MAZI: a top 5 Raspberry Pi project for social good

On 28/09/2018 the Open University MAZI team was invited to take part in a ‘show and tell’ demonstration of interesting Raspberry Pi themed projects organised by the dynamic Knowledge Makers group  at the Open University’s Knowledge Media Institute

Special guest was the Raspberry Pi Foundation’s Chief Executive Officer, Phil Colligan. Phil later described MAZI as one of the top five world changing Raspberry Pi projects for good in the official Raspberry Pi magazine.

Philip Colligan, Chief Executive of the Raspberry Pi Foundation finds out about MAZI from Mark, Gareth, and Paul (not seen here) (credit: Chris Valentine)

Knowledge Makers encourages maker activities at the university and has regular meet-ups, that the MAZI team attends. People come together and make, hack, and chat about their do-it-yourself projects, analogue and digital, personal missions and publicly funded projects, all are welcome.For this event, the focus was a ‘show and tell’ demonstration of Raspberry Pi work, open to all at the university (and any other visitors). David Pride and Matteo Cancellieri kindly invited the MAZI team to show off the MAZI toolkit, and agreed that the MAZI Guestbook should be the event guestbook for people to leave their thoughts. They were also excited to find out about the Creekside Discovery Centre sensor system, based around a Raspberry Pi Zero, built by IT’s Paul Maher to enable an environmental charity to better understand river conditions and share data with schools and community groups.

We demonstrated all our work, giving visitors a chance to gets their hand on the MAZI tools, and enjoyed seeing how our colleagues across the Open University have been exploring Raspberry Pi’s. Phil Colligan, CEO of the Raspberry Pi Foundation toured all the demos before giving a talk on Raspberry Pi’s future, spending time learning about MAZI work from Gareth Davies, Paul and Mark Gaved.

A great event, and we must have made an impression, Phil Colligan later chose MAZI as one of his top-five world changing Pi projects for good, in the official Raspberry Pi magazine’s November 2018 issue 75 on the ’75 greatest Raspberry pi projects’ (see page 20).

Thanks Phil!

Photos of the event here: https://photos.app.goo.gl/3RqhxgkvBhYNbKox8 (credit Chris Valentine)

(We shouldn’t forget to mention the team’s excitement at seeing a Raspberry Pi shaped real cake baked for the event, well done Knowledge Makers, you know cake is one of our favourite ‘community mediating technologies’ !)

The Raspberry Pi cake! (credit: Chris Valentine)

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Zurich cross fertilisation event: cooperatives and DIY

May 2018 saw the MAZI consortium convene in Zurich to see the home of the Kraftwerk1 pilot study and share ideas and practices, as we move into the final six months of the project.

We first met in the new community space, L200, that Nethood colleagues Thomas, Ileana and Panos have been instrumental in setting up. A converted shop in District 5, right in the centre of town on Langstrasse, a main street, L200 has been activated as a neighbourhood hub: “[a] stage for local and neighbouring Zurich (small) businesses, a laboratory for start-ups and bottom-up companies, space for social and cultural commitment”. Just opened the week we turned up, it provides a great meeting place.

It was a very fitting space for the MAZI team to come together and talk about our interdisciplinarity work. Over three years, we’ve worked as a varied group of practitioners and academics from across Europe and different disciplines to make sense of DIY networking, in four very different pilots. We’re reflecting on the processes, as well as seeking to develop a framework that might guide others aiming at “creating a mutual understanding of basic assumptions, world-views and methodologies” that might be used in similar projects. We broke up into groups to discuss: Roles, Guises and Action Fields; Tensions and Conflicts; and Strategies and Tactics. It’s clear that working sessions like this, are really valuable in giving us time to work together and reflect on challenges and how we might move forwards, with the goal of moving from interdisciplinarity (moving beyond your own discipline to take on board other disciplines’ approaches), to transdisciplinarity (seeking to draw together different disciplines into a new unity beyond disciplinary approaches).

