Ethics of Community Informatics

Towards a New Public Infrastructure

Resource name: 
Towards a New Public Infrastructure — preprint
Resource type: 
Articles

Archeodata

Problem: 
The amount of information that we have gathered as a species, be it in digital, analog or mental formats, is staggering, but a great deal of it has simply been abandoned after it's discovery or creation. The amount of man-hours dedicated to the countless forms of information analysis by as many individuals is incalculable, but a vast array of results from those analyses is or could be readily available to any community seeking niche information. At the time of writing this entry, it was estimated that there exists over 295 exabytes of information stored digitally. A fair amount of this information may be corrupted, duplicates or even the product of random generation, but a fair amount of it is also unique.
Context: 

Archeodata is distinctly separate from cultural knowledge in that the information it contains was only relevant to it's pursuer(s) and was later abandoned. This does not necessarily mean the information has been lost completely, only that it has been virtually forgotten and/or assumed to have no value. Possible examples could include analytic or statistical data, blueprints, music or computer code, while examples such as social mores, traditions, biological drives, simple relics, physical remains or any modern common knowledge (regardless of "age"/source) would not constitute archeodata. While the medium containing the data itself can sometimes offer addition physical data, what is important to defining archeodata is the presence of qualitative and/or quantitative information that has for all intents and purposes been abandoned, but can/could be accessed and applied to developing new, "cutting edge" perspectives.

Discussion: 
As a species we excel at information organization and dissemination. We are rare in that we are capable of mirroring behavior we have not physically seen but instead visualized through analysis of abstract information. The historic correlation between new methods of information dispersal and social "progress" is well accepted, e.g. the advent of writing, the creation of the printing press and telegraph, television and radios. These new technologies have, over the centuries, allowed progressively more information to be made accessible, and with modern digital communication we are now able to disseminate vast amounts of information quickly and easily.
 
Humanity is the only species known to encode and transmit information through abstract symbolism, i.e. writing, allowing a healthy amount of current understanding to have already been built on archeodata. Modern archaeology and anthropology are focus heavily on the recovery and study of ancient archeodata while many of the modern "hard" sciences owe significant breakthroughs to the recovery and synthesis of the same. For example, during the 1854 Broad Street cholera outbreak Dr John Snow tracked outbreaks of the disease using a standard dot map/Voronoi diagram, then famously used the data to identify the source of the outbreak as the public well on Broad Street. Afterwards, officials rejected his assertion that water was responsible for bearing the disease and his data was abandoned until 1866 when his information was used to combat a similar outbreak in Bromley. These studies were of minor interest to the medical community at the time, but several decades later were of great interest to Pasteur, Cook and Lister as they established modern germ theory. More recently, there is much debate on the ethics of using data from the infamous Nazi freezing experiments, which remains some of our only data on death from exposure. Conversely, after the death of Nokolai Tesla many of his notes were initially seized by the US government, and after declassification showed theories applicable to to modern plasma torches, radar and wireless networks.
 
The issue of privacy does not apply to true archeodata because it has, by nature, been abandoned or lost, and thus assumed to possess no value by laypersons. Information is only considered sensitive or private when it's dispersal could potentially impact ones freedoms, but this obviously does not apply to what has been discarded. For example, online fetish communities often include a clause in their membership agreement that members cannot use any information about other members obtained through any means for any purpose; this is done with the stated intention of creating a "safe space" or judgement-free community where members can explore interests without social repercussions. Likewise, government surveillance of citizens is a hotly debated topic with similar arguments for and against, where, conversely, examining the sexuality of various historic cultures is as widely accepted as our poring over ancient journals and entering tombs. A defining hallmark of archeodata is that the information holds no value to whomever, if anyone, is aware of it.
 
Much data already exists, but in addition to organization it also requires verification. For example, until the recovery and translation of Homer's epic cycle the existence of the city of Troy had been forgotten. It was found after centuries of searching evidence to verify the data that had been implied. Conversely, while the existence of Atlantis or Camelot has been implied by various recovered sources there is much more evidence against their existences then for them.  
 
Archeodata is not limited to information or statistics. A fantastic amount of software code has been written that is considered largely obsolete, ranging from machine-specific drivers to video games, and occasionally this type of information proves useful, or at least entertaining. Conversely, the rate at which software and digital hardware develop can make recovering this type of data difficult: after going out of business, the contractor that built the US military's inventory of A-10 Thunderbolts simply threw out their schematics, forcing the US Air Force to scavenge existing parts until they learned how to build suitable replacements. Similarly, NASA engineers attempting to access old Apollo mission schematics found contemporary hardware incompatible with older storage mediums while the original computers were completely inoperable. Likewise, ancient music has been the subject of much curiosity, but while many ancient instruments have been unearthed relatively few cultures through histories had developed a system of music notation and many of the ancient ones we don't know how to read. 
 
