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Net2local hackathon idea generator from Caravan Studios
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Net2local hackathon idea generator from Caravan Studios


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A Generator is a facilitated group session designed to surface moments where technology can be helpful. This process is used to inform hackathon projects with ideas for social good. NetSquared …

A Generator is a facilitated group session designed to surface moments where technology can be helpful. This process is used to inform hackathon projects with ideas for social good. NetSquared organizers can facilitate Generators to surface community needs to TechSoup's Caravan Studios where ideas are shaped into tools communities can use. Generators can be facilitated without any training or extensive preparation--there are hidden slides (viewable once you download the presentation) that walk you through the process.

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  • Add examples from wiki Tinderbox
  • EDIT: change the 3 pages on the wallthingie.
  • Introduce yourself, if appropriate for your group. Invite them to introduce themselves if the size of the group allows for it.
  • “Together, we’re going to think of places where technology can be used to make life better. Ways technology can help to illuminate an issue, to surface resources, or to help others take action. Today we’ll be focusing in on ideas, not technology, so try hard to set technology aside for a moment.”Let’s jump in!
  • Pass out the stacks of sticky notes and pens. Everyone should have some in their hands by the time you are done.Ask them to write down their issue, so that it’s fixed in their mind.Examples: “domestic violence” or “poverty” or “the foreclosure rate in our communities” or “our public schools” or “elder care” or “gun violence against youth.” This is a place where your expertise – your knowledge of the community in which you are located – is key. Pick issues that you think may speak to people. The whole point of this is not to come up with a shared issue area. It’s to let each person clear their head for a few minutes and have their issue area firmly in their brain. Give them time.
  • Write the answer to each bullet point on ONE sticky note (that is, one answer per sticky). On each sticky, also write the issue in small letters at the bottom.Ground rules:Money and time are off the table as answers. We know you need more money and time. Everyone needs more money and time. Push harder what do the money and time get you? What specifically? This is not about technology: don’t worry about what is technologically feasible, just fill in the spaces. The tech bits get sorted out in the next step.Ask if people have any questions.Give them about 15 minutes for this section. Once they are done, have people share their issue area and what they wrote about. Give them a chance to chat a bit. This sharing portion should last roughly 10 minutes.
  • Place the sticky notes on the wall so others can read them.
  • I’m going to share a theory I didn’t create. Don’t worry, it isn’t long or boring or hard to understand. It came from someone named T.D. Weldon who was a political philosopher in the 50’s. Here’s the short version (go to next slide).(paraphrased from
  • Here’s what we say about issues: “Issues are things that require ongoing attention. They aren’t going to get fixed. Ever. An easy way to think of this: road maintenance. It’s ongoing and requires systemic attention to make sure it receives appropriate attention and care. There are a lot of things on our global list – and a lot of issues that you all care about – that will never get fixed. Abject poverty? We’re never going to check it off our list. The dynamics will change or it may impact a much smaller group (see this years’ Bill and Melinda Gates letter for some optimism there) but it’s never going to go completely away. We’re always going to have to pay attention to it. Hunger? That’s an issue. Violence against individuals? Issue.”
  • Here’s what we say about problems:“The street maintenance example? A pothole is a problem. You spot it and someone fixes it. Done. Hunger? Provide youth lunch during the summertime. Violence against persons? We may not be able to make that issue go away, but we can make sure that individuals who suffer intimate partner violence or are trapped in a trafficking situation have a safe place to receive services. Problems are things that we can solve, and then, ideally, not ever look at that specific one again.”A problem is a solvable slice of an issue.
  • (this is a segue slide)What we say: “Why? Because issues are rarely solved. You won’t solve hunger, but you can help some people get food, or shine a light on the issue so others engage. You won’t solve domestic violence, but you might find safe harbor for families suffering from it.”
  • Example on the next slide
  • From: first glance, I’d say this isn’t an issue that affects me directly. But when I enter my zip code, I learn that my electricity provider buys coal from companies engaged in mountaintop removal. Now I know more. I’m a part of this. I’m also invited to use social media to spread more information about this issue, contact my legislators, and other actions to get involved in an issue that until now I knew nothing about. This is one way an issue can be illuminated.
  • The top map is a representation of the White House Rose Garden, planted with crops found in backyard gardens and small famers across the nation during a particular season. (more info here: second map is a representation of the same White House Garden, planted with crops subsidized by U.S. taxpayers. If you look, you’ll see there’s a big difference between what is planted in each scenario.This illuminates the issue of food subsidies by using a map. If you notice the exclamation point in the Subsidy Garden, you’ll see a teeny plot of fruits, vegetables, and nuts that the government subsidizes.
  • A note about deviance: we mean this in a sociological sense. As in a positive or negative deviance. Technology can help tell us where there is not enough of a specific resource or where something else is available (a surplus or a lack). We are looking for things here that are deviating from the mean. Are there unused buildings in an area that desperately needs more short term shelter? We can sort through government data to find those resources.
  • From: Change the slide to your city/town if it exists!SeeClickFix allows you to report a problem—like a pothole or a walk signal that’s too short—to the government to see it get fixed. You’ll receive alerts when someone is tasked to fix the problem and then when it is fixed, and you’ll learn more about how problems get solved.
  • The Food Environment Atlas shows places that don’t have fresh groceries.
  • Technology can tell us when something needs to happen now, like learning of traffic issues or to take cover due an impending storm. These technologies are typically time-based and made for personal use, use location information, and are driven by a particular need.
  • From: January of this year (2014) West Virginians were without safe water sources after a chemical contamination of a water treatment plant. Residents relied on the media to learn when their water was safe. This map and the blue color became a symbol of when water was safe. This information prompted people to act—whether to stop drinking water out of the taps or to resume normal practices.
  • Give 15 minutes for this exercise, and chime in when necessary, prompting questions and asking others to provide more context to their sticky notes.
  • The facilitator will send the sticky notes in the envelope to Caravan Studios. The Caravan team will take all of the notes, categorize them on our wall in San Francisco, and invite you all to join us in talking them through during a conference call in the near future. This will help the team prepare the information for the upcoming hackathon at NTC 2014. NetLocal facilitator can also stay connected to Caravan Studios and report back on the progress of your ideas, if there’s interest. Thank you!
  • Transcript

