Category Archives: Making

More Fun Than Annual Class Trip: Making at School, Some First Observations

In the past weeks I’ve been part of a team working with a class of 10/11 year olds, as an experiment around increasing agency with 21st century digital skills, under the title Impact through Connection. In this I’m partnering with the NHL (university of applied sciences), and the regional Frisian library BSF, with some funding coming from the Dutch Royal Library as part of their Vision Mediasavviness 2016-2018 program. The experiment centered around helping the group to identify communal issues, situations they would like to change, and then to develop ideas and realize them. So that the group ‘gets’ that with various making and other machines and instruments, they have the agency, have the power, to change their surroundings for themselves as a group.

Since January we’ve been meeting with the school’s team, and then weekly 6 times with the class of 22 children. It was loads of fun, not just for the kids involved. The highest compliment we received was that one of them said “this is more fun than the annual school trip”. Another remarked feeling sorry that all other classes had to work, while they were making stuff. We pointed out that they too were working very hard, but differently, and that having fun does not mean you’re not working.

Yesterday we’ve had the final session, ending with presentations of the things they built (such as phone covers for phone-types that aren’t otherwise available, a way to look under water, a class room MP3 player for audiobooks, games, computer controlled door locks, a candy machine, a robot to counteract bullying, websites documenting the process, and a money system for the school).

Afterwards I returned home and jotted down a list of observations to reflect on. We plan to do a similar experiment with a group of adults from the same neighborhood as the school serves, as well as will aim to replicate it for other school classes.

First, for context, the order of the sessions we did.
Session 1: group discussion about the children’s environment, things they would like to change, ideas for making things they had. Resulted in a ‘wall of ideas’, ordered from ‘looks less hard to do’, to ‘looks harder to do’.
Session 2: getting to know maker machines (3d printers, laser cutters, electronics, etc.), by bringing the machines to the class room, and parking the Frysklab Mobile FabLab out front.
Session 3: getting to know programming (using Micro:bits, all the children got one to keep)
Session 4: Diving deeper in to the idea now they have a notion of what is possible with the machines and material available, using a canvas to think about what the idea solves, whom it is for, what part of the idea to zoom in on, and who in their own social network could help them realize it.
Session 5: building prototypes (again with Frysklab parked outside)
Session 6: building prototypes and presenting results

In non-specific order here are some of the raw observations I made in the past weeks, that we can further elaborate and chew on, to create the next iteration of this experiment.

On the process (time, time time!):

  • The school team school was extremely supportive, and the teacher showed enormous flexibility. She rearranged her normal class schedule extensively to ensure we had more time than we thought possible.
  • The process we designed worked, but we could have spent more time and attention to several parts of it.
  • The process worked in the sense that we got everyone to make things, and have them dive deep beyond the initial magic and wow of 3d-printing and laser cutters
  • We asked them to map out the groups they belonged to, and both their own and their classmate’s skills. We spent too little time to do that properly and to use it fruitfully in the process afterwards
  • We didn’t succeed in our original plan to bring the group to defining one or a few projects that were less person and more group focussed (except for the kid that designed a currency system for the school), and then select parts of that on which individuals or small groups could work. It seems we would need to spend more effort in the run-up to the cycle of sessions to do that properly
  • Working with a pool of people with specific domain knowledge that we could bring in when needed worked very well and strengthened the results
  • I used a canvas to help the group get to better defined projects, and while it worked, the steps in filling the canvas could have been better defined. Now some raced ahead, without key information for the next bits, while I worked with others to take the first few steps
  • The overall process hasn’t become clear to the group as a distinct shape, I think. Although that would enable them to design their own projects on their own (more on that later)
  • Having the children present their work to the group at the end was fun, useful and a good way to bring everything together again

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Two filled out canvases

On our team and the teacher

  • When we look at Making, we see how it is different from what was before, how all of a sudden ‘anyone’ can do things that took specialised machines and factories earlier, and how that changes the dynamics of it all. The children don’t see it that way, because they don’t have that history. Although that history is the source of our own fascination it is not the fascination you can confer to the children, as it is by definition a meaningless comparison to them.
  • Our large pool of people to help out was necessary to be able to provide adequate guidance. Even if adding 5-7 adults to a classroom feels like a lot.
  • More clearly articulating to the group which roles team members help might be helpful (e.g. I don’t know my way around the Frysklab truck, but still got asked a lot by the kids about it. I solved it by saying, I don’t know either, let’s go find out together)
  • The teacher could likely have a more defined role during the sessions (other than trying to keep a semblance of order), maybe also in building the bridges to other parts of the curriculum in the run-up?
  • We had several preparatory meetings with the teacher and others inthe school
  • There’s a lot I can’t do (too little experience with the machines to have internalized all routines, my own thinking is often too little visual and too much textual) It’s partly a pro as well (as it makes it easy for me to led the child lead the thinking proces, as I don’t have answers either)

