Student peer review

One of the powerful ways that classmates collaborate on Appropedia is through student peer review.

For example, Las Malvinas community center shade describes a student project to provide a community center in the Dominican Republic with durable shelter from sun and rain. Click the "discussion" tab and you arrive here, to see critical and constructive comments from two fellow students. Clearly they've followed useful steps they were given at well at using their own insights.

I don't know which of our academic contributors began this practice, but I love the power of it. It gives students more chances to learn and to improve their work, to help each other to learn, while learning team skills of collaboration and constructive feedback.

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Appropedia Water Book – volunteer needed

Exciting news: Appropedia is looking at releasing a book of solutions in water, including water supply, clean water and handling wastewater.

As part of this, we are looking for one or more volunteers who know either about a specific area of water or wastewater, or who have a general knowledge of water technologies and issues. You might be a water/wastewater professional or a student of water engineering, for example. Your role: To help identify and/or quality check and/or create content describing solutions in clean water, water supply and wastewater.

You can be based anywhere in the world – we are a global movement, after all – but if you happen to be in either Melbourne, Australia, or Bath or London in the UK, or Humbolt County in California, there will also be a chance to meet up in person.

Please contact us for more info, e.g. by leaving a comment on this post.

Milestones of 2013

We've had a lot of news that we haven't trumpeted, so here's a partial rundown of 2013:

  • We passed 50 million pageviews since Appropedia began in 2006.
  • We're merging with Ekopedia! Ekopedia is a multi-lingual sister wiki, with a couple of thousand pages of sustainability information in French, and hundreds of pages in other languages. The merge is planned for coming weeks.
  • We've been allocated a small grant to develop an input tool for projects from Engineers Without Borders Australia - which will also involve the UK and NZ organizations, for their "EWB Challenge" student projects. This will also enhance indexing, and it'll help us in improving the site overall. Work planned for approx Feb 2014.
  • A recent and long overdue upgrade means we're now ready to take next steps in site development - including the Ekopedia & EWB work mentioned above.
  • Michigan Technological University's Professor Joshua Pearce got a bunch of publicity for the Open-source metal 3-D printer. The Appropedia page describing it got almost 70,000 views in a short period. This is one of the many pages Joshua and his students have produced on Appropedia. (Great work, Joshua!)
  • We have a book deal! We're putting together a collection of work on the theme of "Water" - drawing from Appropedia and soliciting original contributions from experts and those with significant experiences in water.
  • Lonny presented at TEDxYouth, talking about "a better education" - all the projects he described are documented on Appropedia.
  • University classes continue to be a major contributor, with a stream of new articles developed by students each semester on a wide range of sustainability and development topics.
We have challenges as well. We need to communicate a lot more about the awesome things this community is doing. We need to get our volunteer/intern program moving. We need to raise funds. Plans are coming together, but we're also looking for new energy.
Do you see a role for yourself with any of these? Please get in touch - leave a comment.
Thank you. I look forward to sharing 2014 with you.

Sustainable community action

Phil Green started the Sustainable Community Action wiki in 2004 - it's about:

Information and knowledge sharing, but with a focus on what might be useful to community groups and active citizens interested in taking action to make their communities more sustainable and in support of environmental, social and economic wellbeing,

For some time he's been looking for a new home for the wiki, and he's decided to work with Appropedia. We're very glad to have him Phil, and look forward to working with him.

Phil is now adding pages to Appropedia about locations around the world and their community actions - hundreds in total - which he has consolidated from over 2600 pages on the original site. Some of these form new pages (see the Sustainable community action category) and others are being merged with existing pages.

This builds an important area in our sustainability knowledge bank, and I hope we can find a powerful synergy.

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Learning resources for post growth futures

Donnie Maclurcan writes about the learning needed for resilient communities, on the on the Post Growth Institute blog. Collective knowledge, he suggests, is key:

Voids in our individual skill-sets are actually critical to building harmonious communities. As Bill Kauth and Zoe Alawan say, “We need each other, and we need to need each other”... there is a great deal to be gained from more of our learning happening together, building shared resilience in the process.

He then discusses the range of skills we collectively need in resilient communities, in a "post growth future". It looks to me like a list of articles that would be perfect for Appropedia. See Donnie's post at Upskilling for Post Growth Futures, Together

A Better Education

Lonny Grafman, founder of Appropedia, speaks about hands-on learning - at TEDxYouth@HumboldtBay.

