campfire thinking about how anarchists might be aligned with Republicans in more ways than expected… and possibly more so than to Democrats.1

I was invited to Cultivate the Karass: Campfire based on two previous friendships and a workshop at Personal Democracy Forum. After seeing Lori talk at PDF about her son, Jake, and about carrying his work forward in cultivating relationships between “loyal antagonists,” I had to go to their workshop session later in the conference. One of the few truly interactive sessions (and that includes the one I was a part of called “Apocalyptic Civics”), I loved the use of spectrograms and deeper political discourse. Also, Seamus and Clarence were there! My friendship with both of them has been forged out of somewhat oppositional circumstances (one documented here). So when they suggested I attend the CtK.Campfire event, I listened.
5 people prioritize breakout session topics by applying stickers to post-it notes with topics listed.22 people – Republicans, Libertarians, Democrats, and one Anarchist (hey that’s me!) – gathered over three days to bond, to engage in facilitated civil discourse, and to learn to see each other as humans.

It worked.

After we had built trust over our life stories, and Not Talking About Politics, and some amount of beverages, we were able to move into more in-depth conversations. “Is our Democracy broken?” “Race relations and white people” “Equipping institutions for a VUCA world.” We did a spectrogram around whether or not statues of Confederate leaders should be removed. After much discussion, we came to a shared view – we should have to face our terrible history2, and that ideally some sort of process would be available to remove or relocate to museums the current glorification of those who wished to continue dehumanizing others. There was acknowledgement that democratic processes exist for this but has been ignored.

I want to tell you about one conversation in particular. Of all these conversations, the one that I both gave and received the most from was “What if it all goes wrong?” As in, what if we do put removal of statues to a vote, and the vote is to leave them where they are? What if Trump gets a second term? What if…

The conversation was posited by Cameron (Republican) and attended by Kyla (Democrat), Sarah (Republican), and me (Anarchist). We agreed that we shared a concern about a consolidation of power, and that respecting the systems we’ve built when power is imbalanced would lead to greater and greater oscillations of “now it’s my turn” from one party to the next. We agreed that a polarization in civil society could lead to increasing violences, and with diminishing ability to recover from imbalance. We had an interesting conversation around the vacuum of power currently occurring in leadership positions meaning a loss of infrastructure maintenance (let alone creation). We agreed government had been bulky, but that the current rate of displacement was dangerous.
7 people sit around a campfire in the sun. The image is taken through some trees from above.We even agreed about what “what if it all goes wrong?” might look like – our leaders becoming more radical, a continued shift in the Overton Window towards less and less civil/human-rights behavior, a validation of lack of leadership also leading to a lack of social cohesion, an increasing lack of faith in our electoral process and the census. I brought up that the world had already gone wrong for many people. I talked about cops not intervening in fights at protests in Berkeley. This was considered too specific by some folk in the group, but it did lead into a conversation about what “antifa” was.

“‘Antifa’ means ‘anti-fascist,’” I said. “I’m anti-fascist, but I don’t agree with destroying things.” “Ah. That is the ‘black bloc.’ They also identify as anti-fascist, but view meeting violence with violence and occasional destruction of property as a necessary component of fighting fascism. There was ‘civil discourse’ in pre-Nazi Germany, but the movement was still successful. As much as we’ve talked about how well Germany has done about monuments honoring the dead rather than the killers, there are still many Neo-Nazi groups there, which are often kept at bay by antifa/black bloc folk who are willing to literally fight them back. Some folk in the US think this is also necessary.” “So I’m antifa but not black bloc.”3

Then we got into problem solving. “Oh no,” I thought to myself, “this is where it will all go wrong.” But I was wrong. We agreed that America’s strength is in its plurality4. We agreed that Obama had normalized the use of executive orders which Trump is now running with even more. “Obama built the weapon that Trump is using,” as Cameron said. Since Republicans are invested in diminishing the size of big government, did they have a plan to reduce the run-away power of the executive branch that Democrats might be able to sign onto? Why yes, yes they do. It’s called the REINS Act and it limits what an executive order can do. It would be a huge step if Democrats were to pick this up (it’s already passed the House, but needs the Senate) as an act of good faith and self-awareness that it’s the amount of power someone has, not just how they use it which is at the core of the problem. Of course I need to read more – here’s a writeup from a “liberal” source, and one from a “conservative” source5.
We also talked about having open primaries, if the American people are smart enough to handle ranked voting (I think we are), and the problems of gerrymandering.
The Cultivate the Karass cohort stands and sits around a fire at night.But here’s what I walked away with: a new knowledge that my new conservative friends have been fighting for the same thing I’ve been fighting for as an anarchist in crisis response – getting more decision-making power into the hands of local populations. That although I align more with the rhetoric of liberals and radicals… the people doing the work within government to actually devolve power are those I never considered myself to be aligned with. I still think there are more responsible ways to care take the newest and most vulnerable in that process, but now I know I have some loyal antagonists with whom to debate the best path forward.

