Presentation: Reinventing Direct Action

I’m giving this presentation today as a part of a panel at a global health weekend my friend Alex Goodell spent a significant amount of time putting together. The conference is “You Can’t Crush a Louse with Only One Thumb: Integrating Biomedical & Sociocultural Approaches to HIV/AIDS in Africa” and my panel focuses on student experiences in these issues.

To make this interesting, I’ll be arguing that both the university system and standard practices in international development are broken, and that, more importantly, there are ways to fix each which will create more desirable future. It’s not about who should be to blame, but rather how the methods for each can be improved. One of these days, I’ll start producing second version of my presentations that include more narrative text too (I’m too much of a minimalist to include extensive text on my slides). Because the Oregon Direct Action project ended before implementation, I also hope to do a retrospect post on what worked and what didn’t work in the effort.

Whitman Direct Action has been active recently, first posting an update about their most recent project, The Transnational Community Development, and then reporting on meetings with a couple of the NGOs they’re supporting.

I’ve also uploaded a PDF of the report we produced last spring, titled “Developing Water.” Through a series of surveys, focus groups, and interviews, we took a look at the socio-cultural constraints to clean water access in the Kolwan Valley. It isn’t necessarily anything groundbreaking if you’ve been working in the sector, but it does serve as a pretty legit primer to water access issues in India.

Open source reporting on projects

Last Wednesday, I had the opportunity to travel again with Green Empowerment and check out the water project in progress in the community of Suro Antivo. Through a combination of municipal and foundation funds, the small collection of houses is finally going to receive safe and reliable water access to their households. To date, most families have to get their water from unimproved sources. There are two tanks being built, and one being refurbished, which will supply water to each house through a gravity-fed system:

Under Construction

Old and new

 

 

Continue reading “Open source reporting on projects”

My winter term

In about a half hour, I’m headed on Continental Flight 308 to Houston, hopefully ending up in Lima at some point tonight. The plan as it stands now is to spend two months in Peru enjoying the summer and working on a few different projects.

The first destination is Arequipa, in southern Peru, to do research for Health Bridges International (HBI) on how the clinics serving the Alto Cayma catchment area can better coordinate efforts, share resources, and work together. The specialty I hope to bring is identifying ways in which communications technology (like a Google Group, WordPress blog, or SMS) can enhance collaboration. Wayne and I worked on a questionnaire a while back that will be implemented at a healthcare providers conference on Monday and Tuesday. Here are some of the questions we’ll be asking:

  • What types of resources are you commonly lacking?
  • Do you have internet access?
  • Do check email regularly? How often?
  • Are you interested in collaborating with other local clinics/ organizations?
  • Would you be interested in sharing specialty consultations?
  • Would you be interested in sharing supplies or resources?

We’ll be trying to keep it short, but I’d enjoy any and all feedback on the questions we’re asking, as well as ideas on how to connect clinics with limited resources.

Along with doing research for HBI, I’ll be doing interviews to gather information for MobilizeMRS, a project with Isaac Holeman and (hopefully) Lewis & Clark Direct Action. These interviews, which will probably be video too, will try to deduce:

  • A solid use case for FrontlineSMS in the HBI clinic in Arequipa
  • What different stakeholders think the project can do
  • The organization of the community health workers network
  • # of trips made per day by community health workers + doctors, average distance of each trip, and how they travel
  • Access to electricity

Thanks to Josh Nesbit for feedback on the scope of this research.

At the end of January, I’ll be headed to Cajamarca to work on Oregon Direct Action’s water project in San Pablo, Peru.

More soon, I promise. Final boarding time now. If you’re going to down there at the same time, hit me up. I think I’d like to do a few weekend trips to get away from work. And an FYI for those of you that follow me on Twitter: I hope to tweet as I’m traveling around. Twitter no longer delivers international SMS, however, so the conversation might seem a bit one-sided at times. My apologies in advance.

Onward!

Education needs a reboot too

The internet makes the world a smaller place and a stronger community. For this, I am thankful.

I’ve started an interesting conversation with Max Marmer about higher education, ways in which it is currently unsatisfactory, and what can be done to fix it. Here’s his idea:

Force For the Future is an action oriented youth network that uses the tools of foresight to augment its impact. One of our main goals is to accelerate the impact of young people by connecting them with like-minded peers, and seasoned professionals interested in mentoring the next generation. And aims to provide a tangible, action-oriented form of learning that most high schools, as of yet, do not.

Many young people are struck by an unbridled enthusiasm to “change the world”. The problem is this momentary enthusiasm is rarely converted into any kind of action. Very few actually to get to a stage where they are making a difference. Force For the Future aims to lower the barrier to entry by creating a support network comprised of mentors and organizations.

