Appropedia: Service learning in sustainable development

An academic paper in the Journal of Education for Sustainable Development reports on service learning with Appropedia as a platform.

It notes that contributing to sustainable development can be a way of improving students’ academic skills – but this is expensive when it involves international travel, and as a result, few students have this experience.

The article describes two learning experiments with service learning programs based at and around the university, These experiments provided…

…solutions to sustainable development problems using Appropedia.org, the site for collaborative solutions in sustainability, poverty reduction and international development. The course successfully used Appropedia (1) as a forum for students who were geographically dispersed, (2) for a whole-class writing collaboration, (3) to coordinate a sustainability-focused outreach campaign to retrofit stop lights in communities throughout Pennsylvania and (4) to review class material with application to technologies for sustainable development.*

*Quoting from the abstract of Appropedia as a Tool for Service Learning in Sustainable Development by Prof Joshua Pearce of Queen’s University.

More info about our learning programs:

Will the World Bank go all “Wikipedia”?

The World Bank’s Chief Economist for Africa, Shantayanan Devarajan, writes about using mobile phones for monitoring and transparency. It’s good to see the World Bank looking seriously at the principles of open development.

He continues:

Each year, the World Bank produces a World Development Report. While there is an extensive consultation process with the draft, the Report is essentially written by a core team of Bank staff. Why not produce the report like Wikipedia, and invite the whole world to write it? As one of my colleagues put it, “Then it will be the World’s Development Report.”

And a fitting symbol of Development 3.0.

via Development 3.0 | End Poverty.

That would be exciting to see. The World Bank has recently opened its data to public use, but Devarajan’s idea is several steps beyond that.

Here’s a submission for the next step, that might take us a bit closer to Wiki World Development Reports: Open licenses on all World Bank content, scrapping the current restrictions on all past and future World Bank publications. Those restrictions may seem mild (no commercial use and no mention of permissions for derivatives) but they are not compatible with open licenses, meaning they do not support wider collaborative work, and have no place in Development 3.0. It’s time to open up.

Wikis for Health

Health is another area where we all want the best information.

I’m a little surprised that there is no active and well-developed wiki on health information. WikiHealth.com could be promising, if it grows, but it’s very quiet – only 2 edit sessions in the last 90 days. (I looked for other health wikis listed on WikiIndex, but could find no active wikis – that’s an interesting pattern, to look at another day.)

There are other wiki options in health, though. Wikipedia is teeming with information, though it often means wading through a lot of detail, as the articles are not written with a particular focus on health. wikiHow has more practically oriented articles – see their health category.

And of course see Appropedia to look for – and build – information on global public health.

Knowledge sharing in a nutshell

A super-brief version of the article Knowledge sharing in practice, on the wiki:

  • Encourage contributors, especially knowledgeable people.
  • Use an open license – that’s a real open license, no Non-Commercial or No derivatives clauses).
  • Use open standards and open formats. Do not use PDFs unless you also make it available in (say) HTML. And a wooden spoon to those sites that require specific software, often restricted to Windows and/or Mac. Tsk tsk.
  • Use a wiki.
    • Use an existing wiki where appropriate – they’ll be thrilled to have you.
    • You need several highly focused people working on it daily, and you need to avoid re-inventing the wheel.
    • Make it open edit.

Also on the wiki:

Appropedia’s Travel Intern Program Initiative: Dock to doc

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all the organizations that are working to reduce poverty and help us live both richly and sustainably had the resources to share their best ideas and practices? Of course! (Okay, maybe that was too easy. )

(Port of Callao, Peru by Jim O'Hagan, via Mediawiki Commons)

But we know that most of these organizations are already overcommitted and that thoroughly documenting a project is a big job. Meanwhile, there are lots of folks that want to help make the world a better place, and are quite willing to travel as part of the effort.  But very often the willing traveler is no more knowledgeable than local workers, and so it is hard to justify traveling in-country to lend a hand.

Aha moment.

Juxtaposing these tensions provides a nice little epiphany. Traveling interns can make excellent documenters.  Documenting great projects at Appropedia helps all parties.  The traveling intern learns a ton.  The host project gets some deserved recognition and awareness.  The broader community gets to see well-written, in-depth information that will, ultimately, get categorized, linked and translated for greatest usefulness.