    • 1. NET2LOCAL GENERATOR Your ideas solve problems
    • 2. Hello!
    • 3. Today we’re going to generate ways technology can help make the world better.
    • 4. First, think of an issue you care about and know about.
    • 5. Now, answer one or more of these statements: • We need more X in this area. • I need people to understand X in this area. • This would work better if only I could find X. • Here’s what’s really hard: • Here’s what’s really easy:
    • 6. Now the theory.
    • 7. There are issues.
    • 8. And there are problems.
    • 9. We can’t confuse the two.
    • 10. Technology can illuminate issues.
    • 11.
    • 12.
    • 13. Technology can pinpoint deviance.
    • 14.
    • 15.
    • 16. Technology can prompt people to act.
    • 17.
    • 18. Read & Talk 1. Go to the wall and read the sticky notes. 2. If something strikes you as interesting or if you have questions about it, raise them, share what resonates. 3. Are there similarities? Discuss them.
    • 19. Rate • Using a pen, place a checkmark on the sticky note that resonates most with you. • Which one seems ripe for a technological intervention, or which one are you most interested in exploring? • You have THREE checkmarks.
    • 20. Thank You! Here’s what’s going to happen next: 1. Send the sticky notes to Caravan Studios. 2. They will synthesize, categorize and upload(itize) your ideas to Hacker Helper (a place where hackers find info to inform their work at hackathons). 3. The Caravan team will advocate for your ideas at an upcoming Code for America hackathon.
    • 21. [Facilitator info and contact]
    • 22. This deck was originally made by Caravan Studios, a division of TechSoup Global, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. To view a copy of this license visit Find out more about Caravan Studios: Follow us on Twitter: @caravanstudios