During his keynote at the Partos Innovation Festival Kenyan designer Mark Kamau mentioned that “45% of Kenya’s GDP was mobile.” That is an impressive statistic, so I wondered if I could verify it. With some public and open data, it was easy to follow up.

World Bank data pegs Kenya’s GDP in 2016 at some 72 billion USD.
Kenya’s central bank publishes monthly figures on the volume of transactions through mobile, and for September 2018 it reports 327 billion KSh, while the lowest monthly figure is February at 300 billion. With 100 Ksh being equivalent to 1 USD, this means the monthly transaction volume exceeds 3 billion USD every month. For a year this means 3*12=36 billion USD, or about half of the 2016 GDP figure. An amazing volume.

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It was a beautiful day in Amsterdam, while I walked to the venue through the eastern harbour area

Today I was in Amsterdam, participating in the Partos Innovation Festival, a yearly meet-up of those working on change and innovation in development and humanitarian aid. It was a much larger gathering than I had expected, and through the day I encountered a wide variety of projects and ideas. It was clear I normally operate in different environments, as some of the projects were making (technology) choices that wouldn’t have been made elsewhere. Clearly all of us work within the constraints of the capabilities, experience and knowledge available to us in our networks and sectors. The day started with two worthwile keynotes, one by Kenyan designer Mark Kamau, one by human rights lawyer Tulika Srivastava from India.

20181011_102905 Partos Innovation Festival

The reason I attended was that I was a jury member for one of 5 innovation awards presented today, the Dutch Humanitarian Coalition for Innovation’s “Best Humanitarian Innovation Award”. Together with Klaas Hernamdt, we go back a long time in the FabLabs network, and Suzanne Laszlo, general director of UNICEF Netherlands, we had the pleasure to judge a short list of 8 projects, from which we already selected 3 nominees two weeks ago. Today the winner was announced: Optimus, that through data analysis and optimisation models, helps the WFP to save millions of dollars while distributing food of the same nutritional value to those most in need. This allowed the WFP in trial runs to feed 100.000 people more against the same costs. This is crucial as food aid is continuously struggling with getting enough funding.

While Optimus were deserved winners I must say the other two finalists came close. Of the overall 40 points they could get in our judging method, all three ended up within 2.5 points of each other, while the other 5 nominees fell further behind. Personally I liked Translators Without Borders very much as well, who ended up in second place. I also had the pleasure of meeting Animesh Prakash of Oxfam India, who with a cheap and distributed early flood warning system came third, twice in the past week. It seems to me his effort might benefit from building closer ties to the maker community in India, and I will try and assist him doing that.

Partos Innovation Festival
Klaas handing the award to the winners of the Optimus project, with the day’s moderator Marina Diboma

In just over a week I will be joining the Nuremberg IndieWebCamp, together with Frank Meeuwsen. As I said earlier, like Frank, I’m wondering what I could be working on, talking about, or sharing at the event. Especially as the event is set up to not just talk but also build things.

So I went through my blogpostings of the past months that concerned the indie web, and made a list of potential things. They are of varying feasibility and scope, so I can probably strike off quite a few, and should likely go for the most simple one, which could also be re-used as building block for some of the less easy options. The list contains 13 things (does that have a name, a collection of 13 things, like ‘odd dozen’ or something? Yes it does: a baker’s dozen, see comment by Ric below.). They fall into a few categories: webmention related, rss reader related, more conceptual issues, and hardware/software combinations.

  1. Getting WebMention to display the way I want, within the Sempress theme I’m using here. The creator of the theme, Matthias Pfefferle, may be present at the event. Specifically I want to get some proper quotes displayed underneath my postings, and also understand much better what webmention data is stored and where, and how to manipulate it.
  2. Building a growing list of IndieWeb sites by harvesting successful webmentions from my server logs, and publish that in a re-usable (micro-)format (so that you could slowly map the Indieweb over time)
  3. Make it much easier for myself to blog from mobile, or mail to my blog, using the MicroPub protocol, e.g. using the micropublish client.
  4. Dive into the TinyTinyRSS datastructure to better understand. First to be able to add tags to feeds (not articles), as per my wishlist for RSS reader functionality.
  5. Make basic visualisation possible on top of TinyTinyRSS database, as a step to a reading mode based on pattern detection
  6. Allow better search across TinyTinyRSS, full text, to support the reading mode of searching material around specific questions I hold
  7. Adding machine translation to TinyTinyRSS, so I can diversify my reading, and compare original to its translation on a post by post basis
  8. Visualising conversations across blogs, both for understanding the network dynamics involved and for discovery
  9. Digging up my old postings 2003-2005 about my information strategies and re-formulate them for networked agency and 2018
  10. Find a way of displaying content (not just postings, but parts of postings) limited to a specific audience, using IndieAuth.
  11. Formulate my Networked Agency principles, along the lines of the IndieWeb principles, for ‘indietech’ and ‘indiemethods’
  12. Attempt to run FreedomBone on a Raspberry Pi, as it contains a range of tools, including GnuSocial for social networking. (Don’t forget to bring a R Pi for it)
  13. Automatically harvest my Kindle highlights and notes and store them locally in a way I can re-use.

