your digital neighborhood for civic engagement

The mess of innovation: Designing for civic engagement and peace

thaliacharalambous:

Blog text by Helena Puig Larrauri that tells more about the recent workshop of Mahallae and puts ‘Hands on Famagusta’ into the discussion of user-centered design. 

Helena is a peacebuilding practitioner, focusing on the use of technology to promote peace and prevent conflict.

Contents / Index

Mahallae Team blogs…

Mahallae Features

Introducing new opportunities for Think Tanks and organizations

The Mahallae team is happy to announce new opportunities for organizations and think tanks from Cyprus and abroad, just on the heels of the completion of our first round of Challenges (in fact, we just announced our winners.)

In light of the renewed negotiations process in Cyprus, we believe there is a strong need for the generation of high quality public policy in order to address crucial issues related to prosperity and stability in a post-settlement Cyprus, as well as to continue building a shared vision for the island.

Through Mediterranean Policy Dialogue we are looking to connect Cypriot organizations with experienced non-Cypriot think tanks to enhance public dialogue in the Euro Mediterranean region. We believe that this dialogue process will help Cypriot organizations to establish relationships with non-Cypriot think tanks that can mentor and support their work, enabling them to draw upon their resources, experiences, and connections.

So what does this mean for you?

If you are a Cypriot organization or a non-Cypriot think tank and have expertise in environment and sustainable energy, participatory governance and inclusive economic development you can apply now to be part of the two rosters we are establishing. On July we will publish a call for proposals, where all organizations in the two rosters will be invited to form partnerships and suggest activities addressing the thematic areas they are interested in.  Grants of up to 150,000 USD will be awarded to projects.

Interested in applying? Please check out more information on our website! Do you know any organizations or think tanks that would benefit? Please feel free to forward this blog post, and contribute to this process of dialogue and empowerment!

  

Designing for Civic Engagement and Peace

This entry is cross-posted from Helena’s own blog, letthemtalk.org.

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 tools makes it easier to innovate from the ground up. I don’t just mean build new platforms or apps, but also bring about 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 theinnovators I’ve had the pleasure of working with over the past week – and who are the start of an alternative infrastructure for peace in Cyprus and its region.

The mahallae challenge winners

UNDP recently ran an innovation challenge for civic engagement and peace. The winners are doing very different things – promoting the values of volunteerism (i-Vee), mentoring young people on employment and entrepreneurship (YuBiz), empowering women (WeMe), organizing participatory urbanism in a divided region (Hands on Famagusta), and using creative writing to bring communities together (The Sociaholic Typewriter). What holds them together as a group is that they are all challenging traditional ways of engaging people in civic issues, and in this challenge finding new paths to build peace. 

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The other common attribute of these projects is that using technology enables them to more effectively challenge the status quo – through new tools, alternative social forms or creative ways of organizing. New tools: i-Vee is using game mechanics to subtly promote the values of volunteerism. Alternative social forms: YuBiz leverages an online platform to enhance mentoring through online communications and a strong mentor-mentee matching algorithm. Creative organizing: Hands on Famagusta has brought together people in the physical space of Famagusta to map contested areas, and will continue to organize discussion online through an interactive website and a game on the imaginary Famagusta.

Grassroots design for grassroots solutions

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 also need to be grassroots about the design process. This week, I ran a workshop that walked through a process of user-centered design. It was great to work with Rodrigo Davies on materials and exercises, and he shared the excellent approach taken in YoLab‘s Creative Industries Prototyping Lab in Lima that is reflected throughout this workshop.

At the start of the workshop, I introduced four things for the teams to bear in mind as they turn their idea into a product and project: 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 each of these concepts. Here are a few examples of what emerged.

WeMe understands its users by making them designers

One early exercise for the teams was to come up with user personas that would help them understand how users behave, within what social context and cultural environment, and with what technological availability. The teams would then keep these personas in mind throughout the design process.  But the WeMe team went beyond keeping user personas in mind during the workshop: the two team members working on prototypes were two potential mentees (future users of the WeMe platform). For two days, they designed what they would like to use – a critical input at this stage for the WeMe team.

