Almost three weeks ago, I flew to Cluj (the hearth of Trasilvania) to be part of the first Mozilla Romanian Community meet-up. It was a tough decision to go, as I’m trying to lower my participation in community events and keep focus on new projects. But Ioana (who organized and planned the meet-up) finally convinced me – telling me that we’d try to make the meet-up different and even more, offering me the task of advancing the meetup’s agenda.
And, in the end, I’m very happy that I finally decided to go. It was a very productive and constructive event and it made me leave Romania feeling inspired, motivated and optimistic.
Below I’m going to highlight the things that most impressed me there:
Overall, the meet-up was really productive, I think. Ioana and Alex will come with more details about what’s next, after we finish documenting it. We started it with an interactive plenary around: challenges to contribute in a community project, the importance of individual, decentralized contributions and demand of permission vs. good communication. The goal of the meet-up was to see how to work together more efficiently and avoiding unnecessary conflicts.
I think that we achieved a big part of this goal. Of course, there is more to do, and most importantly, lead as individuals, document and then share back next year.
What I took with me from all this experience is the optimism that communities in Mozilla can be seen differently, not just a resource. Community is a group of like-minded people and organizations who work for a common goal. Yes, some communities produce resources: as documentation, word of mouth marketing, tools, products and others. But one of the things there are often ignored are the signals that a community produces.
The question here is how to help the community produce useful and meaningful signals (not noise) – signals that can sometimes drive the project into new directions and even contribute to decision making processes. Probably the answer is: a different approach to community building – meet-ups are opportunities, not events where suffocate people with top-down agendas and topics. Agendas should be for empowering and motivating, for listening and then building.
There are tons of positive and interesting signals I received from the Mozro meet-up and I’d probably write more abut later. Until then, thanks to Dan Gherman, Ioana, Brian King and Alex for helping with the pre-planning!
I’ve been thinking for a while to put this blogpost together, as I spent some time having conversations, interacting with people leading Telecentres, Civic Centres and Public Libraries. From the conversations, since one year or so ago, I started to help them discover the opportunity that open web tools and web literacies could bring in a new set of their citizen engagement programs.
I chose to do this because, during my years as free software activist and teenager organiser, those spaces and people were the first opening the doors to help and support me with space, resources and sometimes with some advices I still remember . So, those spaces have been playing a very important role in growing as a community person.
The community centres and libraries are, first of all, very local spaces (neighbourhood based usually), willing to help and offer services to community and in some cases have been the first supporters of free software. They interact with the citizen, and especially with those willing to make a difference in their neighbourhood.
But since technology has been changing so fast during last decade (and continues to do so at an even fastest pace), the usual telecentre and public library users are finding new alternative ways to access technology and knowledge through the Internet, at their homes. I’m not saying that those spaces are not serving the civil society anymore, or whether they should radically change or close their doors (as some friends told me a while ago). Here where I live, there are still people going to public libraries when they need a quiet place to work for a few hours, there are still teens going to the telecentre (for after school activities, especially homework support), there are still young tech. and amateur communities hosting activities in civic centres, etc.
The question is not whether those public spaces should reinvent themselves, but whether they can adapt to new demands of an increasingly connected technology. Their mission is clear: offer to the citizens access to technology in order to solve their problems (acquire basic skills, offer access to knowledge and sometimes use technology to solve social and community conflicts).
If I’m thinking well, I see there are two areas where those public spaces could improve: technology upgrade (and here is all about choosing the right platforms and tools – a work that’s usually done by technology steward in collaboration with other staff) and participation design (or engagement activities – and that depends on the desire for change and preparation of the centre’s staff). One thing doesn’t exclude the other.
But I want to focus more on the first, as technology choice is both strategic and long term decision making. Often, even if it could seem easier, this could be the most difficult, with some important impacts on achieving long term goals and advancing change.
Technology *is not magic*, not easy and not only for “technical staff” – from installation, to configuration, deployment and development or maintenance, those are all steps where all the staff and community centre participants should be involved, even if the successful adoption of a technology depends in the end on the mastery and skills of the technology steward.
Below I explain how I see spaces as telecentres and public libraries, starting from the technology they use, deploy and sometimes develop – as it is central to their objective of providing services to community and helping them solve their needs.
But why do I want to start first with technology adoption (even if I don’t use to put technology on the first plan when there is a problem to solve)? Because, technology choice when comes to solving social problems, is an important decision – making process, a strategic and long term decision. Both technology choice and program building, development and evaluation are important – but having made a coherent and minimal technology choice could save time and make more space to focus on mission – social change. So, I see the whole process of stewarding technology as a priority and important step so telecentres and public libraries for adapting to today’s demands. And, as we move to web and mobile platforms, this is even more challenging.
On the regional side, there are already centres as Raval Youth Organization who took the leadership to start deploying the Open Badges Infrastructure, or La Mina community technology centre who started using Popcorn and Thimble as part of their activities to support teens with after-school programs. Both Raval and La Mina are neighbourhoods confronting with severe social problems but, despite this, there is a huge amount of creativity and social innovation coming from those spaces (from projects as Popcorning La Mina neighbourhood to music creations or robots workshops coming from Raval).
Another experience I had lately was with a diverse group of from La Palma de Cervelló, a village near Barcelona, who wants to take on digital literacy and build the digital corner of their village. Last year, I heard the story of how in a few months, through a collaboration between the youth organisation, the community centre and local citizens build the Open Street map of the village (including touristic offerings). A few days ago, they invited me to help them build Webmaker activities for the teens in the village. It was a fun 2 hours of etching HTML and supporting participants use some of Webmaker tools which will be followed by activities in the school and the Telecentre next month.
But again, some downsides came from technology side: how do we use this in Catalan, how do we create a Thimble project, how do we modify the Popcorn template, how we can issue badges, what if we don’t have good internet connection? Tools are powerful! They invite people to participate, they can even drive the whole community building activity.
In the next blogpost I want to focus a bit on technology stewarding and technology choice as a process from a technology steward perspective. I want to go a bit back to the time when most of telecentres, civic centres and public libraries in Catalonia chose Free Software solutions as their technology of choice. There are a lot of lessons to learn from.