Drew’s ALF Summer Day 3 Reflections

ALF Summer Day 3

We got into talking about the GAME SHIFTING BOARD today.


Make implicit rules explicit

The Game Shifting Board outlines the current meeting format.

  • Mode
  • Interaction
  • Body Arrangement
  • Body Energy
  • Roles
  • Start/End

Each of the above points has multiple options which the group decides on. For instance the Mode could be Body Arrangement could be a circle or a standing decision cluster (where people stand on a side of the room to physically show where they stand on an issue)

This seems like a very interesting tool. I wish we had something like this in some Occupy meeting that were very implicit only to those in the know.

Drew’s ALF Summer Day 2 Reflections

ALF Summer Day 2

Started exploring some of the tools and methods the NYC and Charlotte schools use.


No boundaries is false.

In Occupy we said there were no leaders, and thus no boundaries, this was not true.

Players will search for those boundaries and push until they reach them.

The trick is to set loose enough boundaries that don’t get in the way of creativity and problem solving. Then be transparent about where and how these boundaries are defined.

In #ALC there is daily and weekly structure that build the player’s portfolio. A daily process is the Intention, Creation and Reflection Cycle.


Each day players are asked to set intentions while preparing their #KANBAN.


is a tool for keeping track of projects and ideas as they are broken into tasks. Players move atomic tasks through labeled columns that generally break down into:
  1. Thinking about
  2. To-do
  3. Doing
  4. Done

Intention setting is shared in a standing meeting at the beginning of each day.

This focuses activity and provides space to collaborate.

Sharing intentions provides an accountability mechanism.


Play is an act of creation. As are other things. This is a space where players fulfill their intentions.


At the end of each day players reflect on what they did, how/if their intentions were met.

Reflection is part of all processes, the ultimate goal is having documentation that can be reflected upon to (the portfolio)

This cycle can be used weekly or monthly to set longer term objectives.

Change Up

The player space lacks all but the most basic formal rules. Plays, not facilitators, are tasked with building community norms and rules.

One method for this is the Change Up.


At the end of each week players and facilitators meet to bring opportunities or issues to the group.

Awareness Examples:


Someone is willing to gives lessons every Thursday. The group may be interested in organizing making space for these lessons.


Ants are showing up in the common room. Someone might suggest that the group only eat in the kitchen so not to attract ants. Anyone can propose a solution and move to


If there is general agreement among the group then proposals will be tried out for a week.

If it’s not working STOP

It’s better to experiment and risk failing than to draw out process.

Implementations are reflected upon. If it doesn’t work the opportunity/issues are moved back to the awareness phase. Otherwise the activity becomes:


A practice is a method that is used by players and reflected upon. Players uphold practices that are working and might abandon those that don’t.

After a proper amount of implementation and reflection practices added to a list of “mastered” practices.

Community Mastery

The body of practices that are second nature to the group or have becomes community norms. Through this process norms are created and documented. A new player is able to read the list of mastered community practices and gain a better understanding of how best to play.


With limited structure it is important to hold what is structured in high esteem. Daily meetings, intention setting, and reflections should be well attended and start on time.

Cycles of intention setting and reflections on execution build structure within which creativity can thrive.

I am excited to learn more about these tools and see them in action.

Drew’s ALF Summer Day 1 Reflections

I biked to the school with one of the other participants.

We sat in circles and performed the dreaded ice breakers today.

Activities of note:

  • If you really knew me.
    People laid bare emotions, were vulnerable in front of strangers. We voluntarily started statements with “if you really knew me…” and followed it with ideas, feels, and stories that only someone who really knew the speaker could/would know.
  • me!
    We walked around the room aimlessly. Someone would raise their hand and shout “me!”, then begin to tip over. It would be up to the others in the room to catch them before they fell. I was caught a time or two in the bystander effect where I didn’t react because I felt others would. No one was left to fall.
  • Intentions and fitting into the future.
    We discussed what we wanted to get out of the program and how it would impact our imagined future. This followed a number of minutes going over the Agile Learning “roots” and discussing some of the tools they use.