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. Teams then paired up to test the prototypes on each other, with the aim to show how the project works in practice, simulate how a user might interact with it and get some feedback. YuBiz showed their first prototype to the two WeMe team members – two young women looking for jobs.  They got a stronger reaction than they perhaps expected, some push-back in critical areas and a view from just the kind of young people they are hoping to attract as users.

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i-Vee gets serious about iterating

Teams were encouraged to iterate fast through two rounds of prototyping – with the idea that this process of building and iterating should continue 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. They had really dug into their theory of change, researched how games can change social behavior and understood what the offline component of their mobile game look like. But what would the game be exactly? What game mechanics would explore volunteering? We encouraged the team to just start drawing something… and 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. I can’t wait to play!

The sociaholic typewriter really knows 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? Fortunately we had the sociaholic typewriter team to show us the way. This idea was born out of the personal creative relationship between the two team leads – and the story of their interaction very much guides their design as well as the future scenarios for the project. The users of the sociaholic typewriter are already the story of the project, and we learned from them that this is a great way to find new ways to do things.

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Hands on Famagusta understands outreach as community building

Towards the end of the workshop we talked about the importance of doing outreach – to partners, to critics and to users. We discussed different mediums for putting messages out and talked about the importance of storytelling. [We also had some fun pretending to pitch to Ban Ki Moon in an elevator, but that’s a longer story.] The message that most resonated with the teams was to understand outreach as community building, and no team better than Hands on Famagusta to illustrate this. 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. As my colleague Nilgun Arif explains, this type of grassroots disruption is common to all the mahallae concept winners. She believes (and I agree) that grassroots disruption is key to finding new paths to peace, especially in a context like Cyprus where top-down negotiations (alone) will never be enough to find a peaceful solution.

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.

Announcing the Mahallae Challenges Winners

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Drum roll!

Out of 43 #tech4peace ideas submitted to the Mahallae Challenges, later narrowed down to 14 concepts, 5 winners now emerge (see the criteria, which evaluation was based on, here).

i-Vee - a mobile game for encouraging volunteerism.

YuBiz - an online platform to help young entrepreneurs kick-start their business.

WE-ME - a mentorship platform and mobile app for women.

Socialholic Typewriter -  a collaborative storytelling platform for micro-fiction.

Hands on Famagusta - a hybrid platform for developing a future vision for the Famagusta region.

We are very proud of ALL TEAMS who put a lot of effort and enthusiasm in developing very strong proposals, making the work of the panel of judges a tough one. We also thank all of YOU who became part of the process through your comments, endorsements and contributions, helping to refine the projects and make them more relevant.

Also, congratulations all winners! We look forward to watching your ideas in action.

Check back on Mahallae soon, to witness and participate as the teams begin to implement their projects! Also watch this space for more community challenges in the future. 

Would you type on a Socialholic Typewriter?

This entry is cross-posted from Louiza Mallouri’s Reading the Lines blog.

Have you ever collaborated with someone to tell a story?

A few months ago, I had embarked on the most creative collaboration I have had in writing. My multi-talented friend, Constantinos Xenofontos, started creating sketches of semi-fictional characters and shared them online. He had only been posting them for a few days, when I had expressed my love for what he was doing, and we then spontaneously decided to collaborate: he would send me a character every day and I would write a short, accompanying story, as inspired by that particular character. The rule was that he would not tell me anything about them, so that I would not influenced. I would just create based on how I perceived what I saw. We called this The Semi-fictional Character of the Day Project and we decided that it would run for one month. This project was quite successful and we had a loyal group of readers who followed it with great interest. Personally, I was fascinated by the way Constantinos would create new characters every day, partly as inspired by his daily life, and partly as guided by his resourcefulness.

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The dual form of storytelling had always fascinated me (as my doctoral research was on texts which combined words and pictures), but it was the first time that, as a co-creator I began to realise, how a collaboration between different people with diverse media could spark creativity and enable two individuals, thousand miles apart, to have a creative dialogue.

This realisation was partly the inspiration for the creation of an online tool which enables people to collaboratively tell stories, connect with their readers, and overcome creative writing blocks. The tool is called The Socialholic Typewriter and it is one of the finalists in the mahallae challenge common vision for the future in Cyprus. Read more about it here.

I do believe that our idea has the potential to innovate the way we tell, share and consume stories, supporting young people from different communities in Cyprus and the Euro-Mediterranean area to connect through creativity and collaboratively craft unique narratives.