He argues that there are three primary reasons he’s forwarding the project: too many students love learning and hate school, there is very little correlation between success in school and success in life, and that students need to be more entrepreneurial with their knowledge.

I think he’s preaching to the choir.

The tenets are pretty well established: open, networked, and transparent. Now it’s time to start experimenting. Shane, DJ, and I have an idea for a social tool to enhance networked learning. The goal is to connect knowledge seekers to connect with knowledge holders, and build an economy which measures the capital of knowledge transferred. We should start doing this in small trial runs, and then scale up. Roughly, the tool would use profiles so that the seekers could search out the holders. For instance, if I wanted to learn how to install WordPress, I could search and find a person who held that knowledge. It would allow me to find a time and location to meet with that person. To quantify the knowledge transfer, there would be a karma system to quantify the value of information transfer and allow both parties to exchange capital. Additionally, the tool would allow groups to coalesce for longer periods of project-based, experiential learning like the Sadhana Clean Water Project and ODA’s water project in San Pablo, Peru.

My favorite of all of this thus far? Max mentioned that he keeps his iPod regularly stocked with TEDTalks. Back when I was in high school, dialup at home forced me to download the two regular podcasts I could find, Adam Curry’s Daily Source Code and On The Media, at school. That was less than five years ago. Just think about what type of information transfer devices and bandwidth will allow five years from now. There’s huge potential, and others agree.

The plot thickens

On my argument against College Publisher, and for an open source coalition of student newspapers, Brad Arendt of The Arbiter presents several good points about the advantages of using College Publisher.  Considering the time he took writing a well-detailed comment, I thought I would clarify on a several things I think he missed.

First, I think student newspapers should actively work on developing 1 or 2 alternatives to CP. This may not mean collaboratively building a CMS from scratch, rather it’s more likely to be facilitating a developer ecosystem specific to our needs around common platforms. For anyone familiar with WordPress, which I’ve helped implement for the Whitman Pioneer and most recently, Oregon Direct Action (which is a work in progress), it’s strength is an abundance of plugins and themes you can add to your install. A developer ecosystem is important for continued innovation and, as far as I can tell, CP doesn’t have one.

Cost is certainly an issue. Both CP and WordPress, Django, or Drupal are “free,” but the critical difference is that CP comes working out of the box for student newspapers and the others require a developer. One stated goal is to have an open source alternative that can be quickly up and running with full functionality. If the paper has resources to develop their platform beyond point, they would be able to do so with the support of other developers across the country. This platform would also be available to local papers, although that is not the intended market. Furthermore, I do see a business model in this, in a very Ubuntu and WordPress-esque fashion.

Quoting Brad,

There are some rather innovative and creative things which the CP4.0 system does offer. I would not say it limits creativity, rather it is the students you have on staff who know what to do with the tools that limits your creativity more than CP4.0. The Daily Pennsylvanian has done some very creative stuff in the LAMP environment, which is open source. The Daily Tar Heel has also figured out an interesting work around for blogs, granted done via WordPress but the 4.0 system and the students figured out how to “fit” it in.

Personally, I think arguing that College Publisher allows for innovation is completely erroneous. LAMP, which means Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP, is an open source stack and doesn’t stand for anything specific. I don’t mean to discount your example, I’m just not sure how you mean to imply CP is innovative by allowing hacking outside the platform. Furthermore, any server environment should allow working with and around the software running on it. Allowing WordPress to be installed as a blogging platform is not a sellable strength of College Publisher

Brian also mentions that CP does provide backups of your site for the scenario in which it disappears.  Unfortunately, these, I imagine, are only backups of your data, not the content management system your data is living in. If your site were to go down, you would have to install and develop an alternative CMS, as well as port your database, before you have a live site.  You shouldn’t have to completely rebuild your website if College Publisher disappears.  When the web presence becomes the only presence, having your site suddenly not exist would have very real consequences.

Ideas for a UO Sustainability Conference in October?

Steve Mital, Sustainability Director for the University of Oregon, recently sent a call for ideas to help guide a Sustainability Conference tentatively planned for the 23rd and 24th of October, 2008.  It is being organized by Sustainability Directors at Portland State University, Oregon State University, and the University of Oregon, and the second day will reportedly be “entirely devoted to students and sustainability.”  My suggestions for the conference, written in full on the Oregon Direct Action blog, revolve around these ideas:

  • Planning this conference digitally and in the public eye so that students can be a part of the entire process
  • Adding an international component to help bridge the local-international sustainability gap
  • Networking with local sustainability non-profits
  • Drafting a set of sustainability guidelines for campus community to voluntarily adopt (i.e. minimizing paper use, using Tupperware instead of styrofoam, etc.)
They are looking for ideas on “workshops, themes, keynote speakers, etc.” until July 3rd.  Let’s make this conference worth attending!