Philipp (INURA) then hosted us and acted as the bar tender at a lovely evening reception in the legendary Pantoffelbar at the Kraftwerk1 housing cooperative.

Thursday started with a tour of Kraftwerk1, with Philipp guiding us through the history and across the buildings of the inspirational housing cooperative that hosts our third pilot study.  25% of Zurich housing stock is owned on a non-profit basis and Kraftwerk1 is part of the “young cooperatives” movement that sprung from radical thinking by architects, geographers and planners in the 1980s, who also formed the International Network for Urban Research and Action (INURA). Zurich, as well as the home of banking, has a strong collectivist and counter-culture movement. It’s clear that many of the struggles and opportunities we are encountering in DIY networking have a long heritage of being debated and enacted through the actions of housing cooperatives. Local initiatives in both movements have struggled with a range of existential challenges that have commonalities: how to get started, how to keep going, how to inspire and support members, how to deal with legal frameworks and so on. MAZI can learn from the practice and theorising that’s taken place in Kraftwerk1 and elsewhere.

In keeping with our Do It Yourself philosophy, lunch was in the community garden next to Kraftwerk1, and we were taught how to make and cook our own pizzas- lovely! After a leisurely and yet productive lunch conversation that included housing cooperative thinkers and activists, we were then treated to a tour of the gardens by Lolo, the caretaker and manager.  We then moved into a discussion of MAZIzones and open space projects, and it was clear there were parallels between the Zurich situation and those of Berlin, Deptford and the UnMonastery actions in Greece. Continuing the themes, Kraftwerk1 hosted an evening session on cooperative housing in Europe, with experiences from participants in new projects, and another DIY culinary extravaganza hosted by our very own Ileana (Nethood).

Friday started with a tour of the spectacular Kalkbreite housing cooperative , built over a tram depot, with a further opportunity to reflect on the parallels between collective actions in housing and self-provisioning of ICT tools. We then moved back to L200 for discussions about the INURA Cooperative initiative, and collective learning processes and common space. The final afternoon session drew back more closely into reflections on technology focussed hybrid spaces, with a discussion on cooperative technology and the rights to the hybrid city, again with inputs both from MAZI colleagues and cooperative and technology practitioners from Zurich and beyond. I was struck at how well the two groups overlapped in interests and practical experiences.

In summary, the MAZI cross-fertilisation event again proved to be a fantastic experience enabling us all to understand the local context of a MAZI pilot. It also provided an opportunity to bring the consortium together for both structured and informal conversation amongst ourselves, along with activists related to the thematic focus of the particular pilot, to consolidate our work so far and offer insights that might be carried forwards.

(images: all James Stevens apart from image of Kraftwerk1, Ingi Helgason)

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Conceptualizing and Designing with Liberating Voices Patterns Workshop with Doug Schuler

We were lucky to have MAZI Advisory Board member Doug Schuler pass by The Open University last week, and he kindly agreed to run a workshop introducing his ‘Liberating Voices’ Patterns language and engagment tool. Video of event

Doug has long been interested in how communities can work together to overcome local challenges, the concept of ‘civic intelligence’ and what tools people can use to discuss and respond to challenges.

Drawing inspiration from Alexander’s book proposing a pattern language for architecture, urban design, and community livability, Doug brought together a number of writers, activists and academics, and created the 2008 book ‘Liberating Voices: A Pattern Language for Communication Revolution’ (https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/liberating-voices) and explored suitable ‘patterns’ – ideas, ways of working and mechanisms that can be used to discuss and investigate community challenges. When a selection is put together, you might devise an approach with various aspects, a ‘language’ for addressing the challenges.

The book contains 136 patterns which were written by 75 people from around the world. Each pattern presents a conceptual seed that can be used a multitude of different ways by different people in different contexts for different reasons. Patterns can provide new ways of perceiving challenges and opportunities.