If you believe in this idea too, would like to see it implemented, or would like to get involved, please:

1. Go here in order to create a profile

2. Click on the confirmation email (if you can’t see it, it has gone to spam)

3. Vote for us by clicking endorse on our page right here

4. Leave us a comment!

Although we have gathered amazing people in our group and the idea has been embraced by important representatives of the literary world in Cyprus, our idea still needs your support to continue regardless of the voting outcome!image

Get to know the Mahallae Challenges finalists!

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As you may know, more than 40 ideas were submitted to the Mahallae Challenges.

The ideas were evaluated by a panel of judges and 15 most successful ideas received green light to move on to the next stage. As the Mahallae team, we supported the teams of the winning ideas to develop their vision into full blown concepts. Concepts are basically ideas developed more elaborately, with longer descriptions, a budget and teams behind them.

You can now view all the concepts on Mahallae here. Simply click “Support a Concept” next to each category, and you can view ideas in detail, make comments, and provide support through endorsement and/or by offering/donating resources to each concept until June 12th, 2014. The winners will be selected by a panel and announced on June 19th.

See a short summary of each idea selected to go forward into the second (Concepts) stage below; click each project to see it in further detail.

Youth Enterpreneurship

1. i-Vee proposed by Maged and Maria

A mobile game app for encouraging volunteerism in Cyprus and Egypt, i-Vee foreesees the gamification approach would have benefits for behavioral and attitude change related to volunteerism.

2. Project MUSED proposed by Nikos, Michael and Desislava

A platform to help youth interested in digital storytelling find the right partners for project collaboration, Project MUSED aims to create a community through synergies.

3. Skill Market proposed by Mertkan, Mustafa, Berfu, Paraskevi, Akis, and Kasım

Skill Market is an app, the main aim of which is to address the problem of youth unemployment. People using the app will be able to exchange skills costlessly, and access opportunities to meet with people based on shared interests or skills from different communities.

4. Stars Club proposed by Cicek, Didem, Faika and Eminay

StarsClub is a mobile platform that informs users when there is a need/motivates users to donate to NGOs. Says Gockun of her idea, “One of the biggest problem of civil society organizations (CSO) in Cyprus - especially in the Turkish Cypriot community - is difficulties in securing national donors.”

5. EAT proposed by Jonathan, Gabriel and Roberto

EAT aims to establish a Test Greenhouse in Cyprus for the purpose of evaluating the three main Aquaponic growing systems to find the best suited crops for local production in Cyprus.

6. YuBiz proposed by Panayiotis, Michalis, George, Alessandro and Moyses

YuBiz is an online platform that offers a collection of tools and services designed to help young entrepreneurs to create their business, promote their ideas, find support and establish relationships.

7. STEP proposed by Efi, Eleni, Panayiotis and Marios

STEP is an online platform where undergraduate and graduate students alike will be able to get real life work experience by completing projects as part of NGOs while still in school.

Women and Dialogue

8. WE-ME WoMEnPower proposed by Antigoni, Giwrgos, Christina and Maria

Womenpower will be a community platform/mobile app that provides resources and advocates active involvement of women in promoting equal rights in life and workplace. The platform will link women mentors and mentees together to build networks and nurture skills development.

 

A Common Vision for the Future

9. Socialholic Typewriter proposed by Louiza Mallouri, Ali, Constantinos and Louiza Kaimaki

A web platform for ‘micro-fiction,’ typewriter would bring together writers and artists from different communities to collaboratively tell stories.

10. Neighbour to Neighbour proposed by Hatice, Mehmet, Spyros, Caghan, Emine and Susie

A Web platform for information exchange between communities, categorized by different job sectors, allowing people from different communities to create a virtual neighborhood based on solidarity and assistance.

11. Learning Greek with Hasan Tuna proposed by Sami, Özker, Enis and Ali

The first of its kind, Ozuslu’s idea foresees a Greek language course-program that will be produced and broadcasted via TV, satellite and mobile apps, making language learning more accessible and contributing to a culture of peace on the island.

12. Pathways to Peaceful Coexistence proposed by Meltem, Alexandros and Ahmet

An online platform/mobile app which will allow Cypriots to express their values, policies and dreams for a unified Cyprus.

