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Mozilla's Hive local Learning Networks - Hacking:Cultures

I’ll continue my series of blog-posts on community building and Mozilla, this time trying to approach the cultural side of a community. Specifically, I use the Hive Learning Network as the best example to explore a bit the balance between local culture and the global community.

This month, folks at Hive Learning Network New York (now a Mozilla project) invited people from other cities to an inspiring fireside chat to talk about how to bring the Hive Learning Network model in a city near you.

I like a lot what I heard at Hive NYC: the way it is organized (already funded organizations brought together by a common goal of offering world-class after-school educational programs for the youth in their city), the membership showcase and the way they already adopted Mozilla’s culture of doing things (work in open, embrace the community spirit, share).

What I specially loved is the concept of “Hive served a la carte”: we offer what we build, you can take pieces of it, remix it or adapt to your local culture. One example could be the “Hackasaurus Hackitivity Kit” – a fantastic how-to activity kit which is the result of almost 2 years of iteration, testing and work. This kit may work or not for the different local cultures – but, for sure, it has some important bits that help.

I brought Barcelona name as a potential city where to bring the Hive Learning Network. In fact, this is something on which various Catalan communities (Wikipedia, Mozilla, Softcatalà, Arduino, etc.) have been working for a while now – bring the open culture to citizens and the broader public through the already existing organizations, museums, public libraries and cultural centers, community centers. There’ve been things which didn’t go as well as expected, but there are some other pieces that give a great feeling of optimism: the first Learning Lab prototype during the Mozilla Festival in 2010, the various hack jams organized this year and the present success of local Wikipedians in helping Catalan museums to open their knowledge to everyone.

I see the Hive(s) as an extension of Mozilla’s communities, a bridge between Mozillians and the rest of the citizens – users of the Internet.

Late 2008, we, Mozilla community in Barcelona (and in part Softcatalà) have been working on straightening the collaboration with civic spaces around the city. The things went great (now we host most of our events and meet-ups in public spaces), but few months ago we realized that giving back to those spaces, organizing workshops for the citizens going there to learn or designing activities for those spaces is not so easy. And highly ineffective.

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Photo by mozillaeu (sculptures in a Public Space at Mozilla Festival in Barcelona)

Now, with Hive being part of Mozilla, things may become easier and interesting. That is why a goal for 2012 is building the Hive Learning Network Barcelona. It’s not an easy task. Cultures are different, Barcelona is different from New York, as other European cities may be different from Barcelona. And Hive is a formal network of civil society service organizations; that means that we need to think beyond political implications and at the most superior, hackable cultural layer, so this can become effective and successful.

Online events as Fireside chats are a great way to accomplish lot of things and meet people that make the same things as you (there were folks from various cities who want to bring the Hive). Calls as Webmakers allows you to present your project and accomplishments to others and get feedback / peer assist.

During the Fireside chat, Chris said something that really matched with my thoughts: setting up a Learning Network, finding an efficient formula … that may take years of work, experimentation, iteration. And he is right… we already started to raise awareness here in Barcelona by organizing and helping other to organize the Hack Jams, in the next 2 years we will try to build room for even more people to get involved, because (at least in Barcelona) I don’t see a successful Hive Learning Network without a foundational strong, diversified and open Mozilla communities.

There are things that we have to deal with in the upcoming months, such as the too much localism and authority or the lack of understanding what a diverse cultural/linguistic community organization is.

In a few words, we have to hack cultures: learn to build communities and initiatives around affinity but respect every peer’s culture and language, explore and find easy ways to build bridges between groups, redefine localization and the core community concept, learn to communicate across cultures.

At the end of this post, I want to quote something I read in the Learning Freedom and the Web Festival’s book (I may comment on this later, but this is a certain proof that sometimes we put the “language and translation” as a principal cause for leak of participation when the problem is much more complex).

“There were difficulties in communicating and building bridges amongst people with very different backgrounds, skill sets, and languages (The lack of translators for sessions, which were held exclusively in English, came in for a fair amount of criticism).”

This is the second post of a series on Mozilla’s Community Building/Development and webmakers.

From simplifying Webmaking to Webmaker ethics

Has been a long time since I started working (with others) on building a new model of (Mozilla) community here in Barcelona and around (and I know I have to write more about this experience).

“What is the future of learning, freedom and the web? It’s a slate of ongoing projects. It’s a percolating of new ideas. It’s a crossbreeding of old categories. It’s a building of new relationships. It’s a founding of new organizations. It’s the construction of new systems. It’s the coining of new words. It’s the creation of a new reality. Together. [..] What really keeps a community going? Shared work, shared goals, shared fun, shared vocabulary, and shared rituals. There doesn’t have to be one ultimate unified vision. The idea of what learning will mostly look like in ten years, 50 years, or 100 years remains fuzzy, and that’s by design, because one definition of an improved future is one that has a greater diversity of choices than in the past. [..] In many ways, the medium speaks louder than the message” – From the book Learning, Freedom and the Web.

When I refer to a new model of community, I mean designing new processes, creating new event frameworks that can invite others to participate and adopting new practices for community development. That can mean interacting with people you’ve never did before, start conversations with other communities of practice, delegate responsibility and act as a coach for the new, future community leaders. This may seem uncomfortable, but after starting doing it you’ll have a lot of fun.

 

Early this year, I wrote a post about computer users groups (which evolved into specific operating systems / programing languages / technologies groups) and how those groups kept alive the whole tech. community, the hacking spirit. Then, I asked myself if Web(maker) local groups/clubs could nurture a movement around the Open Web? And I think they could. There are a lot of good things to learn from Users Groups: their self-organizing / decentralized culture, their focus on sharing knowledge and help others to understand software.

