Interview with Aaron Basett

Aaron is an autodidact, a web-developer, an entrepreneur and a huge geek! He has been in the web industry for the last 12 years, starting off as a Junior Developer and working his way up to Managing Director, before he eventually founded is own agency.
He is very passionate about the web, programming and technology as a whole. He attempts to give back to the community by spreading this passion. He is a frequent speaker at local tech meet-ups and barcamps, as well as spending a lot of time at various hacker weekends, both as a developer and as a coach.

This time, we grab him quickly from the  the first-ever Kosovo Innovation Camp where he was mentoring young people, to ask him a few questions about his experience.

Why did you want to participate in this event?

AB: I have been very fortunate to attend many events such as SI Camp in the UK. These events have helped me grow as a developer, helped me to establish a greater understanding for the wider community and foster relationships and friendships that I still find very valuable to this day. When I was asked to be a mentor for the Kosovo Camp, I was thrilled to be able to offer the same benefits I have received to the youth of Kosovo.

Did you have any expectations or reservations coming into this camp?

AB: After finding out that this would be the most youthful SI Camp, I anticipated issues with the participants’ technical skills and knowledge, however, throughout today I have been consistently impressed and inspired by the enthusiasm and energy shown by all teams, this has more than made up for any lack of experience and – already by the close of the first day of development – the progress that each team has made puts many more experienced teams I’ve worked with to shame.

Do you have words of encouragement or advice for youth who participated in this camp or those who may be interested in the potential offered by Web 2.0 technologies?

AB: The teams in Kosovo in a uniquely fortunate position of having the Innovations Lab available to support them after the event. I would advise all teams to exploit this wonderful resource as much as possible.
(for the others) Computing power is increasing at an exponential rate. We now carry devices in our pockets which are more powerful than the computers which landed a man on the moon. This increased access to technology makes it easier than ever for anyone with an interest in technology or programming to develop their skills in their free time. Fantastic online resources such as Code Academy enable even the most techno-phobic people to become fluent geeks in no time!

Follow him on Twitter @aaronbassett

Could prototyping be the new policy?

You can prototype a working project in less time than it takes to fill in an arts funding application, says Dan McQuillan

 

Prototyping, like that done at Kosovan Innovation Labs, is the new policy, says Dan McQuillan.
Photograph: UNICEF Innovations Lab Kosovo

 

As French philosophers Deleuze and Guattari would have it, the political economy of arts and culture is a striated space – marked by linear boundaries, restricted to particular planes of activity in the space of all possible potentials.

In this, it’s the same as most. But the mini-Mubaraks of policy and institution are challenged by hacker culture: through the affordances of technology, you can prototype a working project in less time than it takes to fill in a funding application. Prototyping is the new policy.

We started Social Innovation Camp weekends to kick off social projects using the ‘agile approach’ of digital startups. The approach combines rapid prototyping with asset-based community development, using the ability of the internet to aggregate and mashup solutions to social issues. People can start to tackle their problems directly, without waiting for permission from incumbent institutions.

How long would the Good Gym have waited for the NHS and social services to agree that the obesity-challenging energy of going for a run can also benefit the neglected tasks and neglected people in our communities? How long would the Home Office have deferred MyPolice, a platform for direct community feedback to the police? (Actually, they tried to stamp on it).

The hackday approach to protoyping social solutions is emerging all over the shop. Sometimes they’re bottom up, like the upcoming Digital Health Hack, or top down, like the Government Digital Service’s homeless hackday, or coming sideways out of a traditional NGO, like the first RNIB Hackathon.

Stirrings in the arts and culture sector include Culture Hack Scotland andCulture Shift, an international collaboration between the Social Innovation Camp and the British Council.

Projects arising from such hackdays follow the path of the lean startup. They aim to get a minimum viable something-or-other out into the world, to test it against real needs. Like the web they’re in permanent beta – never finished, always adapting. Practitioners are, like AppsforGood, following the pedagogy of Paulo Freire by critically engaging with transforming their reality.

But what else makes prototyping possible? Partly, the substrate of net neutrality and open source software, along with a raft of emergent platforms like Ushahidi or the MySociety tools that turn the internet into a Lego set for social experimentation.

It’s supported by new disciplines like service design, the reorganising of a service or the creation of a new one based on the participation of users. New technologies like 3D printing act as a prosthetic for our imaginations, increasing the plasticity of reality and the sense of possibilities for social good.

Prototyping is a subjectivity as well as a strategy, a kind of hacker ethic. The original Jargon File of geek slang defines a hacker as: “one who enjoys the intellectual challenge of creatively overcoming or circumventing limitations.”

In the Tactical Reality Dictionary, hacking is: “a tactic for transforming pre-existing elements to evoke meanings not originally intended in the raw material of the hack.” As a participatory community process this has more authenticity than policy-based evidence making.

Crowdfunding alone won’t unblock all the old bottlenecks, although the claim that Kickstarter will disburse more money than the US National Endowment for the Arts is enough to make you sit up and think.