Doug has generated a card pack from the book, and these are designed to be used in a workshop, with people gathered around shared challenges. Cards are debated, selected, and combined to help offer insight into ways in which a challenge might be approached.

In the workshop, Doug introduced his own background in computing and community based research, talked about Alexander’s work and how this had led to his own pattern language.  We then broke into groups, and shared out cards to think how we might address our challenges. My group was exploring how the Open University might bring together geographically separated students into the sense of being a shared community of practice; a second group were looking for ways of involving a wide range of stakeholders in a sub-Saharan agricultural project seeking to optimise water usage; and the final group explored home schooling in the UK.

 

Doug got us to share the cards between the group members, and individually reducing our pile (of about 40) to 3. Much deliberation and agonising happened and we all ended up with half a dozen, which we then talked through with our colleagues to reduce again. Doug was interested to see if we could reduce to three in total, our group ended up with a central card surrounding by a clock of about ten others! These divided approximately into philosophical reflections, practical mechanisms that might be used, and goals we were trying to achieve.

The cards have a single side of description, which leads to individual reflection and then group debate about their meaning and how they are applied by different people from different domains. Overall, the process then is one of reflection and discussion, with the cards acting as boundary objects to instigate debate. I found this a really interesting process: more structured than giving people  blank flip charts and asking them to discuss topics, yet open enough that there was plenty of room for conversation and interpretation.

This fits nicely into the emerging MAZI focus on the ‘pre-tech’ aspect of engaging communities with DIY networking: gathering where we are keen to elicit challenges, tensions, and goals; and to help people move to articulating what approaches might be tried.

Doug’s used these all over the world. The patterns are available at http://www.publicsphereproject.org/patterns/lv. There are also complete sets of the cards available in Arabic, Chinese, Spanish, and Vietnamese and other translations are in work. Card sets are available from the author or online. They are licensed for free use.

Other people have also thought of patterns that might be relevant to MAZI: the EU DiDIY project considering policy patterns for Digital Do It Yourself, and there was a talk at Chaos Communication Congress (2007) that turned into a wiki on how patterns might be applied to help the successful setting up and running of hackspaces.

 

 

 

 

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Why DIY?

There’s a lot of interest around DIY networking currently, but why do it? ‘YDIY?’ as Gunnar Karlson put it at the 2014 Dagstuhl on DIY networking. As an old friend and time-served community networker commented: it’s hard to set up, and hard to maintain. Why not go with your national or corporate telecom provider to put in a WiFi router to your house and a connection to their network?

Here are four reasons that you might choose to build your own network, rather than phone up a commercial supplier:

1. Necessity

ERA: portable wireless networking to help students take part in geology field trips in remote areas

ERA: portable wireless networking to help students take part in geology field trips in remote areas

First and foremost, you might want to connect together devices, or talk to somebody else, or get onto the internet in a situation where a commercial or government provider just isn’t around to give you a connection: you have no option but to Do It Yourself. There’s a long heritage around people connecting themselves to the world: a hundred years ago in the USA, farmers were getting a telephone connection that last mile from the nearby town by running shared telephone lines over their barbed wire fences. The first DIY wireless computer networks were set up because commercial alternatives were too expensive. The ‘digital divide’ saw those who had access to the internet, and those that hadn’t as yet another emerging divide, and followed other prior technology trends, with rural, peripheral and transient communities the last to get connected. While internet connectivity is improving in many developing countries, there are still rural areas and particular groups that can’t get connected by commercial providers running a line. In the MAZI project, for example, we’re working with the Minesweeper Collective, an artists’ community that lives in boats moored up in Deptford Creek. They get their internet connection from SPC, who have a community network that provides internet connectivity in South East London.

2. Privacy

Qaul.net - exploring peer to peer networks.