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At work in the FabLab truck, and 3d printers chugging away

The path the children took

  • Large differences within the group, also in self-image, means very different speeds within the process (‘I don’t think there’s something I am really really good at’)
  • Finding out that the path from your fantasy to making it tangible reality contains disappointments (what is possible, what is realistic within time given, how does a result compare to what you imagined at first), and finding or not finding ways to surmount that disappointment
  • Not everyone was able to visualize from their ideas towards the parts that make up the whole, or different aspects and steps
  • Enormous richness in ideas, but sometimes very narrowly focussed
  • It is very important to build a bridge from the classroom project to at home (“can I take this home” “but this is something I can’t do at home”). Part of the empowerment lies here. (Also as they proudly told and partly mobilized their parents for their ideas as well)
  • They willingly left us their projects so the Frysklab team could show them on a national conference the day after the last session, after promising to return their projects soon

Visible impact and affect during the sessions

  • Really listening to ideas and trying think them through, remembering what they said about it 3 weeks earlier, is a boost in empowerment for the kids in itself
  • Children don’t have as many experience based associations and ‘hooks’ to listen to our stories, so examples are needed
  • Examples from ‘nearby’, such as the kid with a 3d printed hand prosthetic living in the neighbouring province are therefore very valuable. We need to collect many more of them.
  • Such appealing examples may also aid in bringing across the process and thinking model itself better
  • Giving everyone a Micro:bit during the process therefore turned Jeroen into a hero of everyone in the room (loud cheers!)
  • Taking things home is a source of pride
  • Other classes were jealous of this group
  • The group quickly build attachment to the team (where is Ton? Cheers when a team member arrives a bit late)
  • Concepts like ‘prototyping’ are hard, and zooming in on something small and maintaining attention is too

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Some of the created projects

The making itself

  • Robots! At first almost everyone wanted to build robots (to clean their room e.g.)
  • Things for yourself, versus things for the group. As said, before the making we likely need to build a ‘ramp’ towards more communal oriented projects
  • The realization for the chidren that things take time, can be complicated. That it isn’t magic but actual work
  • The dawning notion that programming means cutting everything into tiny ‘stupid’ steps (‘like explaining it to my 3 yr old sibling’)
  • Software is equated to computers and phones. That things that don’t look like computers can be programmed, and that hard- and software are getting merged more and more (cars, IoT, robots) takes time to land
  • Likewise ‘making’ is connected to hardware, objects and software mostly. Creating ‘systems’ or ‘processes’ is a novel concept (except for the currency making project). Challenging systems is like a fish changing the water it swims in.
  • Similarly for most, their actual environment (the street, the neighborhood, city etc, are also like ‘water’ and mostly perceived as immutable. Measuring things in your environment and acting on it was notably absent in the ideas
  • The attention span needed to zoom in on a small part at a deep enough level to be able to apply it is pretty hard to maintain
  • Building websites to document projects is an essential part the children came up with themselves. Needs to become a standard component of the process.

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Presenting results

Other circumstantial elements

  • Searching online for examples and useful material (like code snippets) can be a stronger part of the process (as answer to the frequent question “but how can I do that?”). Means paying attention to searching skills.
  • The mentioned websites can contribute to that by collecting links to resources etc.
  • Data collections didn’t play a role (likely as there were no ‘sensing’ projects), but could be a resource in other iterations
  • E-mail is not available to all children (not allowed to, don’t want to give out their parents e-mail), but often needed to register for online coding and making tools, or to create a website. Providing throw-away e-mails, like I personally do with 33Mail, is something to add to our toolkit.

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Gathering the group for the final group picture

(more pics here in this Dutch language posting by the Frisian library and Frysklab team)

New Experiment: Working on Agency in a School Class

In the coming weeks I will be working with a Dutch school class (group 7, so 10/11 yr olds), in collaboration with the Provincial Library Friesland and their FryskLab team (a mobile FabLab).

Last summer I wrote a series of postings on how I see a path to significantly increase agency for various group in various contexts, if we succeed in lowering the adoption threshold for existing technologies and techniques. Then any group can recombine those technologies and techniques to create a desired impact in their own contexts and environment.

With a little bit of funding from the Dutch Royal Library, the Provincial Library Friesland and me will work with a school class of the Dr. Algraschool and later with people in a neighborhood to put that model to the test.

In collaboration with the NHL, a university for applied sciences, we will use the results of the experiment to propose a follow-up project as part of the NHL’s lectorate on ‘agile craftsmanship’.

The first session is Wednesday, where we will start with the class to discuss the type of things they would like to change or improve around themselves, and what capabilities they feel they themselves and classmates have. In a follow-up session we will combine those ideas and their talents with the facilities of FryskLab, and then work with the children to build their own prototypes, solutions and projects.