Over all I feel really good about the group of people, diverse in their experiences, and the methodology and tools in play.

We had just a bit of time to discuss projects. Web work will commence tomorrow, I’ve got access to a server and will be installing wordpress soon. Today I met with the people interested in making physical improvements. Painting was on the agenda so after discussing what we wanted to do I called paint stores and asked if they had miss tints, or as one person described it over the phone to me, a “goof”.

We drove to the local Black Hawk Hardware Store and picked up a number of “goofs” – maybe 6 big cans and 8 small ones – for about $30 (with 10% off).

A few of us purchased food then relaxed in the cool night.

Hacking Tanzanian Water Systems with Taarifia

I had the pleasure of working on a very excellent project this week. A little over a year ago, I was introduced to Taarifa, a Tanzanian project which aims to make potable water available to all.

I met Taarifa at the Hackathon for Disaster Response 2.0 in Birmingham, UK. When last we left Taarifa, it was moving from a service called Ushahidi to a custom built API. To this task, I suggested a distributed method of hosting and data sharing with custom APIs built in Python+Flask called Data Anywhere. It appears that Taarifa has gone that route, and created their own API in Python+Flask! See the code on GitHub.

(Read more about why this is a good idea on my post about Data Anywhere, or check out the Data Anywhere Website.)

Over the three day hackathon, I created a mock-up for the Taarifa system’s potential front-end. This was based off of the field reports gathered by the awesome Willow (@willowbl00) and discussions from other folks who worked on this project for over the past few years. So now, let’s talk a bit about what Taarifa is and what its use cases are. 

Check out this video to get a better understanding of the situation in Tanzania:

In the most general sense, Taarifa stores and updates data about water points in and around Tanzania. It serves the Tanzanian Water Ministry by allowing people to submit reports of broken water points and give the Ministry a birds-eye view of the situation on the ground (when cell and data service are minimal). There are water points (wells or large tanks on stilts) spread across the country. Water Ministry Officers manage all the water points  by sending Engineers out to install or maintain them. The Water Minister oversees all of this while normal people use the points to gather their water. Informal maintainers make money by filling up the tanks with either fresh water or, in some cases, salt water.

I’m told that people who can afford it will purchase fresh water for drinking, and use salt water for cleaning (gray water). While those who can’t afford fresh water will drink the salt water. I am truly privileged to live in a society that has such an abundance of cheap, fresh water that we can shit in it.

White board sketch of user roles

I drew this whiteboard sketch to outline the different user roles that would use the Taarifa system, either through a web application, a mobile app, submitting text messages to the app, or by simply telling someone else who can.

The Water Engineer

whiteboard_user_engineerA water engineer drives around installing and repairing water points. They tend to have GPS units and smart phones.

They want to submit reports that water points are broken (or fixed) and they want to know which water points need attention.

The Water Officer

whiteboard_user_officerWater Officers manage the engineers from their desks in the Water Ministry. Currently these officers update a CSV file which they download and then re-upload. (I know, it’s terrifying).

Officers want to be able to update water point data, see up-to-date info on what is broken and where. They also need tools to make “punch lists” (to-do lists) for the engineers.

The Water Minister

whiteboard_user_ministerThe Water Minister is the person at the top. They want the birds eye view of everything that is going on.

They have goals to meet and people to answer to.

The Informal Participants

whiteboard_users_informalThe people who use the water and those who fill the water are considered informal actors. They might have data enabled smart phones or, more likely, SMS enabled “dumb” phones. However, with data rates, they probably won’t be too inclined to use those systems to submit reports. Like most things, they will use word of mouth, sometimes marching into water ministry buildings to report broken points.

Someone shared with me their observation of the political will of the people. They said that the history of Tanzania is such that people’s attitude basically breaks down to “that’s the governments responsibility, but they don’t get anything done.” I wonder how true this is, as I have witnessed the same attitude in the US (“congress should solve ________, but they can’t get anything done.”)