13. Hands on Famagusta proposed by Esra, Emre, Nektarios, Socrates and Munevver

An interactive hybrid platform to engage people in developing a future vision for Famagusta. The team aims to use both online and offline techniques to achieve their goals.

14. Tag’n’Fix proposed by Ali, Doğuş and Suphi

An app that allows anyone who encounters unpleasant problems witin their surroundings, such as potholes on the road and broken sidewalks, to report it by taking a geotagged photo and posting it through the app. 

What we mean when we say #tech4peace

by Mehmet Erdogan

As you may know, we recently launched the Mahallae Challenges to crowdsource ideas about how best to use technology to address issues facing our communities.

While the use of technology in peacebuilding is on the rise around the world, it remains a relatively new concept. This is especially true in countries we at Mahallae are trying to serve – namely Cyprus and the Euro-Mediterranean region. Although many countries in this region are undergoing important transitions, and have well documented experiences of using social media during uprisings (see: Arab Spring and the Gezi protests of Turkey), a more broad understanding of how technology can help us is vital if we want to engage people in civic engagement in fresh, innovative ways.

Indeed, since we launched the Challenges, we have consistently been asked “What do you mean by using technology for social change?” Although we address this question and many more in our FAQs, we wanted to write a blog entry today to specifically reflect on this question and provide some examples that might clarify as well as inspire. This weekend we attended the BuildPeace conference in Boston, USA, a platform for sharing experiences of using technology for peace, so we have been very inspired ourselves. You can see tweets from the conference here.

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So, what can technology do for us? Among others, technology can help us contribute to social change through:

a.      Increasing opportunities for Contact & Collaboration;

Masterpeace, Israel Loves Iran, The Peace Tube,  and many more platforms, even our own Mahallae aim to connect people from different countries and cultures, especially those in conflict – and encourage them to collaborate together on projects.

b.      Monitoring & early detection;

Check out Voix des Kivus in Congo, which “provides a technology to populations in South Kivu that lets them post accounts of events that affect their daily lives, from disease outbreaks and crop failures to population movements and conflict incidents.” The information gathered here is an important resource to researchers and practitioners who work in the region, giving them access to direct data from on-the-ground in difficult-to-access areas.

The Satellite Sentinel Project in Sudan, meanwhile, uses satellite imagery to identify warning signs for upcoming conflict – allowing for early intervention. SSP has also been able to archive and later notify the world of heinous crimes that might have otherwise gone undocumented and unreported.

c.       Encouragement & positive motivation through gaming;

Have you heard about the Good Gym initiative in the UK, which helps people stay fit by ‘running’ errands for their community? Created by a group of runners who aspire to combine regular exercise with civic engagement, GoodGym “increases motivation, gives expert fitness advice” and helps its users to achieve whatever goals they set for themselves.

Yet Good Gym is only one in a series of health based apps that aims to keep up the motivations of the individual. The SuperBetter platform, for example, “helps you achieve your health goals — or recover from an illness or injury — by increasing your personal resilience”; while Fitocracy gamifies the personal struggle for fitness while at the same time connecting you to a social network, to make it easier for you to “reach the next level.”

Although these examples seem too loosely connected to peacebuilding & civic engagement, do remember a peaceful healthy society starts at the individual level; it is also possible to take the seed ideas from such platforms and see how we can apply them for making a change at more macro levels.

d.      Data mapping, awareness raising & advocacy;

Take a look at HarrassMap from Egypt, which allows women who have been harrassed or assaulted to report their experience using an online map, which is then used for raising awareness and breaking stereotypes. A volunteer-based initiative, the mission of HarrassMap is to end the social acceptability of sexual harassment and assault in Egypt. To that end, technology allows many women to report anonymously and without fear of persecution their experience of harrassment, thus breaking down stigmas and barriers in our understanding of how frequently such violations take place.

Elsewhere, Mappiness the mobile app helps map happiness of individuals in UK (try it!), while tools such as Ushahidi and Crowdmap allow people to collect and map data related to any issue they are interested in crowdsourcing.

And many more! Of course, the examples are endless, and it’s impossible to capture the immense range of tools, platforms and apps that currently exist in this field, we can only aim to paint a very broad brushstroke to start the conversation.