These are the options. Now I need to pick something that is actually doable with my limited coding skills, yet also challenges me to learn/do something new.

This Tuesday 2 October sees the annual event of the Dutch Coalition for Humanitarian Innovation. The coalition consists of government entities, knowledge institutions, academia, businesses, and humanitarian organisations in the Netherlands. Together they aim to develop and scale new solutions to increase impact and reduce costs of humanitarian action.

I was asked to join this year’s jury for DCHI’s innovation award. There is a jury award and a public award. For the jury award 8 projects were shortlisted, from which the jury has now selected 3 finalists that were announced last Friday. The public award winner will be selected from the same short list.
At the annual event of DCHI this Tuesday the public award winner will be announced, followed by closing remarks by the Minister of development cooperation mrs Sigrid Kaag, who is very well experienced when it comes to international development. The jury award will be presented to the winner on October 11th at the Partos innovation festival.

The three finalists my colleagues and I in the jury selected are all very interesting, so I briefly want to list them here.

Optimus by the UN’s World Food Program and Tilburg University
Data analysis and mathematical modeling optimises supply and distribution also by taking into account locally available food and conditions. Optimisation means delivering the same nutritional value against lower efforts. It has been successfully used in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Ethiopia. In Iraq it helped save a million USD per month, allowing the program to provide an additional 100.000 people in need with food packages. (link in Dutch)

Quotidian early warning solutions by Oxfam India
Flood prediction models in India are accurate, but still flooding causes many fatalities. The cause is often not being able to timely reach and warn everyone. Oxfam India came up with ways to integrate early warning systems with existing local infrastructure, and so create a low cost option for real time distribution of flood warnings.

Words of Relief / Translators without borders
Being able to provide key information to people in need depends on having that information in the right language. Information only saves lives if those who need it understand it. Translators without Borders creates glossaries which can be used for humanitarian response. Their Gamayun initiative wants to bring 20 underserved languages online by creating such glossaries and providing that as open data to all who can use it. They see it as a key tool for equality as well. In a slightly different setting I saw this work in practice, during the Syrian refugee wave in Germany, at a hackathon I attended such glossaries were used to build apps to help refugees navigate German bureaucracy and find the help they needed.

These three projects are very different, in terms of technology used, in the issues they address, and the way they involve the communities concerned, and all three highly fascinating.

Saturday I visited the Maker Faire in Eindhoven. Jeroen of the Frysklab team invited me to come along, when their mobile FabLab was parked in our courtyard for Smart Stuff That Matters. They had arranged a touring car to take a group of librarians and educators to the Maker Faire, and invited me to join the bus ride. So I took a train to Apeldoorn and then a taxi out to a truck stop where the bus was scheduled to stop for a coffee break, and then joined them for the rest of the drive down south.

The Maker Faire was filled with all kinds of makers showing their projects, and there was a track with 30 minute slots for various talks.
It was fun to walk around, meet up with lots of people I know. Lots of projects shown seemed to lack a purpose beyond the initial fascination of technological possibilities however. There were many education oriented projects as well, and many kids happily trying their hand on them. From a networked agency point of view there were not that many projects that aimed for collective capabilities.

Some images, and a line or two of comment.

Makerfair Eindhoven
En-able, a network of volunteers printing 3d-printed prosthetics, was present. Talked to the volunteer in the image, with his steam-punk prosthetic device. They printed 18 hands and arm prosthetics for kids in the Netherlands last year, and 10 this year until now. Children need new prosthetics every 3 to 6 months, and 3d printing them saves a lot of costs and time. You even get to customise them with colors, and your favourite cartoon figure or super hero.

Makerfair Eindhoven Makerfair Eindhoven
3d printing with concrete, a project in which our local FabLab Amersfoort is involved. Didn’t get to see the printer working alas.

Makerfair Eindhoven Makerfair Eindhoven Makerfair Eindhoven
Novelty 3d printing of portraits.

Makerfair Eindhoven Makerfair Eindhoven
Building your own electronic music devices.

Makerfair Eindhoven Makerfair Eindhoven
Bringing LED-farming to your home, open source. Astroplant is an educational citizen science project, supported by ESA.

Maker Faire Eindhoven Maker Faire Eindhoven
Robot football team versus kids team. Quite a few educational projects around robotics were shown. Mostly from a university of applied sciences, but with efforts now branching out to preceding education levels. Chatted to Ronald Scheer who’s deeply involved in this (and who participated in our Smart Stuff That Matters unconference).

Maker Faire Eindhoven Maker Faire Eindhoven
A good way to showcase a wide range of Microbit projects by school children. I can see this mounted on a class room wall.

Maker Faire Eindhoven Maker Faire Eindhoven
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An open source 3d-printed, arduino controlled android. But what is it for? Open source robotics in general is of interest of course. There were also remote controlled robots, which were quite a lot of fun, as the video shows.