This informs a desire (of a few of us) to use the Taarifa system to bootstrap a more autonomous means of solving the water problem. If anyone could report a problem with a water point, then potentially anyone could solve that problem. With public data it becomes possible for non-state actors to make a positive impact. This, however, brings up the political issues of open data.

If we open up the data, it might show that some people are doing a piss poor job. It might also eliminate other people’s usefulness. It’s easy for someone like me to rally for open data when I have no stake in the data remaining closed. The pressure to keep data closed doesn’t always come from those in the most powerful position, it also comes from those lower down the totem pole, but this is a tangent for another blog post.

Taarifa user interface mock up

I determined three main views that the API interface should have. The Dashboard, which shows an overview of data points, the Waterpoint (or item view) showing a single entry into a data point and a List view (or search view) which shows a list of data. I also had the idea of a Feed view which would show recent changes to the dataset, but didn’t get around to mocking that up.

Look and feel

I based my initial design on a mock-up another member of the Taarifa team had made, which featured a dark color scheme and small boxes of bold graphic information.

I kept the dark color scheme with neutral gray. The nav bar is the darkest gray, while the in-between space is a lighter gray. Lighter gray elements then pop out against the dark backdrops.

I wanted the design to feel like an application. It is full width and has simple bold elements. A persistent header acts as a way finder.


This header, I feel, is currently not well thought out and could use a lot more work.
Alas, one can only do so much in 2 days.

taarifa_web_mock_querycardThe “query card” is a small card that presents a single point of data in a bold manner. It could be a pie chart, a graph, or simply a number. I would like to see these as widgets that users create by adding simple query strings together.

The Dashboard


This view allows a user to see a broad overview of the data set. On the right, is a map with a key and messages that display on click or hover. Ideally, data could be filtered by way of drawing polygons on the map or adding specific filters using a stackable filter UI.

taarifa_web_mock_filterThe filter accepts strings, has drop down for common attributes (in this case district and status) as well as the ability to “stack” additional filters. I based this off the OS X finder search design:

screen grab of the Mac OS X search function
Click to learn more about Mac OS X search.

The ability to save searches can allow for detailed searches to be shared to other users.

The Search View

Using the same search filter as above a user should be able to view large lists of data:

taarifa_web_mock_searchThe map on the right can be toggled on/off and will zoom to fit the extent of the search data. Search data will be presented in list form, a bulk edit option should be available. The ability to drag and drop rows into custom data sets, like a work list for engineers, would be a great addition.

The Item View

The last two pages I was able to mock up, represent single items from the database. The Water Point and Report items are often linked but stand on their own.

taarifa_web_mock_waterpointThe Water Point above has some basic information as well as a few “Query Cards.” We were hacking on a few items that could provide real time data about flow and water levels in the Water Points, so I imagined what that might look like.

taarifa_web_mock_reportThe next data item I mocked up is a report. This is what an engineer or person would send in to the Water Ministry. I added a “confirm” button primary, so the Water Officers don’t get frightened that their job is at risk. Below are other related reports (perhaps reports that share the same Water Point or reporter.)

Query Cards

taarifa_web_mock_querycard_editI’ve already touched on the “Query Card“, here is my idea for building one. I imagine that the Query Card will take the current view’s data set and visualize a date range, data type, and particular column of data. Each Query Card is then saved and can be inserted into particular views. Perhaps users can customize their views with Query Cards that are best suited for them.

Next Steps

This is a very rough mock up with more emphasis on visual design than a real hard look at usability. I’m sure it can be much improved and I would be happy to hear about your ideas.

A key feature of Taarifa is that it is flexible. While it is being designed for Water Point management in Tanzania it could very well be used for Water Point management in India or canvasing data in Brooklyn. So the really important next steps for this part of the design process is to abstract the above designs into a one-size-fits-all mock up.