I’m looking forward to it. It’s been a long time since I worked with primary school kids. Back in 2007 I worked with 12 primary schools to integrate digital literacies in their regular lessons, where we explored what children were already doing online, and how schools could help guide that, and build on it in their lessons. And it will definitely be a pleasure to work with the FryskLab crew (who were such a great addition to our 2014 Make Stuff That Matters birthday unconference)

Frysklab in da house!
The FryskLab mobile FabLab, parked in front of our home, 2014

On Agency: Summary and My Manifesto

Now that I’ve formulated my overall perspective on Agency (part 1 on distributedness, part 2 on defining networked agency, part 3 on technology needs), this is a summary of the key points and their consequences. Half of these are general insights, condensed from what I’ve been exposed to and absorbed in the past 10-15 years or so. These points are why it matters. The novel combinations I think I contribute (marked in bold) provide the ‘how’ to that ‘why’ by delivering the agency towards increasing our agency. These points form my manifesto to act upon.

The key points in summary are:

  1. The agency deficit and potential.
    There are many issues where many people recognize they need or should find different solutions, because existing structures are failing, but do not see a viable path towards action for themselves. This is the current agency deficit. At the same time many existing tools and instruments are underused because of barriers to entry or the form in which they are currently available. This is the agency potential.
  2. The potential of distributedness.
    Distributed digital networks are similarly structured to human networks. Hierarchies and hubs superimposed on a distributed network are rigid edge cases that don’t fully use the flexibility distributed networks can provide. Human networks can more successfully use technology when the same type of flexibility and fluidity is present in the technology used. This is the path to agency.
  3. The relevant unit of agency is a person plus related group in context
    The unit of agency to consider is not the individual on her own, nor a general ‘target’ group, but the combination of a person and the subset of meaningful relationships for a real and given context. Agency is networked. That way both the individual’s capabilities and perspectives as well as those of the relationships involved can be leveraged. This means that to discuss agency it needs to be done for specific contexts, and with knowledge of the relationships involved. No generic answers are possible, although examples are.
  4. Networked agency is the sum of striking power, resilience and agility
    Because your context does not exist in a vacuum but in a global network of other contexts and connections, agency is not merely about what you can do in your context (striking power), but also how you can mitigate (resilience) or leverage (agility) the consequences of things propagating to you from outside of it
  5. ‘Hard’ and ‘soft’ technology need to be always used in combination
    Methods and processes that take human networks as a given in how we act, organize and learn (community building, networking, complexity management etc), in combination with distributed hard technology / science is the relevant scope of technology to consider. Not just ‘real’ tech. This combination is how you create the needed bridge and conduit between the digital and us humans, out of the combinations agency emerges.
  6. Technologies need to be ‘smaller‘ than us, barriers lowered
    We need to seek out, recombine, or create expressions of that technology that allows the context specific user group involved to deploy, alter, and trust or control it, without barriers to entry based on money, expert knowledge, or time consumption. This often means making the technology truly distributed, such that local expressions of it are independently possible in an interdependent global network. There is a range of promising technologies on this path that however need an extra push.
  7. Reasoning from a desired specific impact, not from technology features
    It is necessary to reason from the desired impact. Issues that cannot be solved by a single individual, nor on a general level by a group or mass, but only with the active involvement of the group of people it concerns are the ones to focus on. Issues are context specific, so is impact.
  8. Making it specific creates a design aid
    Putting a (list of) specific contexts (person plus meaningful relations) at one end, and a (list of possibly) desired impact on a specific issue at the other, with the lists of potential hard and soft technologies in between, such as in the image below, can be used as thinking aid and design aid.
    It allows you to explore possibilities based on selecting varying combinations of certain technologies, or specific combinations of technologies already available in the involved context, to see how to provide agency to contexts/groups towards desired impacts. This provides agency towards creating agency.

Agency by Ton Zylstra

On Agency Pt 3: Technology Needs for Increased Agency

This is the last of three postings about how I see agency in our networked era.
In part 1 I discussed how embracing the distributedness that is the core design feature of the internet needs to be an engine for agency. In part 2 I discussed how agency in the networked era is about both the individual and the immediate group she’s part of in the various contexts those groups exist, and consists of striking power, resilience and agility. In this third part I will discuss what we need to demand from our technology.

My perception of agency more or less provides the design brief for the technology that can support it.

Agency as the design brief for technology
If distributed networks are the leading metaphor for agency, then technology needs to be like that too.

If agency is located in both the individual and the social context of an immediate group the individual is functioning in for a given purpose, then technology needs to be able to support both the individual and group level, and must be trustworthy at that level.

If agency consists of local striking power, resilience, and agility, then technology must be able to take in global knowledge and perspective, but also be independently usable, and locally deployable, as well as socially replicable.

If technology isn’t really distributed, than at least it should be easy to avoid it becoming a single point of failure for your and your groups use case.