Footnotes

  1. *cough* Horseshoe Theory */cough*
  2. Facing History And Ourselves, anyone?
  3. I recognize I didn’t get into the more blurry lines of how Antifa is a movement which is often more comfortable with violence as a tool than explicitly nonviolent groups. But that was not the topic of the session, so I didn’t want to detract too much. For more information, start here.
  4. I’d of course argue that the human race’s strength is in its plurality, but America is currently considered a subset of that, so sure.
  5. Which has me thinking about anarchist reviews of policy as a useful project, as if I didn’t have enough projects on my plate…Anyone want to adopt this one?

Interfaces between formal and informal crisis response

I’ve long been interested in the question of how formal and informal groups interact in crisis. It is my proverbial jam, as no one ever says.

Basically, it boils down to this: official agencies are resourced and have predictable structures, but are slow and lack visibility to an affected population’s needs. Emergent groups in an affected region are by definition beyond their capacity to respond and are not trained in response, yet they have acute knowledge of their neighbors’ needs and can adapt to dynamic environments. While I’m still working on the long-form expression of these ideas, an opportunity to prototype an interface came up recently through the Naval Postgraduate School, Georgia Tech Research Institute, and a place called Camp Roberts.

Camp Roberts

There’s this decommissioned Air Force base near Paso Robles called Camp Roberts, where interoperability experiments are conducted quarterly. Only the engineers/implementers are invited to attend – no C-level folk, no sales. Each year, one of those four is focused on what the military calls “Humanitarian Assistance & Disaster Response” (HA/DR). I have some deeply mixed Feelings about the military being involved in this space. I respect my friends and cohorts who refuse outright to work with them. I see the military as an inevitable force to be reckoned with, and I’d rather take them into account and understand what they’re likely to be up to. Finding this place to plug different pieces of a response together without the sales folk or directors present, to actually test and play and fail is a glorious opportunity.

A Game

I’ve been working on the opportunity to build a game around a formal/informal interface for years as a way to explore how collaboration would fill gaps for these different actors. This project is called “Emergent Needs, Collaborative Assessment, & Plan Enactment,” or ENCAPE. The idea is this: both sides to that equation lack understanding of, and trust in, the other. A game could externalize some of the machinations and assumptions of each side, meaning a demystification; and creating things together often leads to trust building (that’s a reason why I’ve invested so much in makerspaces and hackathons over the years).

My informal friends were into it. So were my formal friends. But in order to know we could have any impact at all on organizational change, support had to be official from the formal sector. This took years (the formal sector is resourced but slow, yeah), but the pieces fell into place a couple months ago and the chance to build a game was born.

The People

It was of course vital that a wide range of viewpoints be represented, so the call was broad, but still to folk I knew would bring their whole Selves, be able to trust each other, and would be interested in the results of the game research. Folk from informal response, official agencies, nonprofits, and private sector were all invited. In the end, were were joined by Joe, Galit, Drew, Katie, Wafaa, John, Seamus, and Conor. Thank you all for taking time for this.

What We Did

We actually ended up meeting in San Francisco for our 3-day workshop for hilarious reasons I’ll disclose in private sometime.
On Sunday night, some of us got together to get to know each other over beverages and stories.
On Monday, we went through a Universe of Topics and visualized the workflows for our various user types. I did one for the Digital Humanitarian Network, Wafaa did one for Meedan’s translation and verification services, Katie covered a concerned citizen, etc. What were our pain points? Could we solve them for each other? We overlapped those workflows and talked about common factors across them. Different personas have access to different levels of trust, finances, and attention. They use those to build capacity, connections, and decision-making power. How could we use these common factors to build a game? How could we explore the value of collaboration between different personas?

Participants broke down workflows into one component per sticky note, laid out in linear fashion. Wafaa and Willow stand at the board while others talk through potential overlaps.