Note: the projects described and many others are documented in detail by the students on Appropedia. That's part of the education.

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How on Earth do we create a better world?


The Post Growth Institute is raising money to create a book, and (at time of writing) they're less than three days away, and at 87% of their goal.

Donnie Maclurcan from the Post Growth Institute is a personal friend, and a friend to Appropedia. He's also an engaging and provocative communicator, and I'm happy to see this book going ahead. He and Jen Hinton write:

Imagine waking up in a world where you feel good about going to work, no matter the nature of your job. You feel positive and motivated, knowing that your work provides you with a livelihood that also contributes to the wellbeing of others in a way that respects the ecological limits of the planet.

Welcome to a not-for-profit world, where businesses can still make profits, but any profits are always reinvested for social or organizational benefit, rather than being accumulated privately by individuals. This world emerged because, around 2013, a large number of people came to the realization that any economic system that centralizes wealth and power is, ultimately, socially and ecologically unsustainable. People were fed up with excessive executive salaries, a financial sector divorced from the real world, corporations with more say than people, endless spin from politicians and entrepreneurs about the latest technological ‘solution’, and the trappings of mindless consumption.

As the mainstream attention on the Occupy movement faded, protesters even started to question whether being fed up was worthwhile.

Then a real alternative emerged. The people already had a business structure that wasn’t centered on creating private profit and concentrating wealth and power; all they had to do was grow the not-for-profit sector, shifting power away from the for-profits. A not-for-profit economy changed the game by decentralizing wealth and power, while maintaining incentives for innovation and increasing people’s desire for meaningful work.

Before 2013, when for-profit enterprise was the main business model, it was contributing to financial inequity and vested interests. This had led to an increase of status anxiety due to drastic differences in material wealth. The majority of people often felt that because they didn’t have as many material possessions as the wealthy classes, among whom the money had been concentrated, they couldn’t be as happy. For some people in the lowest income brackets, this inequality not only meant status anxiety and shame, but even a lack of consumption choices, affecting diet and health. For many, the solution was to consume more of whatever they could afford.

On the global level, this overconsumption went hand-in-hand with production practices that exploited workers in sweatshops to make cheap and plentiful products, while decimating key natural resources. This was clearly unsustainable. As more and more people realized that all forms of capitalism and socialism – grounded in a growth mentality – centralize wealth and power and are therefore unsustainable, they also began to see how a not-for-profit economy offered a way to decentralize power, whilst maintaining innovation. When a critical mass of people reached this realization and accelerated the shift to the not-for-profit business model, everything started to change for the better.
How on Earth could that be possible?

This scenario of a not-for-profit world is closer to the present reality than you might think. Across numerous countries, the economic contribution of the not-for-profit sector has been on the rise since the late 1990s. In Canada, for example, not-for-profit institutions now contribute 8% of the country’s gross domestic product. This is possible because not-for-profit does not mean ‘no-profit’ or ‘can’t make a profit’. Not-for-profit actually means not for private profit or not for the primary purpose of making a profit. Across most countries and jurisdictions, not-for-profits can make as much or as little money as they want, they just cannot provide payouts to private individuals from any surplus.

The pioneering work of not-for-profit businesses, from sectors as diverse as construction, manufacturing, banking, hospitality and healthcare, suggest that innovative, sustainable economies, with high levels of employment, can exist without the private profit motive.

Many not-for-profits also understand that generating their own income allows them to fund the good work they do (as opposed to the traditional approach that depends on grants and philanthropy). Take, for example, BRAC, the world’s biggest not-for-profit organization. Since 1972, BRAC has supported over 100 million people through its social development services, but almost 80% of its revenue comes from its own commercial enterprises, including a large-scale dairy and a retail chain of handicraft stores, all of which are run according to a holistic vision of sustainable business.

More importantly, not-for-profit enterprises could regularly out-compete equivalent ‘for-profit’ businesses in the near future, based on a combination of factors, such as:

• not-for-profit enterprises better utilizing the benefits of the communications revolution on reduced organizational costs;
• an increasing awareness of the tax concessions and free support available solely to not-for-profits;
• the trend in consumer markets toward supporting ethical businesses and products;
• the ability of not-for-profit enterprises to survive and even thrive during years of downturn, given their sustainability does not rely on making profits and that profit margins will continue to get smaller as resource constraints impact business costs.
How on Earth can you help?