Two types of tech to consider
This applies to two forms of technology. The ‘hard’ technology, hardware and software, the stuff we usually call technology. But also the ‘soft’ technology, the way we organize ourselves, the methods we use, the attitudes we adopt.

Technology should be ‘smaller’ than us
My mental shorthand for this is that the technology must be smaller than us, if it is to provide us with agency that isn’t ultimately depending on the benevolence of some central point of authority or circumstances we cannot influence. In 2002 I described the power of social media (blogs, wiki’s etc.), when they emerged and became the backbone for me and my peer network, in exactly those terms: publishing, sharing and connecting between publishers became ‘smaller’ than us, so we could all be publishers. We could run our own outlet, and have distributed conversations over it. Over time our blog or rather our writing was supplanted, by larger blogging platforms, and by the likes of Facebook. This makes social media ‘bigger than us’ again. We don’t decide what FB shows us, breaking out of your own bubble (vital in healthy networks) becomes harder because sharing is based on pre-existing ‘friendships’ and discoverability has been removed. The erosion has been slow, but very visible, not only if you were disconnected from it for 6 years.

  • Smaller than us means it is easy enough to understand how to use the technology and has the possibility to tinker with it.
  • Smaller than us means it is cheap (in terms of time, money and effort) to deploy and to replace.
  • Smaller than us means it is as much within the scope of control/sphere of trust of the user group as possible (either you control your tools, or your node and participation in a much wider distributed whole).
  • Smaller than us means it can be deployed limited to the user group, while tapping into the global network if/when needed or valuable.

Striking power comes from the ease of understanding how to use technology in your group, the ability to tinker with it, to cheaply deploy it, and to trust or control it.
Resilience comes from being able to deploy it limited to the user group, even if the wider whole falls down temporarily, and easily replace the technology when it fails you, as well as from knowing the exact scope of your trust or control and reducing dependancy based on that.
Agility comes from being able to use the technology to keep in touch with the global network, and easily alter (tinker), replace or upgrade your technology.

Technology needs an upgrade
Most of the technology that could provide us with new agency however falls short of those demands, so currently doesn’t.

It is mostly not distributed but often centralized, or at best ‘hubs and spokes’ in nature, which introduces trust and control issues and single points of failure. Bitcoins ultimate centralization of the needed computing power in Chinese clusters is one, Facebooks full control over what it shows you is another.

It is often not easy to use or deploy, requiring strong skill sets even when it is cheap to buy or even freely available. To use Liquid Feedback decision making software for instance, you need unix admin skills to run it. To use cheap computing and sensing/actuating hardware like Arduino, you need both software and electronics skills. Technology might also still be expensive to many.

Technologies are often currently deployed either as a global thing (Facebook), or as a local thing (your local school’s activity board), where for agency local with the ability to tap into the global is key (this is part of true distributedness), as well as the ability to build the global out of the many local instances (like mesh networks, or The Things Network). Mimicking the local inside the centralized global is not good enough (your local school’s closed page on FB). We also need much more ability to make distinctions between local and global in the social sense, between social contexts.

There are many promising technologies out there, but we have to improve on them. Things need to be truly distributed whenever possible, allowing local independence inside global interdependence. Deploying something for a given individual/group and a given use needs to be plug and play, and packaging it like that will allow new demographics to adopt it.

The types of technology I apply this to
Like I said I apply this to both ‘hard’ tech, and ‘soft’ tech. But all are technologies that are currently not accessible enough and underused, but could provide agency on a much wider scale with some tweaks. Together they can provide the agency that broad swathes of people seem to crave, if only they could see what is possible just beyond their fingertips.

The ‘hard’ technologies where barriers need to come further down I am thinking about are:

  • Low cost open source hardware
  • Digital making
  • Low cost computing (devices or hosted)
  • (open) data and data-analysis
  • IoT (sensors and actuators)
  • Mesh networking
  • Algorithms
  • Machine learning
  • Blockchain
  • Energy production
  • Agrotech
  • Biotech

The ‘soft’ technologies where barriers need to come further down I am thinking about are:

  • Peer organizing, organisational structures
  • Peer sourcing
  • Open knowledge
  • Iterative processes and probing design
  • Social media / media production
  • Community building practices
  • Networked (mental) models
  • Workflow and decision making tools
  • Community currencies / exchanges
  • Hacking ethics
  • Ethics by design / Individual rights

Putting it all together gives us the design challenge
Putting the list of social contexts (Agency pt 2) alongside the lists of ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ techs, and the areas of impact these techs create agency towards, and taking distributedness (Agency pt 1) and reduced barriers as prerequisites, gives us a menu from which we can select combinations to work on.
If we take a specific combination of individuals in a social context, and we combine one or more ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ technologies while bringing barriers down, what specific impact can the group in that context create for themselves? This is the design challenge we can now give ourselves.