Maker Faire Eindhoven Maker Faire Eindhoven

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At the fringe of the event there was some steam punk going on.

Maker Faire Eindhoven Maker Faire Eindhoven
Building with card board boxes for children. Makedo is an Australian brand, and next to their kits, you can find additional tools and elements as 3d printable designs online.

Maker Faire Eindhoven
The Frysklab team presented the new Dutch language Data Detox kit, which they translated from the English version the Berlin based Tactical Tech Collective created.

This week I am in Novi Sad for the plenary of the Assembly of European Regions. Novi Sad is the capitol of the Vojvodina, a member region, and the host for the plenary meetings of the AER.

I took part in a panel to discuss the opportunities of open data at regional level. The other panelists were my Serbian UNDP colleague Slobodan Markovic, Brigitte Lutz of the Vienna open data portal (whom I hadn’t met in years), Margreet Nieuwenhuis of the European open data portal, and Geert-Jan Waasdorp who uses open data about the European labour market commercially.

Below are the notes I used for my panel contributions:

Open data is a key building block for any policy plan. The Serbian government certainly treats it as such, judging by the PM’s message we just heard, and the same should be true for regional governments.

Open data from an organisational stand point is only sustainable if it is directly connected to primary policy processes, and not just an additional step or effort after the ‘real’ work has been done. It’s only sustainable if it means something for your own work as regional administration.

We know that open data allows people and organisations to take new actions. These by themselves or in aggregate have impact on policy domains. E.g. parents choosing schools for their children or finding housing, multimodal route planning, etc.

So if you know this effect exists, you can use it on purpose. Publish data to enable external stakeholders. You need to ask yourself: around which policy issues do you want to enable more activity? Which stakeholders do you want to enable or nudge? Which data will be helpful for that, if put into the hands of those stakeholders?

This makes open data a policy instrument. Next to funding and regulation, publishing open data for others to use is a way to influence stakeholder behaviour. By enabling them and partnering with them.
It is actually your cheapest policy instrument, as the cost of data collection is always a sunk cost as part of your public task

Positioning open data this way, as a policy instrument, requires building connections between your policy issues, external stakeholders and their issues, and the data relevant in that context.

This requires going outside and listen to stakeholders and understand the issues they want to solve, the things they care about. You need to avoid making any assumptions.

We worked with various regional governments in the Netherlands, including the two Dutch AER members Flevoland and Gelderland. With them we learned that having those outside conversations is maybe the hardest part. To create conversations between a policy domain expert, an internal data expert, and the external stakeholders. There’s often a certain apprehension to reach out like that and have an open ended conversation on equal footing. From those conversations you learn different things. That your counterparts are also professionals interested in achieving results and using the available data responsibly. That the ways in which others have shaped their routines and processes are usually invisible to you, and may be surprising to you.
In Flevoland there’s a program for large scale maintenance on bridges and water locks in the coming 4 years. One of the provincial aims was to reduce hindrance. But an open question was what constitutes hindrance to different stakeholders. Only by talking to e.g. farmers it became clear that the maintenance plans themselves were less relevant than changes in those plans: a farmer rents equipment a week before some work needs to be done on the fields. If within that week a bridge unexpectedly becomes blocked, it means he can’t reach his fields with the rented equipment and damage is done. Also relevant is exploring which channels are useful to stakeholders for data dissemination. Finding channels that are used already by stakeholders or channels that connect to those is key. You can’t assume people will use whatever special channel you may think of building.

Whether it is about bridge maintenance, archeology, nitrate deposition, better usage of Interreg subsidies, or flash flooding after rain fall, talking about open data in terms of innovation and job creation is hollow and meaningless if it is not connected to one of those real issues. Only real issues motivate action.

Complex issues rarely have simple solutions. That is true for mobility, energy transition, demographic pressure on public services, emission reduction, and everything else regional governments are dealing with. None of this can be fixed by an administration on its own. So you benefit from enabling others to do their part. This includes local governments as stakeholder group. Your own public sector data is one of the easiest available enables in your arsenal.

Last week the 2nd annual Techfestival took place in Copenhagen. As part of this there was a 48 hour think tank of 150 people (the ‘Copenhagen 150‘), looking to build the Copenhagen Catalogue, as a follow-up of last year’s Copenhagen Letter of which I am a signee. Thomas, initiator of the Techfestival had invited me to join the CPH150 but I had to decline the invitation, because of previous commitments I could not reschedule. I’d have loved to contribute however, as the event’s and even more the think tank’s concerns are right at the heart of my own. My concept of networked agency and the way I think about how we should shape technology to empower people in different ways runs in parallel to how Thomas described the purpose of the CPH150 48 hour think tank at its start last week.

For me the unit of agency is the individual and a group of meaningful relationships in a specific context, a networked agency. The power to act towards meaningful results and change lies in that group, not in the individual. The technology and methods that such a group deploys need to be chosen deliberately. And those tools need to be fully within scope of the group itself. To control, alter, extend, tinker, maintain, share etc. Such tools therefore need very low adoption thresholds. Tools also need to be useful on their own, but great when federated with other instances of those tools. So that knowledge and information, learning and experimentation can flow freely, yet still can take place locally in the (temporary) absence of such wider (global) connections. Our current internet silos such as Facebook and Twitter clearly do not match this description. But most other technologies aren’t shaped along those lines either.