It’s also important to remember that we already have begun to host many examples of using technology in fresh ways to encourage civic engagement right here on Mahallae. Perhaps you’ve already checked out our Interactive Tools section – and come across Shared Words, a game that creates a learning experience about commonalities between Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots, or Nicosia is Calling, an online game that uses a map of the old city of Nicosia to teach children aged 8-14 about the multicultural histories of Nicosia through fun and interactive digital exploration.

Similarly, the Build Peace database also archives initiatives that use technology to build peace, which you can explore for more inspiration!

It’s time to bring this fresh approach to civic engagement to Cyprus, and we need your help to do so! You can begin by checking out our first three Challenges, Youth Enterpreneurship, Women & Dialogue, & Building a Common Vision for the Future. Watch the short clips, and then submit your idea right here on Mahallae! If you don’t have an idea but want to remain involved, remember you can read through other’s ideas, endorse the concepts you would like to see receive funding, and witness the overall process of ideas becoming concepts and moving on to implementation – all right here on our digital platform! This is a collective process, and we look forward to working together to help build healthier, more peaceful societies.

The Mahallae Meet-Ups are coming to your neighbourhood!

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We recently launched the Mahallae Challenges, where you can come up with tech-enabled solutions which address some of the challenges facing our communities. Now you can submit your idea for the chance to receive support and funding of up to $30,000.

You can watch the clip for each Mahallae challenge here.

Do you have a question about the Mahallae Challenges?

The Mahallae Team will be around in the following weeks to offer you support and guidance. You can find us here:

March 27th, Nicosia, Home for Cooperation Café, 10:00-15:00

March 28th, Kyrenia, Dükkan Café, 16:00-19:00

April 1st, Nicosia, Ghetto Cafe, 14:00-18:00

April 4th, Nicosia, Oktana Café, 17:00-20:00

April 11th, Limassol, Sto Dromo Café, 10:00-15:00

April 14th, Famagusta, Sabor, 16:00-19:00

You can view the FB event page here.

 

More “How to Generate Innovative Ideas” Workshops

For those of you who missed our Nicosia #Innovation workshop, we have two more coming up. One in Mağusa / Famagusta, and one in Lemessos / Limassol!

We also would like to thank MAGEM in Famagusta and Cyprus University of Technology in Limassol for their hospitality.

Click each image to make it larger, and click the links for the Facebook event pages. See you soon!

Revealing the topics for the first three Mahallae Challenges

If you’ve been following us for a while, you’ve heard all about how excited we are about the Mahallae Challenges, which we will be launching next month. Previously we spoke about Challenges as an innovative approach to community problem solving: technology allows us to crowdsource ideas better than ever, and it has the power to effectively bring people from different communities together to collaborate with one another. 

With each challenge, we are trying to address areas that are vital to building a healthy, peaceful society. As we design the challenges, this is the common thread that is running through each theme: how can we approach the idea of building a peaceful society together from a perspective of integrating the advantages of technology into the process? While the political process is and will always remain important, how can we complement this process through the empowerment of individual and communal actions? Can we encourage the kind of social currents that shape and change our communities for the common good? 

The first Mahallae Challenge, Youth Enterpreneurship, is exploring the challenges to collaboration of young people across different communities. It’s no news that this region is struggling with an economic crisis and that young people everywhere are significantly affected. And when economic opportunities are rare, it can be difficult to build joint ventures with people from other communities.

Yet intra-communal collaboration may help to overcome some of these challenges. As the power to innovate and start new ventures becomes more common spread, our first Mahallae challenge will crowdsource ideas for new technologies that help young people to work together on new ventures. 

Our second Challenge will look at the exclusion of women from decision making processes, particularly conflict and/or post-conflict settings. While women can offer alternative ways of building peace, many negotiation processes tend to exclude or erase their voices from the dialogue. Hence the second challenge will be looking at ways we can use technology to empower women: how can we raise the voice of women? How can technology support this process of inclusion?

Last but not least, in our third Challenge we explore the idea of getting more people involved in decision-making and building a common vision for the future of their communities. As more and more people feel unable to contribute to decision making processes related to how their communities are run, trust within and between groups can deteriorate, leaving citizens unmotivated to bring about social change. Again, we feel that utilizing technology may just provide a healthy energy boost in how we tend to think about solutions to these kinds of challenges: How could technology help us to organize local action and influence policy? Can we use technology to hear the multitude of voices in a society? What if together we could create opportunities that increase the participation of more people in running their communities together?