Drew took this

On Tuesday, we reconvened and started the day off with a game: Pandemic. This got us thinking about game mechanics, emergent complexity based on simple rules, and how to streamline our game. Individuals presented on what their game might look like, if left to their own devices. We explored combining the most compelling parts of those games, and started a prototype to playtest. It ended up being a counting game. Hm. That can’t be right.
A very few sticky notes indicate various steps in the game. These have all since become wrong, although we wouldn't have been able to arrive where we are now without first having gone through this.
On Wednesday, we drew through what the game play might look like and troubleshot around this shared understanding. It was closer to modeling reality, but still took some counting. We drafted it out to playtest, narrated through parts which didn’t yet make sense, and took notes on where we could improve. The last bit of the day was getting a start on documentation of the game process, on the workshop process, and on starting some language to describe the game.
Cards and arrows are hand-drawn onto a whiteboard in order to visualize the logical steps or game mechanics necessary to move through one round of the game. Cards scatter the tabletop in a variety of colors, and with drawings on them. We’ve since continued cleaning up the documentation and refining the game process. And so dear readers, I’m excited to tell you about how this game works, how you can play, and how you can (please) help improve it even more. Continue reading

Communicating and coordinating without the internet at HumTechFest

Originally posted on the Aspiration blog

We are preparing for the Humanitarian Technology Festival on June 4th and 5th in Cambridge, Mass. During our initial discussions, we connected with Heather (Text on Techs), Nathan (Guardian and Wind Farm), Jamila (Palante Technology Cooperative and SciFi Action & Apocalypse Preparedness Queer Club), Damien (FemmeTech and the same SciFi Action Club), and Mikel (MapBox). Our hope is to discover and bring together those working on the core challenges of digital humanitarian response in effective, interesting, and playful ways.

During humanitarian and disaster response, taking care with people while in the midst of chaos is the name of the game. Core challenges to delivering goods and services are coordination and communication. Instead of market-created scarcity, people have to decide how to send what limited materials have been delivered on a narrow runway out over damaged roads and with limited gas. It’s also about knowing where those limited goods should be going. Many might theorize about how to get what is called “situational awareness” (knowing who needs what and where in a chaotic situation) in order to deliver resources accurately, but being in the chaos is different. Because (thankfully) only a few of us have experienced that chaos and need ourselves, it can be difficult to build appropriate tools and workflows for response. But if we’re going to work on just that while at the Humanitarian Technology Festival, we need to be sure we’re grounded in at least a proximity of reality. A big chunk of our first day will be comprised of playful workshops.

Who needs what, where… and getting it to them

First, let’s talk about coordination. Affected populations and responders have to deal with scarcity. Rather than having the option of picking up what someone needs from a store or website, we must instead find those materials on site from people we already know (or are willing to get to know). It’s fun to think about this like a recipe: finding individual components and interacting with others to combine those components into what you all need to survive. Maybe one person has a generator, and another person has gallons of water, and a third has a backyard farm. People in crisis don’t all actually go rogue (sorry, Mad Max), but tend to join together to help one another out, those in our example would make soup together. Pre-existing networks of trust make this easier, but issues of scarcity and access still arise which require people-interfacing and problem-solving skills. It’s hard to know what these circumstances are like until you’re in them. Or until you pretend you’re in them.

The SciFi Action & Apocalypse Preparedness Queer Club has devised a live-action role playing game for just that – problem solving through the self-imposed limitations of games. They ran one of these games one day in NYC this past year, and we’re thrilled to be working with them on this project and to have access to their gaming framework to help HumTechFest attendees have a safe but proximal experience to a response situation. 

Hello? Is anyone there?

Secondly, let’s talk about connectivity. When we are connected, we can communicate about what we need and what we have, and we can coordinate with each other about matching those haves and needs. When the communications infrastructure (the internet and/or cell phone data) we’ve come to rely on so heavily goes down (or was never there to begin with, as in some austere areas), issues of timing (sometimes called “gaps”) emerge—a request for food in one region might be addressed through other means by the time the message reaches its target audience, or perhaps diapers become even more necessary than soup as the soup delivery starts on its path to the point of stated need. If communication infrastructure is up, the delivery person can be called to come back or to reroute to a place that needs their payload more.

If the centralized data pipes go down in these times, what are ways folk work around them?