As Heinz remarked earlier musing about our unconference, effective practices cannot be separated from the relationships in which you live. I added that the tools (both technology and methods) likewise cannot be meaningfully separated from the practices. Just like in the relationships you cannot fully separate between the hyperlocal, the local, regional and global, due to the many interdependencies and complexity involved: what you do has wider impact, what others do and global issues express themselves in your local context too.

So the CPH150 think tank effort to create a list of principles that takes a human and her relationships as the starting point to think about how to design tools, how to create structures, institutions, networks fits right with that.

Our friend Lee Bryant has a good description of how he perceived the CPH150 think tank, and what he shared there. Read the whole thing.

Meanwhile the results are up: 150 principles called the Copenhagen Catalogue, beautifully presented. You can become signatory to those principles you deem most valuable to stick to.

Heinz Wittenbrink, who teaches content strategy at the FH Joanneum in Graz, reflected extensively on his participation in our recent Smart Stuff That Matters unconference.
We go back since 2006 (although I think we read each others blog before), when we first met at a BarCamp in Vienna. Later Heinz kindly invited me to Graz at several occasions such as the 2008 Politcamp (a barcamp on web 2.0 and political communication), and the 2012 annual conference of the Austrian association for trainers in basic education for adults.

He writes in German, and his blogpost contains a lot to unpack (also as it weaves the history of our interaction into his observations), so I thought I’d highlight and translate some quotes here. This as I find it rather compelling to read how someone, who’s been involved in and thinking about online interaction for a long time, views the event we did in the context of his and my work. And that some of what I’m trying to convey as fundamental to thinking about tools and interaction is actually coming across to others. Even if I feel that I’ve not yet hit on the most compelling way to formulate my ideas.

Heinz starts with saying he sees my approach as a very practice oriented one.
“Ton engages on a very practical level with the possibilities of combining the personal and personal relationships with the wider contexts in which one lives, from the local community to global developments. He has a technical, pragmatic and practice oriented approach. Also he can explain to others who are not part of a digital avantgarde what he does.”

And then places the birthday unconferences we did in that context, as an extension of that practice oriented approach. Something I realise I didn’t fully do myself.

“The unconference of last week is an example of how one can do things from a highly personal motivation – like meeting friends, talking about topics you’re interested in, conversing about how you shape your new daily routines after a move – and make it easy for others to connect to that. What you find or develop you don’t keep for yourself, but is made useful for others, and in turn builds on what those others do. So it’s not about developing an overarching moral claim in a small context , but about shaping and networking one’s personal life in such a way that you collectively expand your capabilities to act. Ton speaks of networked agency. Digital networking is a component of these capabilities to act, but only embedded in networks that combine people, as well as locations and technical objects.”

Speaking about the unconference he says something that really jumps out at me.

To list the themes [….of the sessions I attended…] fails to express what was special about the unconference: that you meet people or meet them again, for whom these themes are personal themes, so that they are actually talking about their lives when they talk about them. At an unconference like this one does not try to create results that can be broadcast in abstracted formulations, but through learning about different practices and discussing them, extend your own living practice and view it from new perspectives. These practices or ways of living cannot be separated from the relationships in which and with which you live, and the relationships you create or change at such an event like this.

Seeing it worded like that, that the topics we discussed, theorised about, experimented around, are very much personal topics, and in the context of personal relationships, hits me as very true. I hadn’t worded it in quite that way myself yet. This is however exactly why to me digital networks and human networks are so similar and overlapping, and why I see your immediate context of an issue, you and your meaningful relationships as the key unit of agency. That’s why you can’t separate how you act from your relationships. And why the layeredness of household, neighbourhood, city, earth is interwoven by default, just often not taken into account, especially not in the design phase of technology and projects.

Heinz then talks about blogging, and our earlier silent assumptions that novel technology would as per default create the right results. Frank’s phrasing and Heinz’s mention of the ‘original inspiration’ to blog resonate with me.

It’s probably not a coincidence that the people I had the most intensive conversations with have been blogging for a long time. They all stuck with the original inspiration to blog. Frank in his presentation called it “to publish your own unedited voice”. The openness but also the individuality expressed in this formulation was clearly visible in the entire unconference.

For me blogging was a way of thinking out loud, making a life long habit of note taking more public. The result was a huge growth in my professional peer network, and I found that learning in this networked manner accelerated enormously. Even if my imagined audience when I write is just 4 or 5 of people, and I started blogging as a personal archive/reflection tool, I kept doing it because of the relationships it helped create.

Continuing on about the early techno-optimism Heinz says about the unconference

The atmosphere at the unconference was very different. Of the certainties of the years shortly after 2000 nothing much remains. The impulses behind the fascination of yesteryear do remain however. It’s not about, or even less about technology as it was then, it’s about smart actions in themselves, and life under current conditions. It’s about challenging what is presented as unavoidable more than producing unavoidability yourself.