The various user groups and communities of practice I belonged in the past years helped me not only to learn more about software and tech. platforms, but also nurtured my skills and, most importantly, made me adhere to a set of ethics of software/technology development. However, I believe we could innovate more in this space, from the community building perspective. We now have the tools and the platform to do this. The ethics stance has been one of the dominant values of groups around free software / GNU Linux.

Bellow, I’m highlighting some outputs and insights I got from some events I facilitated in the last six months. In concrete, I’ll take Hackasaurus program – because it demonstrates that can offer local groups and communities the building blocks needed to tinker, create and learn, and potentially helping build this kind of mixed, different local groups/communities.

Workshop

Photo by Samuel Huron

Mozilla’s Hackasaurus is a great tool that helps simplifying web making and learning, so a broader audience could at least understand what the Web is and how it works. But, it also opens a way to a lot more and engages curious users into building the web and take a more active part into a community.

 

Here are three events where we brought Hackasaurus to different audiences:

June, HackJam Barcelona, Citilab

 

Output: In June we organized the first HackJam in Barcelona. We spent one hour with 16 kids (10 – 12 years old), introducing them to the first phase of web making (understanding the remixable/buildable nature of the web). We started with a small, simple example of a “remixed paper magazine” (collage), so participants could see how they can change a story, remix a content just by experimenting and playing around. Then, we dived into playing with X-Rays Googles and remixing some webpages.

In this session we didn’t have enough time to deep into HTML/CSS and , but still, I learned a lot from it. And it was a great achievement to help kids discover that the web is something you can play with it, remix, build it, use it to express your feelings, vision, etc.

Although by the end of the sessions I had the feeling of “we should have done more… (dive more into making and the understanding HTML)”, after seeing the enthusiasm of participants presenting their “hacks” I realized that we actually unlocked a critical part of the web building blocks, opening the way to more. And most importantly, part of the participants wanted to learn more and play more with the tool.

October, facilitators HackJam, Televall Telcentre Output: This was a second HackJam Enric and I facilitated, this time in a village by the Pyrenees range, at Televall – the first telecenter built in Catalonia. The audience was very different from the first one: four facilitators from the very Telecenter. We spent almost two hours demoing with Hackasaurus X-Googles Rays and remixing content on webpages. The aim was to understand the potential that today’s web has: you can build almost everything on it and there are also tools as Hackasaurus that simplify the understanding and learning process and engage in a creative way.

Before the session, I had a conversation with people there about the activities and life at the telecentre. “Now, teens and kids have their own computers and access to Internet. They go straight to home after school”. It was somehow sad to see how those spaces that years ago pioneered the access to Internet and technology are at now risk of losing their role and impact in the local digital society. But, at the same time, I was thinking about the opportunity we, local community of practice as Mozilla, could offer to those spaces, making them again be at the heart of digital transformations.

How using Mozilla’s tools and learning programs such as Hackasaurus, Popcornmaker or Hive (a learning network concept) could make Telecentres think and be more like the Web, transform them from the simple “access to computers / Internet points” to community learning centers – building local communities and help local youth become web literates.

November, demoing Hackasaurus and Popcornmaker, Digital Humanities event, CCCB Output: Last month we were invited to join the Center of Contemporany Culture of Barcelona and Institute of Innovation and Research Center at George Pompidou from Paris to participate at the annual Digital Humanities event. More than 30 mediators, facilitators, educators and representatives of public, cultural and research institutions participated. Enric, Toni and I helped with a one hour hands-on session demoing Popcornmaker, Hackasaurus and Universal Subtitles. Then we participated in a broader conversation – “Education and contributions in the future of Digital Humanities”, where we explored the impact that informal, community-learning education has in shaping the future of Digital Humanities. The debate around education and Digital Humanities was very insightful for me. One of the starting points of this debate was about the decrease of attention coming as a natural effect of new technologies (as Internet, Web, Social networks), especially among teens and kids. This raised a series of questions and answers around how we can use the same technology to transform those effects into something good to society (adapt to technological/connected life and not remain indifferent, make efforts to understand how technology works instead of taking it for granted, start using technology to create not just consume it). And in a way, Hackasaurus or Popcorn can transform those effects and focus the attention to creating/building/remixing/experimenting. Humanities, a critical part of our education system, need to adapt much more to new technologies. Around the topics brought into discussion were: thinking about the creation of a new school, how community based learning models and programs could reshape the education in a digital, connected age.

One of the most interesting parts was when discussing about the need of building new communities of practice (communities that could drive innovation, initiate new processes and, above all, be driven by a desire to create and make things) and build relationships between local communities of practice and cultural/research public institutions (museums, public libraries etc.).

 

There were more events this year that influenced part of my thinking about communities in general (and Mozilla Community in a first place) – the GlobalMelt workshop, Design Jam Barcelona, the small and informal Barcelona UX/WebDev community meet-ups, MoJo Hackfest. And this year I also focused more on working with local civic centers and public spaces – which I consider critical for building new healthy communities (more on this in the following blogposts). Mozilla started two years ago to explore new ways to advance in its mission, grow and rejuvenate the community, diversify our interest domains and expand focus (go beyond Firefox). Now, with programs and tools as Hackasaurus and Popcorn that are getting stronger, the work on Identity and Apps Ecosystem is a huge opportunity to put efforts on building a new kind of community (both local and global), inspire others and promote a new way of working and building relationships. Building a community of Webmakers with an ethics stance at its core (build web using native web technologies, work in open, share, respect the user) is one of the long-term goals Mozilla has. And there are lot of things to do to achieve this, a lot of things to change and some exciting upcoming years for designing this community. In the next blog posts I want to highlight some of my experiences and share some concrete steps on how we might do this, at least at the local level. This is the first post from a series through I’ll try to express my personal thinking and vision on Community Building and Development.