I’ve been thinking recently about how tech-enabled peace initiatives can shift the balance of power and result in alternative infrastructures for peace.
It seems to me that the proliferation of accessible technology makes it easier to innovate from the ground up.
I don’t just mean new platforms or apps, but building social and organizational forms that enable small groups of local innovators to have a big impact on broad social problems.
If that’s all sounding too abstract, let me introduce you to the innovators I’ve had the pleasure of working with last week – and who are the start of an alternative infrastructure for peace in Cyprus and its region.
The mahallae challenge winners
The winners are doing very different things. What ties them together is that each is challenging traditional ways of engaging people in civic issues, and in this challenge, finding new paths to build peace.
What’s so appealing about these five teams is that they really are coming from the bottom up – understanding what people in their communities feel and need, and building from that.
And if it’s all about grassroots solutions, then we figured we should also be grassroots about the design process.
So I ran a workshop that walked through a process of user-centered design from idea to product.
At the start of the workshop, I introduced four things for the teams to bear in mind:
- Put the user first
- Prototype and test
- Build and iterate
- Remember that your users are your story and understand outreach as community building.
We then spent two days unpacking these concepts. Here are a few examples of what emerged.
WE-ME makes the client the designer
One early exercise for the teams was to come up with user personas that would help them understand how users behave within a certain social context, cultural environment, and technological availability.
The teams would then keep these personas in mind throughout the design process. The WE-ME team went further: Instead of project managers, they sent two potential platform users who spent two days in the driver’s seat, designing a programme they would actually like to use.
YuBiz gets the best testers for its prototype
We did two rounds of rapid prototyping to get the teams used to getting down to concrete ideas early.
We then paired up into groups to test them on each other. YuBiz showed their first prototype with WeMe acting out a scenario of two young women looking for jobs.
They got a stronger reaction than they perhaps expected, some pushback in critical areas and a view from just the kind of young people they are hoping to attract as users.
i-Vee is serious about iterating
The process of building and iterating should continue long after the workshop. It’s a good way to spark creativity and avoid getting stuck early on.
The i-Vee team had trouble prototyping initially but once they started it was hard to stop them. Over the course of two days the game really evolved into a full concept, with complex mechanics and a great potential for expansion.
The Socialholic Typwriter understands that their users are their story
The final concept we used to guide the workshop was the most slippery. What does it really mean to say that your users are your story?
The users of The Sociaholic Typewriter are already the story of the project, and we learned from them that this can be a great way to find new approaches.
Hands on Famagusta uses outreach as community building
Towards the end of the workshop, we talked about the importance of outreach – to partners, critics, and users.
The message that most resonated with the teams was to understand outreach as community building, and there’s no team better to illustrate this than Hands on Famagusta.
The team has already built a network of volunteers to help them map – block by block, and in the sweltering heat – the entire city of Famagusta.
This community brings to life what Hands on Famagusta is trying to do: to disrupt a top-down decision-making process and force authorities to take into account views coming from the bottom up about how to handle a divided region.
The mess of innovation
It’s been a fantastic, exhausting and *messy* few days – take a look at the video below for a taste of what it looked like.
I can’t wait to see where these teams go and how they continue to contribute to a new way of building civic engagement and peace.
* This was adapated from a post originally published on Let Them Talk