Only slowly I understand that technologies are much deeper embedded in social practices and can’t be separated from them. Back then I took over Ton’s concept of ‘people centered navigation’. Through the event last week it became clearer to me what this concept means: not just a ‘right’ efficient way to use tools, but a practice that for specific needs deliberately selects tools and in doing so adapts them.

People centered navigation is not a component of better more efficient mass media, but navigating information in reference to needs and capabilities of people in localised networks. Where above all the production of media and content in dialogue with a limited number of others is relevant, not its reception by the masses. Network literacies are capabilities to productively contribute to these localised networks.

Just like practice is inseparable from our relationships, our tools are inseparable from our practices. In networked agency, the selection of tools (both technology and methods) is fully determined by the context of the issue at hand and the group of relationships doing it. As I tried to convey in 2010 in my Maker Households keynote at SHiFT and indeed at the earlier mentioned keynote I gave at Heinz’s university on basic literacy in adult learning, networked literacies are tied to your personal networks. And he’s right, the original fascination is as strong as before.

Heinz finishes with adding the work of Latour to my reading list, by his last remark.

The attempt to shape your local surroundings intelligently and to consider how you can connect them in various dimensions of networks, reminds me of the localised politics in fragile networks that Bruno Latour describes in his terrestrial manifest as an alternative to the utopies and dystopies of globalisation and closed national societies. Latour describes earth as a thin layer where one can live, because one creates the right connections and maintains them. The unconference was an experiment to discover and develop such connections.

Thank you Heinz for your reflection, I’m glad you participated in this edition.

At the Smart Stuff That Matters unconference we did an ‘anecdote circle lite’ as an introductory activity. Participants discussed in small groups about their latest move to a different house, in terms of the biggest disappointment and most pleasant surprise of living in a new house/neigbourhood/city.

While one participant talked, the others in the group would write down things that stood out for them. This served as raw input for putting together the program of the day. Below the photo of all the remarks that ended up on one of our living room windows, is the transcription of all 130+ post-its. It is unsorted and in random order. Some of the post-its read like they’d deserve their own blogpost to explore.

stm18

  • City is experienced more than the place, the place lived more than the city
  • Does smart stuff make us faster? Smart slow stuff: yoga, walk the dog, pillow, alone time, just be, mountain bike
  • Get in town by changing speed
  • Move (=1) integrating connected to social fabrics (=2)
  • turning old hous into a living space
  • material things vs digital: like e-book collection
  • segregation big city, hard to connect
  • big new build house, spoiled? comfort
  • old owners of the house had own way of doing things (and we have the implications)
  • de-smart, why needed? “Lekker zelf knoeien
  • Combination green city garden station, freedom + comfort
  • moving from big to small, small to big
  • different transitions together with moving houses
  • the fence that is permeable (privacy + see through and contact)
  • shed-own space, tinker space
  • get to know people on the street
  • there are kids in the neighbourhood, but we hardly see them
  • it is more stressful when you know more
  • physical limitations, short range, 500m
  • travel time vs family time
  • self reliance, responsibility, freedom critical
  • plants and music
  • where to find coffee
  • un-smarting, light
  • children help bring/make community
  • technology also ‘blinds’ local jewels
  • approach newcomers
  • learning from overhearing experts
  • takes meeting many potential friends to find one
  • moving to area with different culture is interesting
  • small community very comfortable
  • small talk = life blood of community
  • when do you live in a city or just use a house
  • connections matter
  • transition issues – how not to get crazy in the process
  • you don’t want to be sharks with sharks, you want to be a shark with a fish
  • expanding and contraction
  • tinkerspace
  • energy
  • interhuman connection
  • view of a green toolshed, lots of travel time for work
  • eyeglass 2016 meltdown travel
  • accessibility in the city
  • rediscovering the city when not able to walk far
  • home = your own stuff? (living together!)
  • never moved, ice damage, 2 yrs
  • segregated cultures
  • to the hague, busy, rules and fines, large differences
  • standing out from the crowd is hard
  • slow moving, gradually
  • to make friends you need to see them in new environments/situations for next level
  • big city, big street, no social cohesion
  • smalll town -> big city
  • groups stay separate
  • sharing with other people to connect -social media, -online communications, free online courses
  • smart stuff to feel home: old fashioned slow stuff
  • living in 2 places, moving without moving
  • having a group that makes you feel at home
  • yard work = meeting people
  • social fabric in neighbourhoods, how to reach eachother
  • smart vs responsibility
  • homeschooling techniques & stories
  • stm starts with people, human, after that technology
  • anti-squatting: live in a room that is not designed for it / community
  • you have to move, even when moving
  • liked a 30s-40s home, but appreciates the comfort of a brand new one.
  • house with a garden, everything around the corner. Feeling the need for less ‘smart’
  • The stuff you bring to a new home define feeling at home
  • the first move breaks you
  • MSTM14 – best travel experience
  • hired house vs bought house, changes vs stable
  • amsterdam -> borg. Wow I’m living here now, jazz musicians
  • not being at home after moving busy at work
  • staying out of algorithmic propaganda world
  • when you build a new house you have to imagine how it will turn out. You buy it ‘on paper’. Conformity=expectations of society
  • outside city -> center, old house requires a lot of work, what do you really need?
  • smart slow stuff, algoritmic propaganda world
  • house is where I am, flexible/portable housel
  • live in an ambulance
  • connecting to people in building.
  • welcoming neighbours
  • moving evolves the world (e.g. neanderthals) and your family (e.g. ancestors)
  • discovering other similar people
  • home for kids so different for parent. time/part in life
  • kids do better understanding systems
  • needs from social fabric depends on the situation
  • social needs interaction
  • rules for making friends: it’s work, you need to set out to make friends
  • being somewhere new for a month inspiration
  • home is a combination of green and the comfort of good facilities
  • freedom
  • silence
  • “central”
  • being there needs a decision
  • unpredictability is cool too
  • serendipity?!
  • bumping into people is important
  • home ~~~~~ discovery
  • erasing traces / tracks
  • understand the city depends on the way of transport
  • Airbnb is not about living only
  • how to find chemistry
  • small road to a small town with 70 people
  • childhood roots us
  • what could possibly go wrong while moving
  • transitions are key stress factors
  • 1st home physical co??? with the space
  • walk cycle go by boat
  • discovery needs slowness
  • building informal network
  • moving is losing
  • noise
  • heart vs wallet
  • right side of town
  • freedom from family
  • more development after my development
  • cats own the house
  • all the friends you haven’t made (yet)
  • via Facebook a small room in Amsterdam
  • when do you still bump into friends by accident
  • a simple light switch works better than any app
  • hack your kid: online games -no money -earn money by irl activities
  • kids: boat —> steer, morning ritual, egg timer, backlog
  • color coding, feedback, move board along
  • yes you can forbid things (hack your kid)
  • connecting with people in buiding + new intro of people living in same building
  • warmth vs energy bills
  • adapt to little negative things
  • back in the city
  • architecture influences interaction / community
  • having a house you can walk around
  • NL-Hungry->USA->Turkey->NL (neighbours) – kids running through
  • old church now serves as a community center