In the coming months, as an experiment, with a provincial library and a local FabLab, we will explore putting this into practice. With groups of neighbours in a selected city we will collect specific issues they want to address but don’t currently see the means to (using a bare bones form of participatory narrative inquiry). Together we will work to lower the barriers to technology that allows the group to act on an issue they select from that collection. A separate experiment doing the same with a primary school class is planned as well.

Agency by Ton ZylstraAgency map, click to enlarge

On Agency pt. 2: The Elements of Networked Agency

Earlier this year I wrote a 1st posting of 3 about Agency, and I started with describing how a key affordance is the distributedness that internet and digitisation brings. A key affordance we don’t really fully use or realize yet.
I am convinced that embracing distributed technology and distributed methods and processes allows for an enormous increase in agency. A slightly different agency though: networked agency.

Lack of agency as poverty and powerlesness
Many people currently feel deprived of agency or even powerless in the face of the fall-out of issues originating in systems or institutions over which they have no influence. Things like the financial system and pensions, climate change impact, affordable urban housing, technology pushing the less skilled out of jobs etc. Many vaguely feel there are many things wrong or close to failing, but without an apparant personal path of action in the face of it.

In response to this feeling of being powerless or without any options to act, there is fertile ground for reactionary and populist movements, that promise a lot but are as always incapable of delivering at best and a downright con or powerplay at worst. Lashing out that way at least brings a temporary emotional relief, but beyond that is only making things worse.

In that sense creating agency is the primary radical political standpoint one can take.
Lack of agency I view as a form of poverty. It has never been easier to create contacts outside of your regular environment, it has never been easier to tap into knowledge from elsewhere. There are all kinds of technologies, initiatives and emerging groups that can provide new agency, based on those new connections and knowledge resources. But they’re often invisible, have a barrier to entry, or don’t know how to scale. It means that many suffering from agency poverty actually have a variety of options at their fingertips, but without realizing it, or without the resources (albeit time, tools, or money) to embrace it. That makes us poor, and poor people make poor choices, because other pathways are unattainable. We’re thirsty for agency, and luckily that agency is within our grasp.

Agency in the networked age is different in two ways
The agency within our grasp is however slightly different in two ways from what I think agency looked like before.

Different in what the relevant unit of agency is
The first way in which it is different is what the relevant unit of agency is.
Agency in our networked age, enabling us to confront the complexity of the issues we face, isn’t just individual agency, nor does it mean mass political mobilisation to change our institutions. Agency in a distributed and networked complex world comes from the combination of individuals and the social contexts and groupings they are part of, their meaningful relations in a context.

It sees both groups and small scale networks as well as each individual that is a node in them as the relevant units to look at. Individuals can’t address complexity, mass movements can’t address it either. But you and I within the context of our meaningful relationships around us can. Not: how can I improve my quality of life? Not: how can I change city government to improve my neighborhood? But: what can I do with my neighbours to improve my neighborhood, and through that my own quality of life?
There are many contexts imaginable where this notion of me & my relevant group simultaneously as the appropiate unit of scale to look at agency exists:

  • Me and my colleagues, me and my team
  • Me and my remote colleagues
  • Me on my street, on my block
  • Me in my part of town
  • Me and the association I am a member of
  • Me and the local exchange trading group
  • Me and my production coop
  • Me and my trading or buying coop
  • Me and my peer network(s)
  • Me and my coworking space
  • Me in an event space
  • Me and my home
  • Me in my car on the road
  • Me traveling multi-modal
  • Me and my communities of interest
  • Me and my nuclear family
  • Me and my extended (geographically distributed) family
  • Me and my dearest
  • Me and my closest friends

agency comes from both the individual and immediate group level (photo JD Hancock, CC-BY)

For each of these social contexts you can think about which impact on which issues is of value, what can be done to create that impact in a way that is ‘local’ to you and the specific social context concerned.

Different in how agency is constituted based on type of impact
Impact can come in different shades and varieties, and that is the second way in which my working definition of agency is different. Impact can be the result of striking power, where you and your social context create something constructively. Impact can take the form of resilience, where you and your social context find ways to mitigate the fall-out of events or emergencies propagating from beyond that social context. Impact can be agility, where you and your social context are able to detect, assess and anticipate emerging change and respond to it.

So agency becomes the aggregate of striking power, resilience and agility that you and your social context individually and collectively can deliver to yourself, by making use of the potential that distributedness and being networked creates.
Whether that is to strengthen local community, acting locally on global concerns, increasing resilience, leverage and share group assets, cooperatively create infrastructure, create mutual support structures, scaffold new systems, shield against broken or failing systems, in short build your own distributed and networked living.

Designing for agency
For each of those contexts and desired impacts you can think about and design the (virtual and real) spaces you need to create, the value you seek, the levels of engagement you can/should accommodate, the balancing of safety and excitement you desire, the balance you need between local network density and long distance connections for exposure to other knowledge and perspectives, the ways you want to increase the likelihood of serendipity or make space for multiple parallel experimenting, the way you deal with evolution in the social context concerned, and the rhythms you keep and facilitate.