In my dream world you would deploy the Taarifa API on a server (or servers), deploy this front-end, and customize it to fit your needs before plugging it into the data source.

It should work just as well for any potential use case.


Here’s a day 2 check in with an overview of most of the folks who participated:

Doughnut Crawl Portland, ME

a really delicious looking donut

Today I went out on a donut crawl around Portland Maine.

We visited both Holy Donut locations starting with the one on Exchange street.

map with the location of the holy donut shop

We had a number of amazing Spud Nuts (donuts made with potatos). Pictured below:

6 amazing holy donuts

I really enjoyed the "Holy Cannoli" (center) and Mojito (far right) which was super fresh and minty.

We also went over to Tony's Donuts:

Exterior of a donut shop

map with the location of the holy donut shop

It was a different atmosphere, old men drinking coffee. Styrophone and lots of delicious sugary treats.

tony's donut shop and three half eaten donuts

We were so drawn to eat the donuts I forgot to take a picture until the last moments.

After Tony's we made our way to another Holy Donut, this one on Park Ave!

Holy donut on park ave exterior

map with the location of the holy donut shop

Holy Donut woman holding donuts like they are goggles with another gal takes her photo with an iPhone

More amazing donuts, I couldn't tell you which one was best.

Portland is a great city and I hope to visit again.

A Glimpse of Twin Oak and Acorn; Intentional Income Sharing Egalitarian Communities

I drove up from Crow Forest Farm today into the unknown world of intentional income sharing communities to visit Twin Oaks and Acorn. These two places are, to undo their re-branding, communes. Twin oaks was established in 1967 while Acorn was establish in 1993 with help from Twin Oaks.

Twin Oaks living area Twin Oaks Community

The two communities have a shared value system but radically different organizing and decision making procedures. I wont comment much on the social and interpersonal systems due to my very limited time there.

Driving into acorn I came first upon a band of people manipulating dirt near the parking lot where the shared vehicles rest, doors unlocked, keys at the ready. Beyond a stand of young fruit trees is a beautiful building described by some as the seed palace. This recent addition to the property is where the main coop business, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, is run. The building uses passive solar and under the floor heating. It has been designed to reflect the sustainable goals of the commune. While neither acorn or twin oaks top priorities are sustainability - like you would find in an eco village - they do their best to be low impact.

Beyond the palace is the old bar where I will be sleeping for the next two days. To the east is the old farm house which came with the property. It is one of a few buildings devoted to housing members. To the west is Heart Wood. I'm told it is the most desirable living space probably because it is also home to the kitchen where community meals are prepared and plenty of food is kept.

There are smaller structures scattered about the property. A stage is set up in a small clearing and a small smoke hut contains the tobacco smokers.

Behind the palace is a steal building scared black from a recent fire. The building still stands and contains multiple work shop areas. A group of people cut and cement tiles ceramic bits into a tile mosaic which will be fit above the seed palace door.

Acorn is a self identified anarchist community. It operates under modified consensus and a general culture of autonomy. There are two meetings a week, one for decision making and another for long form single topic discussion.

My tour guides Paul and Pax fill the group of visitors in on the inner workings of the commune while walking us across the long narrow track of land. Beyond the seed cultivation areas and subsistence garden plots are large hay fields. Some small fenced in areas with goats dot the landscape. Beyond the fields is a swamp and some woods where we are told the wild flowers grow.

I spend an hour weeding rows of freshly sprouted pole beans with a couple visiting from the East Wind Community, a fellow member of the The Federation of Egalitarian Communities, like Acorn and Twin Oaks.

Later in the day a bell is run warning us that dinner will be in ten minutes.

Everything here is shared. From books to bikes to cars. Some even half joke that boyfriends are on that list. The culture of sharing allows for the million dollar a year seed business to run at a very tight margin while still providing for nearly every need of the members here.