Look out for more information about the Mahallae challenges during the next few weeks.

Introducing… Digi Wisdom for Mediators and Trainers

In the fall of 2012, we launched a Knowledge Innovation Fund and received many entries. Undoubtedly, one of the most interesting ideas was a submission made by the duo Katie Economidou and Dervish Baha. Together they had been trained in the early ’90s in conflict resolution and mediation along with many of their peers, who later went on to do much of the great civil society work on peacebuilding in Cyprus. Katie and Dervish wanted to create a video repository of the experiences of themselves and their colleagues, and to create a platform where they would invite mediators and conflict resolution trainers from around the world to do the same.

In March of this year, along with the launch of Mahallae, their dream to create one of the world’s first crowdsourced video archives for mediators will start to come true. Check out our brief interview with Katie below.

Mahallae Team: You and your long time collaborator Dervish Baha were frontrunners in creating this interactive tool on Mahallae, Digi Wisdom for Mediators and Trainers. Can you first of all tell us briefly what we should expect from this tool?

Katie Economidou: You will be able to browse videos over a map of the island to watch short 3 min clips of interviews with Conflict Resolution and Mediation trainers who started and developed the citizens’ peace process throughout the years in Cyprus and made a contribution to spreading the culture of peace around the island. The videos give you a chance to discover the difficulties and barriers to this process and will also share the advantages and learnings through it. 

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Mahallae: How did you come up with the idea to develop Digi Wisdom for Mediators and Trainers? What do you aim to achieve with it?

Katie: Our intention was to provide the user with a friendly tool that would enable them to connect with mediators and conflict resolution trainers in Cyprus and around the world who do similar work to theirs, and also share some of the best practices derived from the mediators’ experiences so far.

Mahallae: Do you have any plans for future development and/or outreach? 

Katie: Yes, certainly. The next step is the website that will give the opportunity to mediators and conflict resolution trainers from around the world to upload their videos and success stories, and include training material they develop and use in trainings. The idea is to assist those who wish to play a role in the conflict resolution in their societies and don’t have the means and resources to do it. We wish to have an open communication with practitioners and exchange knowledge and experiences, to empower each other in our work and become more useful and effective in our work, which started as purely voluntary and is becoming seriously professional.

One step closer! Thank you for coming to our events last week

Here at Mahallae, we’ve been very conscious from the beginning about inclusion and user oriented design. We like to think we know enough about innovation by now to know that you can’t innovate without keeping the end user in the center of the process and at the same time involving as many people as possible. In fact, as we discussed here, we have, at every step of the way of Mahallae, made sure to turn to our target groups and ask: Does this work for you? And we always took the answers seriously.

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It was with this in mind that we organised our Mahallae meet up on January 23rd. Overall, this was the second time we were showing parts of Mahallae to the public – the first time being our Taster Party last July – but now we were showing it as a whole. Mahallae will be fully launched in March, but before that happens, we had to make sure we were hitting the ballpark, so to speak. What looks and feels good to you about the design? Which parts of the platform move well? Which parts do you not understand?

So the Mahallae meet-up and feedback session last week included many voices. Familiar ones and new ones: techies, students, NGO practitioners, researchers and artists. At the meetings we made sure to give people the time and opportunity to play and engage with the different parts of Mahallae, and challenge us in terms of both design and content of the platform. We facilitated the discussion by asking several questions in order to capture the feedback:

 What part of the site did you go to first?

Any parts you didn’t go to?

What part of the site did you find most interesting? Least interesting?

Where did you spend most of your time? Least time?

If you could change one thing, what would it be?

And we heard you. We heard the positive – that you were excited about the potential of Mahallae to create new connections, wondering how to become Mahallae contributors or involved as volunteers, being interested in exploring our mapping section, and asking to know more about the SCORE or a particular interactive tool. But we also heard the concerns and the feedback which we were equally eager to hear – that our navigation system is still confusing, that the language used in some parts may still feel heavy and not as user friendly as you would like, that certain tools may have too much explanation or not enough, that you want more access for users who aren’t contributors. And rest assured, we will be working hard in the next several weeks to fix all these issues and offer you the best experience when using Mahallae.