The tools that enable agency
To be able to organize and mobilise for this, we need to tap into two types of enabling technology, that help us embrace the distributedness and connectedness I described in part 1. The ‘techie’ technology, which is comprised of hard- and software tools, and the ‘soft’ technology which consists of social processes, methods and attitudes.
What types of technologies fit that description, and what those technologies need to be like to have low enough adoption thresholds to be conducive to increased agency, is the topic of part 3.

Midsummer A Year Ago: Make Stuff That Matters Unconference and BBQ

Today is midsummer. The heating system came on this morning, and it has been raining since then. Quite a contrast with last year, when over 40 of you came to brighten our home for the Make Stuff That Matters unconference birthday party, and double that for the BBQ the day after it.

#mstm14 crowd
#MSTM14 crowd during my opening remarks, by Paolo

To me it is still a great source of energy to think back to the atmosphere and spirit of MSTM14, and the joy of seeing so many of our colleagues, peers, friends, family and clients interact, having travelled from all over the country, from all over Europe, and even from Canada and spanning 6 decades of age differences. As a bit of sunlight on this day that feels like autumn, some impressions from last year.

We used an introduction game and process, designed with Peter Troxler, to get everyone involved in making something.

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Designing together

We had the Frysklab mobile FabLab parked in front of our home for two days, staffed by Jeroen, Aan, Marleen and Jappie of the incredible Frysklab team. Next to their equipment (multiple 3d-printers, a laser cutter, a CNC mill), we had our own 3D printer and four more on loan through the kind collaboration of Ultimaker. This allowed everyone to get their hands on the machines, guided by the Frysklab team and Elmine.

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Frysklab, and the line-up in our living room

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Klaas ‘borrowing’ our printer 😉 & at work in the Frysklab truck

People started out creating objects with Doodle3d, and then after encountering its limitations, by themselves moved on to more capable but also more complicated software tools. Guiding each other, searching for tips & tricks online, and through trial and error. The 3D-printers kept going for over 2 days, until the last guests left for the airport! Seeing how well everything went, and how our process delivered above our own expectations, made Elmine’s “Maker Moment“. I remember standing in the Frysklab truck towards the end of the first day, with everyone around me excitedly talking, working and making, and I just felt happy seeing the energy all round me. We set out to show ‘making’ as a communal process, and seeing it succeed is joyous.

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Peter and Oliver explaining 3d printing from Minecraft, Tjores proudly writing his name in 3D

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Amarens printed a 3d-hug, after a scan of herself. A castle made in Minecraft printed by Floris

The second day was all about the bbq, bringing about double the number of people together compared to the unconference day. And people kept on making, neighbourhood kids got busy in the Frysklab truck, and unconference participants showed newcomers how the machines worked. Fine food, fine wines, and many helping hands, such as Ray’s, in the kitchen, kept everyone around for conversations, making and fun.

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Ray and Harold making food, Martin and Paolo making music

And even after the event, the ripples kept spreading outward. New connections were made, with friends opening their own home for other participants to stay in during the summer for instance. Elmine and I used a visit to Copenhagen to bring the MSTM experience to our friends Henriette and Thomas, and their sparkling daughter Penny, where we shared what we ourselves had learned from Peter and his son Oliver. My colleague Frank took that same lesson from Peter and Oliver to a whole new level, involving dozens of neighbourhood kids in a 3D-printing event where he lives.

Now a year later, the energy is still palpable to me. On this rainy day a year later I am grateful for the inspiration and friendship of last year. And although it will be hard to top, I am slowly starting to think about what we could do in 2016 for a new edition.
If you are entertaining the thought of doing something similar yourself, do read the e-book we wrote after a previous edition (download the PDF), where we describe the basic steps of hosting your very own birthday unconference and bbq. If you do and we’re invited, I promise Elmine and I will try our best to make it possible for us to attend.

The 2014 Tadaa! List

Another year is coming to a close, so keeping up with my tradition of the last few years (since 2010, see last year’s edition) I am writing down the things in the past 12 months that gave me a sense of accomplishment or joy. It is often easy to focus on things not achieved, or left unfinished, as those are the things demanding attention. Often I find that in my daily routines I focus on what’s next, and I tend to forget a lot of what I actually did do. Obviously any year also has its hard moments, disappointments and failures. So to remind myself that this year was a full year where things happened that I loved doing or enjoyed (sticking to mostly business related, some personal), here’s the ‘Tadaa!-list’ of 2014

