Saturday, June 21, 2008

Quick Write-Up for a Pet Project...

Using Community-Change Patterns to Develop a CSA focused Social Network
Project Proposal #1:
Justin Smith
Introduction and Rationale:
No longer is the web solely comprised of basic web pages made up of text based HTML, nowadays we have streaming video, audio and desktop application you can use through your favorite web browser. Along with the proliferation of these uses and software, a second wave has come along labeled Web 2.0. This marks an era defined by an explosion of social interactions and user generated content. People no longer have to be tech wizards to navigate and harness the power of this technology. These days all it takes is a few mouse click and one can have a full featured web site and be connected to old high school friends or publish an academic journal. These days a certain level of articifical intelligence is embedded within this massive brain we call the Internet. This makes it easy to aggregate content from various places that match and link individuals together based upon shared preferences, interests and activities. As a result of all of this, we can see that new ways of thinking and acting within this virtual environment are changing thinking and acting in the "world-of-the-real."
However, despite the opportunities afforded by Web 2.0 and social networking technologies, many are still left out and have not yet harnessed the possibilities. Of particular interest are the range of groups spread out across the US focused on building community through a reorientation of the production and consumption practices associated with the modern agri-food system. Though these groups have been able to foment a movement based upon ideals of sustainability and community interconnectedness, there is little evidence to suggest that their efforts are anywhere close to replacing the current system. And though these communities have begun to recognize the utility of the web, it seems they have not yet grasped the underlying opportunities for building greater connectivity among food producers, consumers and retailers on not only a local scale, but national, and even international scales. All one has to do to recognize the opportunities is to see how far the "Fair Trade Movement" has come by using information technologies that links producers, sellers, retailers and consumers in a global market place. This suggests opportunities for similar actions among locally focused groups that can both link people together to meet food needs, but also link people through the free-flow exhange of ideas, practices, problems and successes.

According to Thomas Lyson in his book Civic Agriculture, "CSAs are an important part of civic agriculture. They strengthen the local food economy and preserve farm land. A web of connected and cooperatively organized CSAs could represent a real and viable alternative to the mass-produced, homogeneous, imported produce found in most supermarkets today." Unfortunately, when one does a simple search on CSAs or CSA networks one finds a relatively small number of connected and cooperatively operated ventures that not only provide alternatives but that work to promote a full fledged food movement. That is not to say that locally-focused global networks do not exist, but rather they appear to be few and far between. Thus it seems that there needs to be a concerted effort on building up the necessary connections between one another to help foment a "true movement."

The question then becomes: How do we build vibrant networks that connect to both local relations, while supporting a global movement towards integrated efforts that enhance the role of local food producers and access to these production systems among local community members? Following developments in the use of systems thinking and the codification of knowledge related to the design, development and strategic use of these social technologies it can be argued that we have potential answers to these questions through the adoption of patterns and pattern languages. Essentially a pattern represents a general solution to a persistent problem and these pattern langauges represent a network of patterns that interact and reinforce one another to construct an effective and sustainable system. Based upon this work it is argued that "Liberating Voices" serve as the model for supporting the advance of the local food movement online.
Overall, "Liberating Voices" represents a pattern language for democratic communication, which proposes a set of social, communicative and design principles specifically geared towards confronting these challenges from both local and global perspectives. Using these sets of patterns it is thought that we as a movement of concerned citizens can effectively define the problems we seek to solve and then map out the technological solutions to address these problems. That is not to say that we will eliminate all problems, but rather it is possible that these efforts can provide a greater support network so that communities can eventually come together to tackle the range of other issues confronting the complex relationships between people and their food.
Using the principles behind Web 2.0 thinking and patterns for communicative engagement articulated by "Liberating Voices" this project will work to develop technologies and practices tools that can be easily used by people with varying degrees of technical competence. Along with creating usable systems these technologies will fill in a gap in capacity and action among locally distributed and previously unconnected groups across the country and beyond. Together with these tools and the orientation towards supporting greater levels of interaction, there will be a special emphasis on Community-Supported Agriculture and the presentation of one soltuion to a range of issues that need to be confronted from within and outside the movement for a "civic agriculture."

Methods for Design and Development:
a.) Outline Problem Definition (Interviews, Literature Review, Survey of Potential Stakeholders)
b.) Identify Specific Patterns linked to the Problem Definition
c.) Adapt identified pattern to address specific program goals
d.) Merge with Web 2.0 princinples to guide deciisions on final platform choice and subsequent implmentation
e.) Identify useful patterns for promoting and building user interactions on the final site, i.e viral marketing, mass mailers/e-mails, print media, word of mouth, blogging, etc...
f.) Support an iterative design process that embraces user feedback and continual revision for an up-to-date system
Despite the methods presented above, it is clear that certain peices will fundamentally need to be in place. Such as a system to generate interest or location based groups, individual user pages, whether consumers, producers or unaffilitated supporters of a general movement. There will also need to be a way for users to locate geographically CSAs, as well as tools to help current CSAs who already have website generate more traffic through integrating these systems without complex programming skills. Likewise, there is a need for tools that can interface with current social networking platforms such as Facebook or MySpace as this will support future marketing, visibility and make navigation to and from a user's most popular websites easy and seemless.

Project Deliverables:

One social networking website and an associated research paper of journal quality that presents rationale, methodology, evaluation and conclusions for continual refinement of the technologies and practices of interactions used both on site and in face-to-face interactions. Provide on-going support to the development and maintance of additional services as suggested by users or emegent tools created out the community of Web 2.0 developers.

For more information on the methods, technologies and thinking behind the project please look at these resources:

What is Web 2.0? Web 2.0 as described on wikipedia (This is actually a great and easy to understand conversation)

What is Liberating Voices? A Pattern Language for Social Change


yishaym said...

all good, EXCEPT - I would start with f. First, get a system up and running with the minimal set of features you need to do a. Then add the features you need to do b, etc.
If you want to get people to buy into your plan, you need to show them something that moves. Then they'll tell you what's missing, and you can add it. People don't do well in abstract (unless they're mathematicians, computer scientists or theoretical physicists). They need an object to talk with.

justingriffis said...

Thanks Yishay for this reminder as you are exactly correct in my opinion. Unfrotunately, I didn't articulate this point in the write up . But I did initiate the project in this manner.

After our discussion about ning as a platform for this project I went ahead and started site: MyCSA Network.

This served as the showcase piece that I sent to the decision maker on this project. After reviewing the site along with a few ideas driving the site, he told me to go ahead and produce a quick project proposal that addresses the rationale, the approach for building and maintaining the site.

So, going back to your comment, this just shows the need to be more methodical in recognizing the process of practice!