Here at the Post Growth Institute, we are writing a book: How on Earth? Flourishing in a Not-for-Profit World by 2050. This will be the world’s first book to explore the prospect of not-for-profit enterprise becoming the central model of local, national and international business, by 2050. It will also outline practical steps that you, as a member of the public, can take to fast-track this evolution to a sustainable economy.

We have created a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo in order to gather the financial support needed to finish researching and writing the book, as well as the funds to publish, print, market and distribute it. You can help by contributing money to the crowdfunding campaign here and spreading the word about this project and crowdfunding campaign as far and wide as possible.

For an outline of the book’s main ideas, see this 2012 talk by the book’s lead author, Dr Donnie Maclurcan, at the Environmental Professionals Forum.

Demotech – design for self-reliance

Rope pump intake.*
Rope pump

I've spent the past week visiting Demotech in Maastricht, the Netherlands. Reinder van Tijen is the driving force behind Demotech, often working with his colleague Bram, and with interns. I'll be posting an interview with Reinder shortly, but first I want to introduce some of his work:

  • Rope pumps have been Reinder's main work - a tool for providing water with minimal materials and local construction and maintenance. And I can vouch that they're amazingly easy to operate. Where else but ropepumps.org?
  • DemoUnit carried home after a rally. Reinder at far right.*
    DemoUnit - light and portable
  • Need to display a sign? Mount posters or banners? DemoUnits put democratic free expression into appropriate technology: DemoUnits.net. These frames are not only a boon for activists, but can be used wherever you need a sturdy, lightweight frame. I've slept in a large one which was covered and used to create a bedroom within Demotech's warehouse space.
  • A hand-wash station for environments with limited water - improves hygiene without wasting water:  HY2U.org
  • One of Demotech's latest projects is a kind of appropriate technology hanging garden: Green4Equity.net. (I was confused by the name until I realized it's equity as in equality, not equity the finance term. D'oh.)
  • Want to delve deeper? At Demotech.org there are a range of designs, plus publications showing the thinking behind Demotech's work.

* Image credits: Rope pump intake via Crossroads. Image of DemoUnit taken by me (Chris Watkins), shared under CC-by-sa 3.0.

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Meeting online in 2013

The tl;dr is:

First Appropedia Jam for 2013: Sunday January 13, at 10pm GMT.

That's daytime Sunday in the Americas, and the morning of Monday Jan 14 in Asia/Australia/NZ - see the link for some local times.

Appropedia's monthly online meetups continue this year. They're a chance to work together to make fantastic resources for a sustainable and poverty-free society. We'll work on these resources together, and by making grand plans together.

This next one will be very low key as we're coming out of the holiday period (summer holidays for some of us - we're a global community). But the chat will be on as always, it being the second Sunday of the month. So pop in, ask questions and lend a hand.

I want to use the time to troubleshoot the wastewater articles, dream about the year ahead, and (as always) connect with people from the Appropedia community. Perhaps those things interest you, or perhaps you want to work on something different, like an article on a medical device for isolated communities, or organizing a guerrilla marketing campaign. Either way, we'd love to have your company. (We'll also do something bigger for February, so check back in early Feb for details.)

We're meeting on IRC. Details for joining the chat can be found on the Appropedia Jam page.

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Saturday is Free Money Day

Around the world this Saturday, people will be handing out their own money to complete strangers, two coins or notes at a time, and asking the recipients to pass half on to someone else. This is Free Money Day.

The impact? A lot of positive confusion and questioning, the kind that leads to a rethinking of values. One example: A couple in Chiang Mai, Thailand, inspired by Free Money Day, declared they were "giving away half of our small land holdings... to begin a land trust for up and coming permaculture farmers".

This action is organized by the Post Growth Institute, a thoughtful and provocative network of people around the world whose motto is "The end of bigger, the start of better." When I first encountered them I was skeptical, but they've been encouraging people to question our unsustainable, GDP-focused status quo, and they deserve applause for that.

Do something you wouldn't normally do - give out change to random strangers. Find out more at www.freemoneyday.org - and see the Participate page.

Here's one of the great videos from the Post Growth Institute's YouTube channel:

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