To this end, Appropedia has begun prototyping our Travel Internship program.  Appropedia’s first travel intern, Isabell (Liz) Kimbrough, is already in-country in Peru. She has already coordinated with some partners, but still has room in her itinerary to visit (and document) other projects in Peru (June), Ecuador (July), Colombia (July)  and Panama (August).  And so, we hereby launch the Travel Intern Initiative to invite everyone to help make Isabell’s trip better.  We also want to prepare for broader participation in (and promotion of) our Travel Intern program later this year, so that you can head for the dock, and get your documentation thing on.

Please take a look at these pages to learn more about the program, and find ways you can help it have the most impact:

  • See Isabell’s itinerary to learn where she’s going, or add a potential project or partner for her or a future Travel Intern.
  • Would you (or a friend)  like to be a Travel Intern? Practice writing articles and show your stuff! And check out the application process.
  • How can we make the Travel Intern program better?  Leave a note on this page, or a leave a comment on this blog post!
  • Visit the Travel Intern Initiative launch page for more details.

Please help us spread the word about this program.  Use Twitter, Facebook or your blog to share it with potential interns or partners.  If you’re as excited as we are about this program, and have an hour a week to help out, consider a stint stewarding this Initiative!

Appropedia takes the Initiative!

Appropedia has grown rapidly in multiple dimensions since our early days, and especially in the past several months.   Both the volume and range of activity at Appropedia.org is up significantly.  We have content translation activity, content porting activity, partnership activity and site technology development activity all expanding in parallel. Twitter and Facebook communities have grown dramatically as well.

In addition to all the active participants, we have a lot of eager supporters that haven’t yet identified the best way to engage. We get notes like “I love what you’re doing!  What can I do to help?”  And for every explicit offer, we know there are many more unspoken.  To make better use of all this pent up energy and goodwill, we are beginning a new program for engaging volunteers, both new and veteran.

And so, without further ado, allow us to introduce <drum roll> Appropedia Initiatives!

The Appropedia Initiatives program is an open-ended series of specific activities that will benefit a lot from community engagement.  Each Initiative will be designed to attract a critical mass of contributions and enthusiasm, in order to build momentum on a particular topic or practice.  We know that our community of supportive people has a great variety of skills, and we envision a broad variety of Initiatives to engage as many people as we can.  Some Initiatives will be focused on the Appropedia.org site (either content or technology), and others will be more community oriented.  Essentially, Initiatives are ordinary Appropedia activities that are likely to have some broad interest. Like most things at Appropedia, users input and ideas will define the path for the Initiatives program.  To get things started we have about three Initiatives lined up, and a bunch of loose concepts semi-identified.

Our first Initiative is very timely.  We quietly began prototyping a “Travel Intern” program a few weeks ago, and there are several ways that the Appropedia community can help.  We will launch that Initiative very shortly and a few weeks later we will launch Number 2.  Each new Initiative will be highlighted on the Appropedia main page, and we will do community outreach in the form of blog posts and tweets to make sure that every gets a chance to see it.  Naturally, we welcome your help in passing the word, and identifying people, partners and resources appropriate for each Initiative.

The goal is for each Initiative to take on a life of its own and to continue for months beyond its initial moment in the spotlight.  To make sure that fledgling Initiatives have a good chance, we’re asking that each Initiative should have some semi-committed support in the form of a “Initiative steward” who will shepherd the activity for at least 3 months.  Through the magic of open collaboration and search-engine-optimization, an Initiative that gets off to a solid start will stand a good chance of gathering other support.  Check out the provisional guidelines for Appropedia Initiatives and see whether your favorite topic or project might be a good candidate for an Initiative.  If so, create a launch page and add your Initiative to the list!

Thank you all in advance for your help and support!

Wiki security: prepared for the zombie apocalypse

When you contribute at Appropedia you want to be sure that your work is protected and will be available in coming years, regardless of server crash, unpaid bills, tech admin heart attacks or zombie apocalypse… or, to be a little more serious, whatever unexpected event may happen.

What prompts this thought is that a wiki working in a related area (one of the permaculture wikis) has disappeared without a trace and there’s no response by email from the site admin. I fear that the work that many people have put in may be lost, and sadly, it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve seen this happen.

One of the key ways we ensure the security of your work on Appropedia is through our publicly available site dumps (see Appropedia:Current dump) which anyone can download. I keep a copy on my hard drive, which is on the opposite side of the planet from Appropedia’s server, and you’re invited to keep a copy as well.