There also comes the unfortunate truth that at some point, data that is of interest to us now will also lose relevance. Our intense desire to analyze our environment is matched only by our desire to preserve our individual analyses, and it is impossible for one to predict all the ways in which information can be used. Many groups intentionally store archeodata in many forms, ranging from humble time capsules to massive national archives. Perhaps the Ur example of the intentional preperation of archeodata is Wikipedia's Terminal Event Management Policy: should a "non-localized event... render the continuation of Wikipedia in its current form untenable" occur, a series of protocols have been developed to increase the chances of the Wikimedia Foundations data banks being preserved. The "worst-case scenario" scenario, with ten minutes or less until failure, involves broadcasting the entire database, compressed, into space via radio telescopes around the world. Conversely, since 1983 the US Department of Energy has been struggling to figure out how to label nuclear waste disposal sites in such a way that their contents will be recognizable as dangerous for the length of their existence, or about 10,000 years. It feels safe to assume that in the space of that time our language and culture may be lost where artifacts remain, thus leaving the correct archeodata in an accessible way might be our only responsible option.
 
Data is much like a physical tool in that in can be applied to achieve desired results from the natural world, and in that sense finding new data is sort of like finding that a strange tool: you recognize that it is what it is, even if you just don't know what to do with it, until that perfect moment comes along when everything "clicks" and you see exactly how it can be used. The key is to remembering that even if you can use something as a wrench, that doesn't mean you might not be able to use it later on as a screwdriver or a hammer. 
Solution: 

While the internet and digital communications have already drastically increased accessibility to archeodata, there are vast archives and databases which remain, for whatever reasons, inaccessible. Communities wishing to prepare archeodata for future discovery must preserve it accordingly in an accessible manner, whether digital or analog. The advent of digital communications allow for quick and easy dissemination of large amounts of data, but with the very real possibility of network failure or hardware malfunctions the need for backups is obvious. Adding "tags" to data, or small external pieces of information by which the larger can be identified/sorted, has also shown to be a reliable means of sorting large amounts of information, e.g. the Dewey decimal system, internet tags.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

There already exists a profound amount of information, however that is really all much of it does. Countless individuals have compiled or accumulated vast amounts of data, used it for their purposes and then left it abandoned. This does not negate the validity of their data, but it does insinuate the need for making it accessible. 

Collective Intelligence for the Common Good

Organization's slogan: 
The CI4CG Action Research and Community Network consists of a group of nearly 100 like-minded individuals who have subscribed to the statement of principles and therefore aim to advance research and practice in collective intelligence for the common good. Join our mailing list at <a href="http://scn9.scn.org/mailman/listinfo/ci4cg-announce">CI4CG-announce</a> or contact the organisers if you’d like to join the network.

We are interested in working with practitioners and researchers from all relevant fields. Our hope is to consciously and organically nurture this community / network. The intent of this conscious community development is of course not to build a gated community, but to help focus attention on relevant issues including how best to engage the “outside” world and maintain porous borders. We hope to transcend the constraints of many dominant habits, institutions, and norms, especially when their strict obedience compels us to work in ways that are likely to be ineffective in addressing the common good of the planet and its inhabitants. It is our intent to help develop, maintain, and enhance projects and systems that are actually used.

Year the organization was founded: 
2013
Organizational engagement: 
Active
Organization's headquarters: 
cyberspace
Organization's geographic focus: 
Earth
Volunteer Opportunities: 
Join us! Planning events, designing resources, getting the word out
Contact person: 
Douglas Schuler
Contact information: 
douglas@publicsphereproject.org

Journal of Community Informatics

Organization's slogan: 
The Journal of Community Informatics provides an opportunity for Community Informatics researchers and others to share their work with the larger community. Through the Journal's application of a rigorous peer review process, knowledge and awareness concerning the community use of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) is being brought to a wider professional audience.
Civic Organization Disclaimer: 
Possible disclaimer: This information has been entered by a person who isn't associated with the organization. It may be incomplete or contain mistakes. If you are associated with this organization and would like to maintain this information, please get a Public Sphere Project account and ask us to transfer ownership of this information to you.
Organizational engagement: 
Active
Organization's headquarters: 
Vancouver, BC, Canada
Organization's geographic focus: 
worldwide

http://

Contact person: 
Michael Gurstein

Small World News

Civic Organization Disclaimer: 
Possible disclaimer: This information has been entered by a person who isn't associated with the organization. It may be incomplete or contain mistakes. If you are associated with this organization and would like to maintain this information, please get a Public Sphere Project account and ask us to transfer ownership of this information to you.

From the mission statement: 

 

Small World News focuses on developing the capacity of citizens to engage with the international community in crisis areas and conflict zones.