Some excellent initiatives exist based on addressing the challenge of connectivity without an internet backbone, like Commotion Wireless and Project Byzantium, as well as many proprietary services. But these often rely on either long-term embeddedness with a community (like how the community Commotion Network in Redhook mattered during Superstorm Sandy response [PDF]) or rapid (read: expensive) setup through official channels which is also often proprietary and only for state-sanctioned response groups. We have ongoing political struggles with corporations like Comcast about the ability to set up community mesh networks and local internet service providers, and it’s worth continuing to build better tech and to push on that issue from many angles. (Those include our work on right to access as with our work with the Media Democracy Fund, as a political issue as with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, or as an issue of public health and safety in disaster times). However, we arguably have everything we already need right in our pockets.  Wind Farm is incredibly useful for this context. Instead of a network being static (you’re not prone to moving your internet modem around the office), it assumes people have tiny storage and sufficient connectivity options in their pockets via their phones, and will be near each other as well as moving between synchronizing points. Based on this, we should be able to propagate communication and therefore coordinate with each other even when the backbone is down. Hirdonelle’s Listening Centers with Bluetooth file transfer is an example of what these networks might look like in practice. And when it comes to updating and using maps, OpenStreetMap’s new Portable OSM might come in handy.

Join us

We’ll be stitching all this together to create a safe but proximal way for HumTechFest participants to base conversations in a shared experience. We will be doing a workshop at HumTechFest to playfully discover how we would communicate and coordinate while facing scarcity and an internet blackout of sorts.

Register for HumTechFest June 4th and 5th in Cambridge, Mass.

Humanitarian TechFest 2016 East Coast Sessions

This originally appeared on the Aspiration blog

The Humanitarian Technology Festival session list will be co-developed with participants, facilitators, and partners in the time leading up and during the Festival.

The agenda will be designed and facilitated using Aspiration’s unique participatory model, in an environment where powerpoint slides are discouraged and dialog and collaboration drive the learning.

Sessions likely to be on the agenda include…

Data Flows: These interactive sessions will explore existing data flows and gaps in response as it is now:

  • What data is useful?
  • Is responsible data in disaster and humanitarian response different from any other circumstance?
  • Open data standards
  • Data lifecycles across the disaster cycle
  • Overwhelming data

Cross-Sector Collaboration: There are many local groups not related to response which already know a region, its people, and its needs — how do they communicate with response-specific organizations?:

  • Frontline situational awareness, institutional resources
  • How to know what might be beyond your capacity
  • How to know who to ask for assistance
  • How to hold responders accountable

Privacy, security and data: These sessions will explore the risks and responsibilities incurred when using technology in disaster and humanitarian response, along with ways to maximize control of information and technology destiny:

  • When–and When Not–to Trust “The Cloud” with Your Data
  • Managing Your Universe of Organizational Data
  • Securing Your Online Accounts
  • Managing Constituent Data: The Dream vs. The Reality

Social Justice in Response: while the primary focus of the event will be tech and tech strategy, we’ll also take time to learn about and reflect on how we can continue and amplify our social and environmental justice purposes, even while things are urgent

  • Listening to frontline populations in priority setting
  • Using response as a way to advocate for other ongoing efforts

Participant-Led Sessions: More than half of the agenda will be built by participants before and during the event, covering topics, tools, themes and issues proposed by those present.

Learning by Making: Hands-on workshops for sharing essential technology skills, with sessions including:

  • Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Tasker, with participants learning the interface for contributing to maps around humanitarian issues
  • Mapping the Digital Response Ecosystem, to create a shared view of data and people flows
  • More, more more! Tell us what other hands-on tech skills you would like to learn, and we’ll try to find facilitators to get you there.

Tell us what should be on the agenda and how we can make this event more relevant and valuable for you!

Join Us!

We strongly encourage you to join in the fun at this unique and interactive gathering!

Register

We welcome questions, inquiries, suggestions and requests.

Unified in our plurality of voices – Global Voices Exchange

originally posted on the Aspiration blog

Global Voices is “a border-less, largely volunteer community of more than 1400 writers, analysts, online media experts and translators.” They’ve been around since 2005, weaving together locally-produced stories from all over the globe. They also have a translation community called Linguafight against censorship and for freedom through Advox, and their Rising Voices section works to empower civic journalists with microgrants, training and network-building. They deliver a huge amount of news in a startling number of languages, and they do so with humor and humility. Because they’re invested in the everyday experience of people, the community is also wide enough that when major news (like the beginnings of the protests in Egypt, Syria, and Turkey) breaks, a community of trust and support is already established around local reporters. This post initially appeared on the GVeX site on March 2nd.

Global Voices Exchange

One of the projects recently launched by Rising Voices is Global Voices Exchange (GVeX). It aims to develop, document, and disseminate methodologies for digital advocacy campaigns in the Global South. In its inaugural phase, GVeX brought together women leaders working in digital advocacy and activism from the Global South to share, document, and refine their practices into a shared methodology—and to explore points of difference that might require a more country- or context-specific approach. The several-month-long project was accented by a workshop held in Marseille, France from February 15th to 20th, and I had the honor of facilitating.