What I’d really appreciate is if those people here with sites, blogs, facebook accounts or whatever, added a link to Appropedia and encouraged their networks to contribute to a permanent and growing permaculture knowledge base on Appropedia.

Now, what to do if you want to get a backup of a different wiki? With Wikimedia wikis, a dump is available (they’re huge, especially the Wikipedias). But if there’s no site dump available, you can go to the Special:Export page in any MediaWiki site and list pages to download. (Use Special:Allpages to get page names).

Relevant wiki pages:

Do you think it’s time to support a humanitarian wiki?

It’s funny how a contentious question for one person seems like a no-brainer for another. It doesn’t tell you who’s right or wrong (it’s rarely black and white) but it can reveal the different assumptions we operate by.

When Paul Currion asked Do you think it’s time for a humanitarian wiki? my own thought was “What do you think we’ve been doing?”

Appropedia has been a humanitarian wiki since 2006, covering mainly the technical aspects of development and relief work (particularly appropriate technology). Increasingly this collaboratively built knowledge base has been covering the essential social and cultural questions as well – culture and community, and principles of development.

So the real question is “Do you think it’s time to support this work?” Relief workers with your personal checklists and guidelines that are your tools of the trade – what’s stopping you from sharing these, and helping others be more effective aid workers? How about asking your organization to adopt an open license policy, even a policy of actively sharing their knowledge resources through Appropedia?

Your mission is to save lives and relieve suffering. Effective knowledge sharing, using an acknowledged, accessible platform,  is an essential part of that.

Do you think it’s time?

Permaculture wiki, and an update

Update: I want to apologize to everyone who’s frustrated with our broken blog feed. We’ve been given pointers on how to fix it, but since we don’t actually have a tech team (anyone like to help?)  I need to dig in and fix this myself, and… I haven’t got it done yet. But it’s there on the to-do list. Now onto more interesting things.

Permaculture: Plug “permaculture” and “wiki” into a search engine and you’ll get a bunch of hits. Most of them will be pretty empty – inactive, spammed or dormant sites. So what about the dream of creating a freely accessible and usable permaculture manual for the world, for rich and poor alike? It lives.

This collaborative work on a permaculture resource is happening on Appropedia, these days. This is by far the most active site for permaculture topics, as far as I can tell, and I’ve spend some hours scouring the internet. So I’ve started a page to invite collaboration: Permaculture wiki. Check it out, and since it’s a wiki your perspectives are welcomed.

Btw, tech people: if you’re a WordPress wizard and want to help, let us know. And we’re also looking for someone who can pretty up the skin on the wiki…

http://www.appropedia.org/Permaculture

Collaboration Fail

David Stairs of the Design Altruism Project argues that many collaborations aren’t actually collaborative. In a sobering post, he notes that people want to set up a project to be the hub for collaboration in their field… often without checking who’s doing the same thing, or even using the same name. We’ve observed similar behavior.

Partly it’s about wanting to be at the center of things – and that’s natural. And partly it’s about not realizing just how much work is involved in making an online community. I’m not sure what the solution is. One possibility is the Wikipedia experience: perhaps what happened with Wikipedia is that it was a single project which gained a good reputation, gave a good experience to many contributors, was a clear concept to grasp (a free encyclopedia), and a broad enough scope to be of interest to many, many people.

This hasn’t happened to the same degree in architecture, design or sustainability, though we’ve made good progress on Appropedia – especially as we’ve come from a number of different projects and chosen to collaborate rather than compete.

Another key element in collaboration is a recognition of our limits. As Wes Janz noted (quoted in the same blog post)

“…And, you know, it’s all good, an orphanage in Sri Lanka, house inspections in Mississippi post-Katrina, a community center in Kenya… But I just got sick of it and had this idea that you should change the name of DWB to Designers With Borders. As in, maybe there should be some boundaries, some active awarenesses that we are unqualified, or unfit, or unable to work borderlessly.”

Not that we need to be changing names – just recognizing our limits. I can’t recall who said it, but it is our weaknesses that make us great, not our strengths, for our weaknesses lead us to work with others and create something greater than ourselves.

Pardon this meditation on failure. There are many encouraging successes to dwell on, support, and learn from, and we’ll continue to do that. A cautious recognition of where things go badly pear-shaped is one side of the coin of success, and we do well to keep both in mind.