Image from qaul.net

Second, you might wish to keep your data private, and not connect via the internet. Edward Snowden has revealed how much data can be gathered by national bodies, generating debate around the topic, and this has been thrown into sharp relief in the UK with the Investigatory Powers Bill that has recently been passed into law and gives authorities wide ranging powers to gather data on conversations. For many people, the chief concern is about what data is being collected by commercial companies, such as car insurance companies gathering data from Facebook to decide what premium to charge you. In some circumstances though, the consequences can be more serious: there are countries where sharing conversations about political dissent, such as taking part in demonstrations can result in imprisonment.
Projects such as Qaul.net are exploring phone-to-phone networks that allow people to organise and communicate without sending conversations via a government monitored network.

3. Autonomy

Beyond privacy, there can be a range of other reasons for not choosing to use a commercial provider when one is available. Having control over your own digital network allows you to choose how it’s used, what services are provided, and how it’s set up and run. ownmagentaThe idea of maintaining autonomy is attractive in itself: for example you may prefer to be part of a cooperative venture run within your local community because you feel this empowers the neighbourhood and keeps financial costs within the local area. Commercial providers’ services are restricted to what makes commercial sense for them, for example by providing higher download speeds than upload speeds. Local networks such as OWN provide high speed upload as well as download speeds: ideal if you’re a music venue that wants to broadcast live gigs. Gamers might want a network configured to preference particular types of connectivity to benefit their games, as they’d find at a LAN Party. With digital services moving increasingly towards the commercial “internet cloud”, personal ownership of resources is becoming more and more blurred and holding digital resources in your own network might enable you to control how they are used and shared.

4. Playfulness

Finally, we shouldn’t forget sheer playfulness, curiosity, and enjoyment as a motivation for taking up DIY networking. Getting a better understanding of how the technology around us works, or learning new skills as a result of improving our own tools and services has a noble and long tradition, there have been hackers and makers and tinkerers throughout history: the orgins of the internet are tied up with MIT’s Tech Model Railroad Club.

MAZI_Transmediale-181

Polyloge installation at Transmediale, Berlin 2016

Exploring technology can encourage people to reflect about their own views of the world, and art installations can encourage us to think more closely about how we interact with networks: for example UdK’s Polyloge installation. Through an open WIFI network, users in reach of the wireless signal broadcast by the installation can send text messages with their smartphones, tablets or computers. These messages get printed immediately on a paper roll that runs in-between two translucent, black boxes and are transformed into a material stream of consciousness. Several metres after they are printed, they are shredded: a conversation over digital networks that only last for a few minutes in the room in which they were started.

With these different motivations in mind, the MAZI project will be exploring how local communities might engage with their own digital networks to support local challenges, and we’ll be thinking about how best to understand to what extent these are successful or otherwise.

(Mark Gaved)

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DIY networking?

The MAZI project has brought together academics, community activists and technology hackers to develop a DIY networking toolkit: a series of guidelines, tools and services with a goal of making it easier for activists to set up and run their own local DIY networking initiatives.

But what do we mean by DIY networking?

A simple answer might be that it’s any form of communication technology tool that enables access to a service over a network, set up and run by the people who will use it. Panayotis Antoniadis and colleagues define it as “a variety of technical solutions that enable citizens to build and operate their own communication networks”.

wireless-era-1911

There’s a long tradition of citizens building and running their own telecommunications systems: at the beginning of the twentieth century with the early days of ham radio; and farmers self-provisioning telephone connections over using barbed wire cattle fences (a fun read: America calling: a social history of the telephone to 1940).

 

In MAZI, we are specifically focusing on networking to extend or offer an alternative to the internet. The purpose of a lot of early activity around DIY networking focussed around gaining access to the internet- overcoming ‘the first mile’ gap, where the challenge was to extend the reach of a system to places that weren’t considered profitable enough or politically expedient to cover. This ‘digital divide’ between those who had easy access to the internet and those who didn’t was overcome by using a range of technologies: often extending copper cables: through walls, over roofs, across streets. A few pioneers explored wireless links, which allow more flexible connections (crossing land that they didn’t have physical access to) and over distances which it wouldn’t be feasible to run a drum of cable. We’re lucky to be working with one of the early pioneers of the UK DIY wireless networking scene, James Stevens from SPC, who connected one of the earliest links in London in the mid 90s, and has been running networking initiatives ever since.

