by and

Filed under: Development 2.0 Peace and security Social inclusion Social innovation

2 women seated on stools in front of a camera, and we can see them through the camera, to the right

Mahalle is coming! An inclusive digital neighbourhood for Cyprus and beyond

As Mahallae’s launch date approaches, we take a look back at the process of building the platform.

The truth is that we’ve tried, from the very inception stage, to hold an inclusive process. Today, we want to take you on a tour of the various parts of Mahallae and how we essentially crowdsourced our content.

Interactive Tools: In the Spring of 2012, we launched a Knowledge Innovation Fund as the Peace it Together Network of Cypriot NGOs.

It’s no secret that in the past, a lot of calls for funding on the island have proven to yield similar results, the same group of ideas hashed and rehashed, over and over.

The Innovation Fund was a never-before-seen framework for funding on the island to develop tools that would contribute to peacebuilding using innovation and technology, and as such, it was met with both excitement and confusion.

While it gave some practitioners and dreamers the challenge to innovate their ideas, we acknowledged that this was uncharted terrain. There were wonderful sparks of ideas, but they often needed to be defined in relation to the right problem, target group or platform.

During the idea conception stage, we ran some info sessions to push participants that extra mile and help them go beyond the traditional ways of thinking about civic engagement and peacebuilding.

At later developmental stages, we asked our innovators to adopt a “Work Out Loud” approach – that is to blog each part of the way, as they worked, in order to keep an open and transparent process.

We organized several workshops, bringing all our innovators into the same room, allowing them to edit and construct each other’s work.

We organized events together in which they were able to show drafts of their work to the public in order to address gaps earlier on in the process. The result are seven exciting Interactive tools, all corresponding to different spheres of activity in Cyprus and each innovative in a unique way.

Civic Mapping: When we first had the idea that we wanted to tell the story of civic engagement and peacebuilding of Cypriot NGOs, we didn’t quite realize how deep a well it was we were looking into.

Yet having a participatory, inclusive approach always ensured we never lost sight of what we were doing. Whether it was one-on-one interviews with key stakeholders in the peacebuilding process, workshops to define the most critical turning points of the peacebuilding movement, going through a process of validation with a list of gatekeepers, or researching the databases of the major funders on the island, we are proud to tell you that every aspect of our civic map is an inclusive story.

Group of people, standing and sitting, and discussing something on a laptop screen

Getting our partners from around the world involved

The process of designing Mahallae was enriched further when regional voices started to share their opinions and views about online platforms, innovation and the need for an open and new way to collaborate.

At the Power of One Conference in October 2012, with its Spark generation process and idea-selling Souq / Market place, inter-regional needs emerged, which turned into inter-regional projects.

Communication continued with our neighbors from the Middle East and North Africa, when we had the pleasure of hosting them on the island in the summer of 2013, and continued to engage them in a constructive dialogue about what implications Mahallae may have in their regions – down to the wording and phrasing of various sections – as well as its use and effectiveness.

Keeping this inter-regional focus on design allowed us to make sure that Mahallae would be as relevant outside of Cyprus as it would be within Cyprus.

The final leg of the process, the fine-tuning of our beloved platform, sends us out again asking people what they need in an online collaboration space and how they imagine it, but also, as with our meet-up event last week, what they think of our ‘first draft’ of Mahallae.

At this point, keeping true to the spirit of innovation, various components of Mahallae, especially the civic mapping and the interactive tools, as well as the whole platform, have gone through many waves of testing and redesign, and we will continue to do so until it feels “just right.”

Group of people looking at prototype of the site (Mahallae)

Thanks to everyone who provided valuable feedback as we developed our virtual neighbourhood!

We understand that innovation is not looking for a “one size fits all” solution – quite the opposite. It is the ability to hear, hold and respond to as many voices as possible.

As we move forward with this vision in mind, please remember we’re still out here looking for what you think, so keep close and keep in touch!

Whether via Twitter, Facebook or e-mail, you can contact us and tell us how you respond to a particular aspect of Mahallae any time. Our doors are open to you.

This post was originally published on the Mahallae Tumblr blog.