Posts Tagged with “collaboration”

Civil Society, CrisisCamp

August 29th, 2010

Almost every time I talk to Esther Dyson about Russia, she speaks of the importance of building civil society, of developing a world where people don’t look to government and formal “non-governmental organizations” for all the answers. Here’s a paragraph she wrote about civil society in an article about the Feb 2010 US State Department Tech Delegation to Russia:

Civil society is not just politics: it is a restaurant giving unused food to the poor. It is a for-profit company such as Twitter providing its service free to rich and poor alike (even though advertisers will focus on the rich). It is successful entrepreneurs mentoring start-up entrepreneurs, and NGOs engaging not just with the government, but also with commercial outfits to get support for activities that will address vexing social problems such as maternal and infant mortality.

I was reminded of Esther’s focus on civil society at the CrisisCamp event Friday night.

There are a lot of barriers to helping from a distance when a disaster strikes. Today information technology, the marvels of the Internet, and new tools focused on crowdsourcing and crowd-sourced data provide some new mechanisms. And so there are groups of people trying to develop actionable data out of the heartbreaking SMS messages (a partial example: “village of 200 houses, 100% destroyed. 100% crops destroyed. Village still flooded.”)

There’s no official government involvement. There’s not necessarily any direct connection between the people working at this and the villages or individuals affected by the floor. There is however civil society in action: see a problem, do something. Form an association (Ben Franklin formed a surprising number of associations), virtual or formal. Build a tool — or a product. Reach out. Don’t wait for government to set up a special official organization — plunge in and do things.

The degree to which citizens believe they can, can, and do affect their own lives and the lives of others is a pretty potent marker of the nature of a society.

Open Science — Incremental Advances

December 6th, 2006

A couple of days ago a colleague referred to the Open Science post a while back, and I realized I had meant to follow up. So here goes.

Given the issues with “open science” how might progress towards openness be made?

  1. It’s unlikely that those with a big financial stake in the current arrangements will change. This obviously includes the commercial ventures aiming for large returns on their investment. It probably also includes the major research and development institutions who may not be public companies but who are deeply involved in the current system. If you’re an academic institution and you’ve spent millions of dollars outfitting labs and have a set of people working and studying at your institution assuming the research and its results will be treated a certain way, it’s hard to make big changes. So even if one takes the position that these organizations should change (which I’m not necessarily advocating) I think it’s unlikely that leadership toward Open Science will come from here.
  2. It’s more realistic to expect change around the edges than at the very center of the system. Periodically I read about diseases that could probably be treated, but exist mostly in impoverished areas. So there’s very little economic reward for the necessary research, development and deployment. I could imagine organizations concerned with alleviating these diseases to be more inclined to find ways to collaborate, particularly if relevant patents have expired.
  3. There is usually a hierarchy of research organizations and universities; the “top tier” schools are more able to get research funds and to capitalize on the results of their work. But, there are massive numbers of very smart and very motivated people at other organizations. It may be that collaborative scientific techniques will develop at unanticipated places that aren’t well positioned in the current system.
  4. It may be that successful Open Science doesn’t start at the central, biggest problems. It may grow by solving pieces of problems. Free compilers existed before the complete GNU Linux operating system; the same incremental change may occur with Open Science. Sadly, many of the big problems are the health topics where people’s lives are at stake.
  5. The realm known as “Citizen Science” may well lead the way. Citizen Science is based on large numbers of people working together. Since those participants aren’t expected to have scientific training, there are a whole set of problems that can’t even be approached through this method. But we may be surprised at the areas where Citizen Science can move our understanding forward.

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