The consume_jamesstevensemergence of a community of networking enthusiasts and activists, sharing ideas and technical solutions, coupled with the availability of more affordable wireless networking equipment led to a blossoming of a world-wide DIY networking movement. Antoniadis et al. indicate ‘variety’ as a significant element of DIY networking and this can be seen not just in the range of technical approaches but also in the diversity of social and geographical settings, philosophies, and motivations of different groups.

DIY networking initiatives and experiments have not only sought to extend the internet, but also offered the opportunity to create networks operating independently of the internet. From a technical perspective, this is a basic functionality: the internet, is after all a network of networks, so the majority of network infrastructures can operate at least partially outside of the internet. From a social or political perspective, however, this (focus) becomes very interesting, implying that enough value can be offered in an independent network so as to make access to the internet unnecessary for the participants of the network. There can be many reasons for building an ‘off-line network’: for example necessity (because there’s no other way to be connected); privacy (to keep information away from commercial or government networks); autonomy (to be able to decide how the network is designed and how it is used) and also for playful reasons (exploring possibilities, experimenting, and enjoying what might be tried out).

We also consider complimentary networks, networking systems that have some links to the larger internet. These networks extend the internet beyond the reach of commercial or government providers for some reason, but still link into the internet. They might extend or improve access to those marginalised by commercial access infrastructures, providing additional links to those communities that commercial providers would otherwise not reach. Alternatively they might be local networks that have a specific purpose or configuration that other providers wouldn’t support, but still link either permanently or sporadically to the wider internet to achieve their goals.

DIY networking is clearly not a single type of activity, but covers a landscape from remote communities arranging their own internet provisioning, to urban activists encouraging richer hyperlocal communications, to political activists seeking to give oppressed peoples the ability to communicate without fear of repression, and not to discount artists and hackers exploring the edge of what is possible.

Perhaps we could map this landscape to reflect on what we mean by ‘DIY networking’, and as Gunnar Karlsson suggests, explore each of the terms: the “Do”, the “It” and the “Yourself” to better understand the range of activity.

DIY Networkng

“Doing” might be the building, customising or configuring of network tools, software and hardware to support local activities. This might range from using off the shelf equipment, to bringing together tools and services to form a custom configuration suitable for a local situation, through to building systems from the bottom up, including soldering, coding from scratch, and custom building of local systems.

“It” might refer to the activities the groups or individuals engage in through the use of the DIY networking: from using a locally built system to engage with the internet as typical home users (e.g. browsing the internet, sending email) through to more reflective practices, such as using the networking tools to reimagine their local community.

“Yourself” refers to the who is doing it: from getting a commercial provider to carry out the work, through to collaborating with local community networkers, and out to individuals or groups taking complete ownership and undertaking the work themselves.

We recognise that DIY networking initiatives may operate anywhere along the spectrum, likely moving along it at different times, and that there will be other dimensions that can be used to characterise DIY network. We will be exploring this critically as we continue through the project.

However, if we talk about DIY networking, to quote Gunnar again, we should reflect also on another ‘Y’ – Why DIY Network?

(Mark Gaved)

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Welcome to the OU’s MAZI project blog!

Welcome to the Open University’s MAZI project blog. We’ll be using this website to tell you about our work on an exciting EU funded research project, that is exploring how local people can set up and run networked technologies themselves to help solve local issues:  MAZI (‘A DIY networking toolkit for location based collective awareness’).

The project started in January 2016 and will be running until December 2018. At the Open University, the Institute of Educational Technology will be working with partners across Europe exploring the project through pilots, cross fertilization events, and public outreach activities.

Get in touch if you’re interested to find out more, or check out the project website.

Best wishes

Mark Gaved & Gareth Davies (Open University research team)

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