Our event goals were to strengthen the network of advocates in the Global South, to scope and design preliminary content and structure for a strategic campaigning and advocacy guide for leaders moving into online advocacy in the Global South, and to form an action plan to test and review the guide after the workshop. The participants represented eleven countries each with a unique political and economic climate, specific concerns around equality, and a rich history. Each of them has an active hand in some form of training and advocacy within their own countries, either locally or remotely.   

A (nonuniversal) guide

Every attendee had at least some experience with many of the amazing guides and manuals out there for building campaigns, for security, and for digital tools. Each of them was able to give at least one example of ways in these—supposedly universal—guides had either not fit their situation or offered information and advice that could put them at genuine risk. Would it be possible, then, to create a simple frame or scaffolding that someone in the Global South could use as a basis for exploring their own circumstances and designing a campaign tailored to their specific needs? The many guides that already exist provide a solid set of modules from which we could select. We explored this (and many other) questions while together.

Global Voices is ideally positioned for projects such as this—while much of design thinking, protocols and standards, and other aspects of technology aim towards one agreed-upon way of interacting, Global Voices takes the alternative view that sometimes the one thing that unites us is that we are all speaking our own unique and specific truths. And this isn’t simply a nice theoretical framing—it’s practice the community has lived for over eleven years, and counting.

Unifying a plurality of voices

Even though Global Voices successfully walks this talk, devising a guide based on that framing is a new and somewhat daunting task. Thankfully, with twelve women leaders and members of the Global Voices network putting our heads together over five days, the beginning skeleton of the guide now exists, as well as pockets of detail and a huge repository of documented knowledge waiting to be deployed wherever it’s needed. We learned, for example, about the ease and relative accountability of fundraising in Pakistan versus the illegality of obtaining resources for nonprofits and civil society in Venezuela. We now understand why people decide to remain anonymous in LGBTQI campaigns in Zimbabwe and walk together in Cambodia. And from our Palestinian participant I learned how to draw a tank, something I’d thankfully not yet needed to know.

Where we are at

We still have a lot of work to do, but you can look forward to seeing a draft of the guide at some point in the future. It includes things like measuring and communicating value. Many activists and advocates have difficulty expressing exactly what changes will happen in the world if they “win.” This section helps users explore their own hopes, what is culturally relevant, and what is possible to measure in order to demonstrate the effects of their campaigns and actions. Risk analysis (and response)—those operating in the Global South face a very, very different set of risks from people in other parts of the world, be it repressive regimes, violence against women, or a lack of connectivity. To design and implement culturally relevant campaigns we need to embrace these specificities. We also developed a module around building trust in worn-out communities. As a result of the same issues mentioned in risk analysis, trust in many of these communities is worn down. People working in these environments have experienced the actions of infiltrators, complete loss of institutional legitimacy through changes in political leadership or legal structures, and violent shutdowns of campaigns and organizations. To rebuild trust under those circumstances demands integrity and persistence—and the exercise we did on this topic produced some of the most charming drawings I’ve seen in a while, from our own Marianne Diaz.

Pathway to ‘trust building’ vs ‘trust destruction’, an outcome from our discussion at #gvexhttps://t.co/Pc2PT4Fmho pic.twitter.com/WNSLwJSFd8— Sopheap Chak (@sopheapfocus) February 18, 2016

What would you want to see out of such a guide?

Whether you’re from the Global South or not, tell us in the comments what would you want to see from such a guide. We have a huge amount of experience and intelligence in this beginning set of contributors, but as future users of such a guide, we want to be able to factor in your needs and ideas.

Thanks to the participants and organizers

Major thanks to the Global Voices crew of Eddie, Georgia, and Ivan for conceiving, driving, and most of all trusting this project. Mad props to Abir, to whom I already wrote a bit of a love note over on my blog, and who opened up her city and her heart for us to feel safe and stimulated during our time. Thank you to Tamara for her directness, to Arzu and Tanya for their facilitation, to Marianne and Sarita for being open and honest, to 88.8 for their venue and recording skills. Thanks to Sopheap and Zarah for jumping in with such enthusiasm and joy, to Nighat and Natasha for your leadership, to Mashiat for your hugs and insights, to Indira for your warmth, and to Dalia for always keeping things real and approachable. Thanks to Eric, Paul, and Liat for all your adaptiveness and translation skills, and to Gillo for his deep understandings of security teaching methods. I’m looking forward to seeing what we create together.