  • With Marc, Paul and Frank, I formally incorporated The Green Land and had our first (temporary) employee
  • Got to work with the supreme audit authority on the Dutch first national ‘Trend report Open Data’, and now working on the next edition
  • Did an open data workshop with the Dutch and British supreme audit authorities with an audience of all European audit authorities, as well as a study day with the Belgian and Dutch audit authorities. Impressed with their dedication and professional attitude. (It does of course help clarity, if your mission statement is in the constitution)
  • Worked for the Flemish Chancellary on open data scenario’s for their consolidated database of laws and regulations
  • Explored internet security and privacy in more detail, geeking out on running my own cloud in a Swiss datacenter
  • Spent a week and a half in Berlin with Elmine exploring and learning, visiting conferences like Things Con and Re:Publica, while also spending time just hanging out with fun people locally

    Out of comfortzone behind a sewing machine
  • Got to (finally!) visit Gabriela and Ray in Limerick where Elmine and I both presented at 3D Camp at the University of Limerick
    @ the beach
    With Gabriela, Ray and Elmine on an Irish beach
  • Presenting with Ernst and Elmine at Sia’s retirement farewell party, and feeling the lasting impact, emotion, and energy of our work together in Rotterdam 2007-2009, reconnecting to several team members. It is a rare treat to get to see the ripples of a (personal) change process years on like that. I was honored by your invitation, Sia.
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    Cocreated Sia’s Lifehack Calendar with party participants
  • Stepped out of a large tendering process that could have provided for 3 years because it felt all wrong, realizing I can’t stomach the opportunists who aren’t really interested in delivering value, just feeding at the trough
  • Quit working on a company I was helping establish, even though it has loads of potential (realistically more than my other activities even), because I needed to free up thinking time and shed energy sinks
  • Worked in France, Belgium, Switzerland, Germany, Denmark, Netherlands, Kazachstan, and Kyrgyzstan, enjoying the differences in stories, experiences, perspectives and outlooks that it provides
    In Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan
    Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, against mountains
  • Spent a thoroughly enjoyable and relaxing summer week in a gem of an apartment in Copenhagen with Elmine, just enjoying each other, the sun and the city
  • Organized the Make Stuff That Matters Unconference & BBQ, at our home, bringing friends, clients, peers, family, and strangers together for two exciting days of inspiration, with the outstanding help of the Frysklab team and their mobile FabLab
  • Got to be there with and for friends in good and bad times, which is the definition of being alive and human
  • Taking more time with Elmine to explore exhibits, festivals, such as Gogbot, Dutch Design Week, Rijksmuseum Amsterdam, 3D Print Canal House, Reina Sofia Museum, Smart New World in Düsseldorf, Ai WeiWei in Berlin etc.
    Ai Wei Wei
    Worked on seeing, noticing more
  • Better balanced long term goals and dreams with actions across quarters of the year, yielding improved results.
  • Worked for the World Bank as a senior consultant / external expert on open data readiness
    At GEGF2014 in Astan
    Presenting in Kazachstan at Global e-Gov Forum
  • Got to celebrate the 3 year existence of the local Enschede FabLab which I helped start, still going strong and having yielded a wide variety of amazing projects
  • Knowing we’ve touched people, and made it possible for others to inspire people, with MSTM, based on the beautiful feedback we got, and seeing the ripples propagate in Denmark, Netherlands and Canada
  • Ending the year with a final dinner at a great Swiss restaurant that is closing, in the excellent company of dear friends

My absolute highlight in 2014 was our third birthday unconference in June, Making Stuff That Matters. Not only because of the energy and joy we got from getting to host such an amazing bunch of people at our home, but also because of the things Elmine and I did in the run up to prepare (in Berlin and Limerick e.g.), the help we got doing that (thanks @trox!), the connections we’ve seen grow from it amongst those we invited, and how it is still creating impact months later where participants have taken their own additional steps around making. It was wonderful to create the place and circumstances in which that could happen. We can’t thank all who attended enough for the gift of their participation.


Created with flickr slideshow.

40 Kids on Minecraft for 3D Printing

Today 40 kids are gathering in the coworking place Zpot in Utrecht, to build in Minecraft and then print their creations with 3D printers.

The event is organized by my colleague Frank (also initiator of the coworking space itself). He and his son Floris participated in our Make Stuff That Matters unconference & bbq where Peter and Oliver Rukavina demo’d how to 3D print from Minecraft. Floris used it right then to print a castle he built. Earlier Frank already had hosted a Minecraft party for kids in the neighbourhood. His son’s continued enthusiasm for printcrafting, in combination with the earlier event has turned into “Meet2Minecraft” today.

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Minecraft lan party!

Seven 3D printers (including our own trusty Ultimaker Classic, and 6 Felix printers) are lined up to print the creations of 40 children today. Pizza, soda, Minecraft and 3D printers == Perfect Saturday!

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Prepping 7 3D-printers for printing Minecraft designs

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More printcrafting kids

[update]
Comparing some of the printed results

Minecraft 3D Printing Minecraft 3D Printing

See more pictures

Making Makers, Danish Edition

Our friends Henriette and Thomas who live in Denmark, could not make it to MSTM14. So when we decided to head up to Copenhagen for a few days, we resolved to bring Make Stuff That Matters to their home. We added our 3D-printer to our luggage and set out to Denmark.