Elmine says this about the difficulty to describe her feelings about having almost 70 guests, friends, family, clients, peers, neighbours, spend two days in our home. Where the youngest was 8 weeks, the oldest 80 years. Where the shortest trip made was from right next door, and the furthest from Canada and Indonesia, and the rest from somewhere in between:

I try to find words to describe what happened the past few days, but everything I write down feels incomplete and abstract. How do you put into words how much it means to you that friends travel across the world to attend your birthday party? That you can celebrate a new year in life with friends you haven’t been able to meet for four years (or longer)? Who’s lives have changed so drastically in those years, including my own, but still pick up where you left the conversation all those years before? How can I describe how much it means to me to be able to connect all those people Ton and I collected in our lives, bring them together in the same space and for all of them to hit it off? That they all openly exchanged life stories, inspired each other, geeked out together, built robots together?

It was an experience beyond words. It was, yet again, an epic birthday party.

It also extends to the interaction we had with those who could not attend, because the invitation and response also trigger conversations about how other people are doing and what is going on in their lives.

I completely share Elmine’s sense of awe.

Last Friday we ended the Smart Stuff That Matters unconference by smashing an evil robot called Smarty. Elmine, this being her birthday party, officiated by using ‘The Unmaker’, a hammer my colleague Paul brought us. She proceeded to smash the evil robot that made angry buzzing sounds, as a representation of all the ‘wrong’ types of ‘smart’ automatisation. Smarty had been built during the afternoon workshop that Iskander Smit improvised.

As I said at the time, part of ‘smart’ is the social side of things, not just the tech side. And part of those social aspects is the frustration and rage that comes with devices and software not responding or working the way we expect them to. Elmine used the opportunity to take all that out on our evil robot Smarty with gusto.

Some people have blogged about their experiences at our birthday unconference “Smart Stuff That Matters” and bbq in honour of Elmine’s birthday.

Peter wrote about the session his son organised, and about (re)connecting to the other participants in a way that describes the richness of the interaction well: “All the friends I’ve not yet met“, in reference to a sentence uttered at the event.

Frank described his day, and how he came to give a presentation himself in “The unconference is still the best format“. Original is in Dutch, here’s a machine translation to English.

Elja wrote a great post about the ‘oh sh*t’ moment where you think no-one will be interested in your story. The original is in Dutch too, so you may want to use the machine translation.

Iskander mentions how he adapted a workshop he regularly organises to facilitate a group to make a robot with the help of the mobile FabLab, Frysklab parked in the courtyard.

Heinz wrote a great essay describing and reflecting on the event. There’s a lot to unpack in his posting, which he also ties to the history and character of my connection with Heinz.