Our most recent project, Alive in Libya, showcased the potential of citizen media when combined with affordable digital technologies and professional training. As an organization our primary focus has been to guide local citizens through the entire process, from learning to produce professional media to distributing via social media and leveraging relevant technologies to broaden the impact.

We believe our unique body of expertise with media development in conflict areas such as Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya makes us uniquely positioned to provide training to existing media professionals, human rights and civil society organizations, as well as independent citizens. In the past year, in addition to our own projects, Small World News has conducted training in Iraq, Afghanistan, India, Rwanda, Bahrain, Libya, and Uganda. Training subjects included: new media tools for civil society, SMS and mobile technology, training for journalists in new media and multimedia, training and advising in online security, training and deployment of Ushahidi.

Organizational engagement: 
Active

http://

Community Animators

Pattern ID: 
752
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
102
Justin Smith
The Public Sphere Project & St. Mary's University
Version: 
2
Problem: 

Development professionals often find it difficult to adequately assess the broad spectrum of problems a community faces, as well as grasp and utilize the various assets the community has to work with. The lack of grassroots knowledge has proven problematic in that development schemes are often mismatched in scale and relevance to the community’s needs, abilities and liabilities. Thus the conceived solutions for encouraging community capacities and livelihoods fall short of their objectives.

Context: 

Through their lived experience, community members trained in assessment techniques and information gathering can provide contextual understandings of the assets and liabilities a community possesses that would otherwise go unnoticed to the outside professional. Similarly they can act as agent for the process of conscientization and subsequent mobilization for peoples to pursue change and empowerment.

Discussion: 

In response to the failures of 'top-down' approaches to development, a shift towards emphasizing participation and empowerment have begun to make their way into the mainstream of development practice. This move toward "bottom-up," "farmer-to-farmer," and "grassroots" communication has been a fundamental reorientation. Following, the 70s and 80s, years often associated with the dark ages of development a new light has come about through alternative practices that seek to employ the community’s themselves in defining their needs, mapping out there assets and coming to terms with their own liabilities.

Through a variety of participatory processes both community members and development professionals have had the opportunity to jointly design community improvement schemes that are both appropriate to the community's needs and wants, as well sustainable and empowering.

As a result of relative success, the role of the community animator has become an increasingly important component for enabling this process of cooperation and participation between the development practitioner and the community members themselves. In some ways the animator acts as both initiator and on-going advocate for his or her community's development through regular open communication with both community members and the representative staff working in the area.

In the past highly educated teams of researchers and development field workers would enter a community and employ any number of assessment tools to identify community needs. Some of which were participatory in nature (see Power Research pattern). Upon return to their offices these assessments would be used to design various projects ranging from indoor lavatories, to treadle pumps, to community telecenters. In many cases it was shown that these projects failed to support the kind of long-term growth in people’s livelihoods they were thought to bring. Rather than looking at what the community wanted or needed from their cultural and social point of reference; these professionals designed projects relative to their point of reference.

Instead of persisting with this paradigm, NGOs such as the Institute for Integrated Rural Development (IIRD) have pursued vigorous development campaigns in Bangladesh. In this example the community animator has become a central agent for helping to identifiy and express the needs and desires of a community, as well as initiating and supporting change to include, informal education, ideas for micro-enterprise, and even supporting the creation of women’s self-help groups that have enable a number of women in rural areas to gain access to credit and thus empower them to pursue economic generating activities.

Here organizations such as IIRD would send exploratory panels out to the communities, as a "get to know you" campaign. Over a period of time they would identify predominately young men and women that they would sponsor for further education. The pool of students would often serve as the primary group that would go on to perhaps become powerful community animators.

Not only were they given a valuable education they still retain those familial bonds to their community that often gives them an immediate advantage in having the lived experience of their particular area, as well the rapport of being a community member.

However, problems of jealousy and apprehension can be potentially problematic and it is important that groups and agencies that do seek to draw advocates from the field they seek to assist find ways to mitigate the potential social conflict that might arise. Unfortunately, it may not be possible to completely eliminate it. But it is perhaps a far better approach than previous alternatives

Solution: 

The community animator can act as a critical link between the community and any NGO Collaborator. It should be noted that by those in the field for social change that local citizens and activists can often better activate a community’s sentiments and bring about awareness for the possibility to realize change than an outsider who may be perceived to have little understanding of the real issues at stake.

Beyond the processes of concientization that a community animator can bring to the process; NGOs can also assist these community members in training for information gathering and needs assessments to help refine the basic kinds of projects and programs that might be of benefit to a community.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

Development professionals often find it difficult to adequately assess the broad spectrum of problems a community faces — or the various assets the community has to work with. This often means that development schemes are mismatched with the community's needs, abilities and liabilities. Community Animators can act as critical links and local citizens can often better activate a community to realize change than an outsider.

Pattern status: 
Released
Syndicate content