Last Friday we spent the afternoon and evening with Henriette, Thomas and their 10yr old daughter Penny. Coffee and home made (by Penny) chocolate cupcakes on their sunny deck, hanging out in the harbour / beach of Elsinore, and eating pizza and calamares was mixed with some fun 3D-printing.

We started with the Doodle3D.com add-on to the printer, as it is a fast way to quickly get a feeling for what you can do. Doodle3d.com provides a drawing tool in your browser, and hitting the print button makes it send your drawing to the 3d-printer directly. That way doodles, and word-art are immediately turned into tangible objects. A name tag for the door to your room for instance:

Having demonstrated the basics, it was time to print some more. Penny already had an orange Ultimaker-robot, from when Henriette us and Siert (Ultimaker’s founder) met-up at SHiFT Relays in Dusseldorf last fall. Her favourite color is blue, and we brought some, so logically a blue robot needed to be printed. And then later a red one. Hitting the select and print button on the printer was a bit scary at first, but every new printed plastic layer was greeted with a widening smile and fascination.

We showed some pictures from the event, and talked about Peter and Oliver Rukavina’s work in using Printcraft to 3d-print designs that were built in Minecraft. Showing Peter’s blog post with the Minecraft screenshot and the resulting 3d printed castle (that my colleague Frank’s son made after being shown Printcraft by Oliver and Peter) drew a direct response from Penny “Wow!”. Immediately the laptop and a mouse were brought out, and Thomas pointed her machine to the Minecraft server run by Printcraft. Penny constructed a pyramid that we then downloaded to our printer. Layer by layer her creation materialized in front of us.

The design was shared by Penny at the Printcraft site immediately.
As Peter said when we posted some pics to Facebook from Henriette’s living room it is beautiful to see the knowledge and inspiration spread. From Oliver, to our living room, to Frank’s son Floris, to Elmine and me, to a Danish living room, to Penny, and being turned into a pyramid.

Making Makers – The Process

We look back on a great event, our ‘Make Stuff that Matters’ unconference and bbq. Bringing together some 45 people from around our various networks to our home for a day of making. Most never had done anything like it before, most had never met each other before. So how do you guide a group like that through the day, in a way that they actually have made something together by the end? How do you make makers out of all of us? Here’s a quick run-down of the process we designed.

Turning introductions into an overview of skills and experience
We started with a quick intro-game. Each participant was given a blank card with the instructions to:

  1. write their name on the card
  2. find a stranger in the room
  3. introduce yourself, your skills and experiences
  4. let the other person draw on your card what she thinks stands out
  5. then have the other take their turn for the same
  6. stick the resulting cards on the wall to serve as reference for the day

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Introductions and making the cards / Inspecting the skill cards on the wall

Aan Klaas
Examples of cards

Printing new humans as a way to decide what to make
After these introductions it was time to start the real process. We created groups of 5 or 6. Then the group members created a series of drawings of humans. The first, invisible to their neighbour, drew a head, the second a body, the third legs. Doing that in a circle created 5 or 6 drawings per round. After a first round to warm up, the second round we asked to add more character, expression or indications of background or profession.

From the resulting drawings, the group then discussed and selected their favourite one and constructed a story around them. The story would explain character, backgrounds, origins, and things like age and their name. Stories were mailed to Elmine who printed them out.

The resulting figures and their stories were put on a big flipover sheet and then stuck to the walls.

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Drawing humans in groups, and a resulting drawing

Individually all participants then added post-its to the ‘new humans’ with items these people might use, want, need or care about. Then individually people picked one or more of these items to make during the rest of the day, and helped eachother to do that.

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Drawn humans on the wall with their story, adding post-its with ideas for things to make for them

Rationale behind the process
We wanted to make sure that all had the same starting point. Otherwise someone who had more experience or an idea up front might dominate a group simply because others had less well formed ideas, even though the others might not really be interested in realizing that idea. We wanted to make sure that everyone could pick something that was of interest to themselves, which triggered enough intrinsic motivation to see it through. By putting all through creating a ‘new human’ and specify their material needs, we created both a specific and neutral context in which an object was to be used, as well as enough diversity in ideas for all to choose from.

Origins of the process
Given our rationale of wanting to pick people up where they were, and offer enough ideas neutrally, we needed to come up with a process. Originally the ‘drawing people’ idea was suggested by Peter Troxler as an introduction game, but discussing it we realized it could be the starting point of the making process. We then thought some more about how to introduce people and repurposed a similar intro-game from last time (there one person wrote on a card how the other person was connected to us, which we turned into a network map), refocusing it on skills and experiences. Drawing was added to get people’s creative juices flowing. Elmine then put it all together in a instruction manual for all to use, embedding the process in a story that made the steps follow each other logically.