Elmine, the host and birthday girl herself, is still reeling from all the interaction, and in awe of all the efforts people made to attend. A feeling I completely share.

I wrote a few things myself as well. Do you have any diodes? about the day, and some notes on the process in Anecdote circles lite. And the video of the closing ceremony, made by Jeroen de Boer, of course! All my postings concerning the event are tagged STM18

When more postings appear online I will add them here.

Our event meant bringing together some 45 people. They all know at least one of us two, but mostly don’t know each other. Some type of introduction is therefore useful, but you don’t want to take much time out of the day itself for it, as often intro-rounds are dreary and meaningless exercises that sap energy and of which you don’t remember much immediately after. So we’ve aimed for our events to have a first activity that is also an intro-round, but serves a bigger purpose for the event.

Previously we’ve done 1-on-1 intro conversations that also produced a hand drawn map of connections or of skills and experiences in the group, to be re-used to find the right people for subsequent sessions. We’ve done groups of 5 to 6 to create Personas, as the first step of the design process to make something yourself. This time we settled on an idea of Elmine, to do what can best be described as Anecdote Circles Lite. Anecdote circles are a process to elicit experiences and stories from a group as they reveal implicit knowledge and insights about a certain topic (PDF). You group people together and prompt them with one or more questions that ask about specific occasions that have strong feelings attached to it. Others listen and can write down what stands out for them in the anecdote shared.

The starting point of the unconference theme ‘Smart Stuff That Matters’ was our move to Amersfoort last year. It means getting to know, find your way in, and relate to a new house, a different neighbourhood, a different city. And do that in the light of what you need to fulfill your needs to be at home and feel supported in the new environment. But in a broader light you can use the same questions to take a fresh look at your own environment, and make it ‘smarter’ in being at home and feeling supported. Our opening exercise was shaped to nudge the participants along the same path.

In my opening remarks, after singing a birthday song together for Elmine, I sketched our vision for the event much as in the previous paragraph. Then I asked all participants to find 3 or 4 others that you preferrably do not know, and find a spot in the house or garden (inviting them to explore the house/garden on their own that way too, giving them permission to do so as it were). The question to prompt conversation was “Think back to the last time you moved house, and arrived in a new environment. What was most disappointing to you about your new place/live? What was pleasantly surprising to you about your new place/live?” With those questions and pen & paper everybody was off to their first conversations.

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The thoughts and observations resulting from the intro-round

Judging by Peter’s description of it, it went well. It’s quoted here in full as it describes both the motivation for and the layeredness of the experience quite well. I take Peter’s words as proof the process worked as intended.

The second highlight is an event that preceded Oliver’s talk, the “icebreaker” part of the day that led things off. I have always dreaded the “everybody introduce yourself” part of meetings, especially meetings of diverse people whose lives inevitably seem much more interesting than my own; this, thankfully, was dispensed with, and instead we were prompted to gather with people we didn’t yet know and to talk about our best and worst moves in life.

What proceeded from this simple prompt was a rich discussion of what it’s like to live as an expat, how difficult it is to make friends as an adult, and the power of neighbourhood connections. Oliver and I were in a group with Heinz and Elja and Martyn, and we talked for almost an hour. I have no idea what any of the others in our group do for a living, but I know that Martyn mowed his lawn this week in preparation for a neighbourhood party, that Heinz lives in an apartment block where it’s hard to get to know his neighbours, and that Elja has lived in Hungary, the USA and Turkey, and has the most popular Dutch blog post on making friends.

During the event Elja shared her adagio that the best way to get to know people after moving to a new environment is to do something together (as opposed to just sitting down for coffee and conversation). It’s pleasantly recursive to see a statement like that as the result of a process designed to follow that adagio in the first place.

I will transscribe all the post-its and post (some of) it later.

Some images from previous activities-as-intro-rounds we used in previous editions:

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Persona creation / Using the hand drawn skills cards

Drawing the Sociogram

Drawing a map of connections, dubbed sociogram, between participants

Do You Have Any Diodes? ….. …. Is probably the most unlikely question I got ever asked out of the blue at a birthday party. However the answer turned out to be yes, I did have two diodes. I didn’t think I did, but taking a look in the one box I suspected might have some electronic components in them, proved me wrong.

The diodes were needed to increase the strength of the scary noises an evil robot was emitting. This evil robot was being created just outside our front door where the enormous Frysklab truck, containing a mobile FabLab, was completely filling the courtyard. Representing everything that is wrong and evil about some of the devices that are marketed as necessary for a ‘smart home’, the evil robot then got ritually smashed into pieces by Elmine, wielding a gigantic hammer, named ‘The Unmaker’ that a colleague brought with him. That was the official closing act of our unconference “Smart Stuff That Matters“.

Around all this our 40 or so guests, friends, family members, clients, colleagues, peers, were weaving a rich tapestry of conversations and deepening connections. Something that our friend Peter put into words extremely well. Elmine and I are in awe of the effort and time all who joined us have put into coming to our home and participate in our slightly peculiar way of celebrating birthdays. Birthday parties where evil robots, a hyperloop to send messages from the courtyard to the garden, mythical German bbq-sausages, friendship, philosophy, web technology, new encounters and yes diodes, are all key ingredients to help create a heady mix of fun, inspiration, connection, and lasting memories.