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In the same spirit, on January 24th, we held our first in a series of ‘How To’ workshops, where we presented the Mahallae Challenges process and ran a fun working session where we sourced ideas for two of our upcoming challenges. It felt good to finally meet so many of you (as well as see the familiar faces!) and to see so many creative minds working together in a room. We have been energized by your response - the outpouring of ideas and energy has been inspiring.  If you missed this workshop, we will be running several more of these workshops between now and the Mahallae launch.

We would like to thank you, once again, for showing up and for helping to shape up this neighborhood we are building together. And for those who didn’t join us this time, don’t worry, our doors are always open and we will be organizing some more events soon, so stay tuned! 

Why inclusion matters to innovation – and to Mahallae

by Ellada Evangelou and Mehmet Erdogan

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.

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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 virtually 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 unchartered terrain. There were often wonderful sparks of ideas, but 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 the civic engagement and peacebuilding story of the Cypriot NGO’s, we didn’t quite realize how deep a well it was we were looking into. Yet holding 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 which we were 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 will be an inclusive story.

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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 MENA region, 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.”

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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.

Introducing… Nicosia is Calling

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As many of you know, one of the many exciting interactive tools that will be hosted by Mahallae is “Nicosia is Calling,” a game for students aged 8-14. The game combines history and learning about the city of Nicosia, its rich cultural heritage and its multicultural past, whilst imagining the city in the future as a unified whole. This week, we talk to Daphne and Shirin from the Association for Historical Dialogue and Research (AHDR) team about developing the game. 

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Mahallae Team: How did you come up with the idea to develop Nicosia is Calling?

Daphne and Shirin: Over its 10 year existence, the AHDR has worked hard in producing new approaches to the learning and teaching of history.  One of their major achievements was the production of supplementary educational materials for educators and young people.

“Nicosia is Calling” was the first education material to be produced by the AHDR and includes a series of booklets addressing students aged 11-12 and 14-16. The booklets enable students to explore Walled Nicosia through various activities, and relate to the following areas of the walled city of Nicosia:

  • Arabahmet Neighbourhood
  • Chrysaliniotissa Neighbourhood
  • Kyrenia Gate
  • Paphos Gate

And then one day whilst flicking the pages of the Nicosia is Calling booklets, we realized more could be done…. something new, something that makes the shift from traditional learning and academia. 

It was then that we thought of turning these booklets into an on-line game.

In this way the work already produced could be expanded and developed in innovative ways in order to engage more people.  Moreover, the game would allow us to extend our work and include all quarters of Nicosia in order to truly explore the fascinating multicultural past of the city, whilst presenting the city as a whole.

Mahallae Team: So what do you aim to achieve with the game?

Daphne and Shirin: Being aware that we live in a society in Cyprus where people are still afraid to cross to the “other” side, where prejudices and hatred prevail and children especially are exposed to biased views of the past, was one of the major incentives to create an interactive educational game on Nicosia. 

We thus wanted to develop an educational platform that would provide young people with a fun way and an interactive tool in which they would learn about the past and present of the old city of Nicosia, its geography, its unique cultural heritage… - and then share it with friends, and challenge them to play as well! 

What’s more, all this could be done without having to rely on their teachers or schools, or even needing to leave their computer!  And how brilliant to think that a child in Morphou and child in Paphos could simultaneously understand the truly multicultural past of the city and learn about a common history of Cyprus without limitations.

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* The Nicosia is Calling game is composed of five levels. Above screenshots show a few.

Mahallae Team: And do you have any plans for future development?

Daphne and Shirin: We certainly do, this was just the beginning! We want to further develop the Nicosia is calling game, make it richer in information and options, and even more interactive and fun, and probably also create a Facebook app.  And we also plan to produce a more sophisticated game aimed at young people and adults, where players will learn more about the city’s life and the city’s secrets! In generally, we want to keep on passing onto people the message, that Nicosia is a shared, multi-cultural city with an amazing past, present, and hopefully future!

We are also keen to use this incredible experience and explore the possibilities of knowledge sharing in which similar interactive tools could be developed in other cities in the world!

Mahallae Team: Thank you so much for your answers, Daphne and Shirin! Can’t wait for the full launch of the game with Mahallae later this year!