If you do the math everyone living on each of these communities is well below the poverty line. However they all enjoy full health care, full employment, 4 weeks vacation (minimum), access to cars, housing, and food. They don't worry about waking up tomorrow and not having a job or getting sick and not being able to see a doctor or having their rent increase.

Twin Oaks Garage Twin Oaks repairs their own vehicles
Twin Oaks Car Share This simple magnetic chart manages the vehicles share program at Twin Oaks

According to Pax, at twin oaks the hundred members live in a manner that allows them to use 80% fewer resources than their mainstream counterparts. This fact is what draws me to these communities. They don't strive for a reduced carbon footprint, it isn't their mission, it is simply a side effect of living and working together. For all the talk about climate change this is the first time I've ever seen truly revolutionary action.

Twin Oaks Land

It is clear to me that these communities represent, in the broadest terms, what needs to happen right now across the world. A shift from the individualistic to the community. From scarcity to abundance. From hording to sharing. We already rely on a massive shared resource, the earth, and if we don't change our behavior now that shared resource will not continue to sustain us.

Twin Oaks Residence

Another Twin Oaks residence

I look forward to returning to Acorn in June for an internship.

Crow Forset Farm

I got to spend the weekend visiting Crow Forest Farm. I drove in Saturday afternoon and found an exhausted Christina in the Octagon. She had just finished teaching a small class about Ukranian eggs, messages to the heavens. I got to meet her little chicks:

After an early night we awoke and began preparing for a day of work and education. The farm is hosting "shed" talks (in the shed) where people present on interesting topics. This weeks topic was the Keystone XL Pipleline. There was an interesting discussion after a compelling (and dire) film. There is a protest in D.C. on the 26th to push for the rejection of this pipeline.

the shed

After the shed talk a few of the guest stuck around to help plant in the garden and build the chicken's coop

Chicken coop design plan

We were able to put up the frame before eating an amazing dinner that Christina prepared.

Occupy’s Percarious Plualism, a Report

I’ve been credited in the following report done by James Owens.

Click here to download the PDF
Click here to download the PDF

There is some very interesting data in here, I’ll share some quotes and graphs from the document.

The movement helped build democratic power
in the form of alliances across social divides reinforced by the ruling order. The network of allies brought together by Occupy organizing in NYC in the first half of 2012 displayed the kind of inclusion across differences of race, class, and social identity that characterize democratic pluralism. The study found Occupy organizing in NYC enabled a pluralistic network of alliances connecting over 200 non-profits, emerging grassroots groups, religious organizations, and incorporated businesses with over 120 Occupy groups. Those partners described themselves and their constituents using a broad range of marginalized as well as professional identities.

This provides evidence that Occupy was much more inclusive than is commonly believed.

Of the 124 political projects analyzed in this study only 2 sought to create or revive Occupy assemblies along the lines of the New York General Assembly (NYCGA) or Spokes Council. That so few projects sought to produce GA style authority structures does not support conclusions that the leading purpose of OWS or the NYC Occupy movement was to produce large consensus structures. Another finding that challenges common claims about the movement is that only 4 projects in the sample sought to produce alternative systems compared to 21 projects producing campaigns to reform existing financial, education, legislative, and electoral systems. This contradicts generalizations of OWS or the NYC Occupy movement as primarily an exercise in prefigurative politics, that is, more an attempt to produce alternative systems than to reform existing systems.

Keep in mind that this data is focused on self reporting groups. The more radical factions of OWS probably didn’t report themselves as revolutionary. Though I think this information should put to bed the idea the OWS is a strickly revolutionary movement. Which, in my humble opinion, is a irrelevant and tired debate.

chart-1-occupy-priorities-9This chart reflects the stated priorities of OWS groups. While the one below looks at some specific groups and the racial and income identities they brought together.

chart-1-occupy-partners-13This chart is interesting in so far as it shows that very few groups bridged the upper and lower income, while the middle income went both ways.

I’m happy to have an internal report like this that can back up my experience from within the movement that was very diverse. It was my pleasure to help (in some small way) bring this into the world.