Thank you all so much for making it so.

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Next Friday our event takes place. With some 45 people registered to participate we have a group with diverse backgrounds again that promises lots of inspiring conversations.

It is time to explain our vision for the event, so that we all can better see how we might contribute to the program. This as we will build the program together on the day itself. This posting is to help you think of experience, stories and things you feel will be relevant for the event.

On the topic, on ‘smart’

The topic of ‘Smart Stuff That Matters’ refers to being smart in how you live in your home, are part of the social fabric of your neighbourhood, and contribute to the dynamic of your city, while aware of more global changes and issues. ‘Smart’ is both social (behaviour, routines, interaction) and technological (methods, tools, software, devices) These layers, home, neighbourhood, city, and the world, are not separate but intimately connected and fluid.

Smartness, I think, resides in the way each of us are able embrace the interdependencies between those layers, and weave their connections into a rich tapestry. Smart is using those interdependencies to fulfil individual and collective needs, and build communal benefits from individual pieces, in the full awareness of global issues. The home is embedded in both neighbourhood and city and world in turn, but at the same time the home is also a local expression point of the layers it is embedded in. Building on those interdependencies, ‘surfing’ them by continuously adapting constitutes ‘smart’, I think. In contrast early visions of ‘smart cities’ were almost only technology and security focused. It treated the people living in a city as if they were a pest to control, rather than the key to creating a smart city, and the primary beneficiaries of that smartness.

Smartness, and experiencing smartness, resides in us humans, aided by the devices and structures we create, and is inherently messy as it mixes, twists and turns, adapts and responds. It is only we who can create and sense meaning for ourselves, and the value that has to us. So it’s up to us to define what is ‘smart’ living.

On how ‘smart’ expresses itself

Many of you on the list of participants have found smart ways of dealing with things you care about. Found ways of addressing a need in your home, that creates a connection to your neighbourhood, your city or a global issue at the same time.

I wanted to measure temperature in my garden for instance, and did so as part of a city wide network that also monitors heat islands across the city, while providing at the same time infrastructure that others in the neighbourhood can use too. Peter did the same thing on PEI in Canada. Growing food in your garden can be a way to teach kids, next to providing some raw materials to your kitchen, while aiding in greening your garden allowing for better buffering of rainwater and prevent flash flooding in your city. Helping cleaning up a local park or water way like Gabriela is a good way to meet new people in your town, while reducing trash in the neighbourhood, as a small part of a global effort. Erik has experience in bringing neighbours together for a solar energy cooperative effort. Loulou created a clock that shows the time and the air quality around you, which can demonstrate. Elja lived in different countries and found ways to quickly grow some roots. Frank wants to get out of the closed silos of Facebook and Twitter, wants to own his own data, just like others present, and is finding his own route, from which we likely can learn. How is your house a meeting place, a production unit (of energy, goods, food, water, or data), how do you add to the diversity and strength of your neigbourhood, your city? How did you find out what to you could and wanted to contribute to? How did you find your way to solving your needs smartly?

On the program

To repeat myself: Smartness, and experiencing smartness, resides in us humans. It is only we who can create and sense meaning for ourselves, and the value that has to us.
That is true for the program of the unconference as well. All of us can bring experiences, stories and artefacts to discuss, compare, create and experiment.
At the start of the day we’ll take you through an exercise to both get to know the others better, as well as look deeper at ’smart’ living. This will bring out the ideas, questions and things you’d like to present something on, have a discussion about, or hear more about from others. From that we will build the program, in classic unconference format. There are several rooms (and a garden) available and multiple rounds in which we can all propose something to discuss, present, demo, make or design. We’ll plan the sessions for which there’s energy, and get going.

Three people of the Frysklab team are participating and bring their creativity, art design and programming skills to the mix. The Frysklab bus, with a mobile FabLab is available throughout Friday. This makes it possible to work with sensors and micro-electronics, and other machines when they’re useful.

How to prepare for the day

In the coming two days, before we start, maybe you will already have some ideas of what you’d like to share, discuss or do. Have look through the list of participants, to see where they come from, what they do, and what they share online about themselves. Friday when the door opens, we’ll make it a fun and inspiring day together.

Some of you asked what to bring, and how to chip in. There will be a donation box, for those who want to. We’ll probably ask you to assist with some of the food preparation. It’s Elmine’s birthday party so a hug is welcome too. Above all, bring your curiosity!

Logistics

If you come by car, please direct your navigation system to Darthuizerberg, Amersfoort. That’s a bigger parking lot, while our street is very short on parking space. From there you can walk to our house in a short time. We promised our neighbours not to take over the entire street.
Food will be served taking into account various diets (vegetarian, gluten free e.g.)

Find general info on the day, the program, the people, and how to get to, or stay in Amersfoort here. If you have any questions, do let us know.