Crowdfunding and open innovation are part of a prototyping ecology that includes London hackspacesKenyan hubs and Kosovan innovation labs. As a wider movement it becomes a form of prefigurative politics, using modes of organisation and social relationships that strive to reflect the future society it seeks.

We can thank the geeks for prototyping the idea of prototyping – now it’s for us to turn it towards arts, culture and social good. To rephrase the Industrial Workers of the World, we can prototype parts of a new society in the shell of the old.

Oh, and by the way, have some fun trying.

Dan McQuillan is lecturer in creative and social computing at Goldsmiths, University of London and co-founder of Social Innovation Camp – follow him on Twitter @danmcquillan

(The original article was published by The Guardian, and you can read it here.)

Kosovo Innovation Camp starts in 5 hours ….

Kosovo Innovation Camp starts in 5 hours …. at the moment the lab is all quiet, with little sign of what’s about to hit it.

I arrived here last night and have already been for a lazy walk this morning down to the main square and the Bill Clinton statue.

One of the teams this weekend will be working on a tourism information website which would have come in handy! I have several hours free on monday morning and this teams prototype will have to provide me with advice on what to do with them.

I’ve also been exchanging jokes with Aaron about the amount of things he took to keep himself amused on the flight over.

But soon other mentors will be arriving and we’ll be having the final conversations to plan details, then we’ll be ready. See you all soon!

Prototyping a new Kosovo

Social Innovation Camp brings together ideas, people and digital tools to build web-based solutions to social problems in just 48 hours. One of the reasons we can do this is the power of prototyping. We set up Social Innovation Camp to imitate the speed of digital startups and the way they can deploy a working prototype in less time than it takes an NGO to write a funding application. A team assembles, and idea is ready, and the race is on to get something that works out in to the world. Everything useful on the web is in permanent beta; never finished, always adapting. This is the dynamism made possible by internet-connected technology. (For more on this, see ideas about the lean startup and ideas of the minimum viable product).
 At the same time we’re trying to tackle hard social problems – stuff that isn’t easy to solve, where people are probably short of resources. So we take an asset-based approach, encouraging projects to pull together the things the community does have rather than complaining about what’s missing. This is also given a boost by internet-powered technology, as the internet has turned out to be very good at making something significant by assembling lots of small contributions (think of crowdsourced projects like wikipedia or open street map, which are unimaginable without the net). This is why Sicamp has helped start great projects like The Good Gym and Room for Tea.

Technology know-how is central to Social Innovation Camp, but technology only makes a difference when it’s used to redesign the way the world works. The Sicamp outlook is related to the emerging area of Service Design – the reorganising of a service or the creation of a new one based on the participation of users. Sicamp projects bring a web perspective to this, with ideas of mashups and peer-to-peer services. Sicamp supports people to do something directly about their ‘itch’ – the issue that frustrates them or that they feel passionate about. In the world of the web, they can do this directly and without asking permission from the self-appointed authorities who claim to own that issue.

Fundamentally, Sicamp encourages people to hack their reality – to realise that, via technology, they can prototype a better way to get things done. Sicamp applies the self-confidence of the Web Kids manifesto to really important social issues. We know it can produce good projects, but we also know that it can make a longer term change in the attitudes of people who take part. People get excited about making stuff, and more confident about their power to make a change. With a prototyping and hacker approach, young people in Kosovo can use the internet to re-assemble different parts of their society. When it works they can build on it, when it fails they can learn and move on.

Many people in Kosovo tell me the system is basically corrupt. The influence of money and politics touches every decision and every appointment, while the economy and infrastructure are languishing in a post-war state made worse by the current financial crisis. Of course, their are already NGO projects like Kallxo.com which encourage people to report corruption via an online map. But my hunch is that the spread of a social hacker ethic in the younger generation will do more to limit corruption and can also create a lot of positive side-effects like projects, startups and networks. That’s why I think Sicamp is a good match for the current needs of Kosova – helping people use the web to assemble small resources in to something bigger, helping people to route around and bypass the blockages of the current system, and (to rephrase the IWW) helping prototype part of a new society in the shell of the old

    Young Kosovars take a break from a training session at the Innovations Lab

Dan McQuillan 

 

And the winning ideas are………

After much discussion and internal debate among our 7 person selection panel, we finally agreed upon 6 ideas for this weekend’s camp, based on our selection criteria.

We received many very strong ideas –and many touching on similar themes – so our decision was not an easy one (thanks again to all who submitted ideas!). Some ideas were not selected because we felt they were already too developed for the dynamic, organic and inclusive Innovation Camp process; others required more initial development than could realistically be tackled within a single weekend. But, in the end, we are all pretty excited about the ideas selected in the end.
Before unveiling the ideas, it is important to emphasize that all selected ideas all ideas are extremely early-stage suggestions – ready to be explored, developed, changed and completely transformed by our 50 creative and enthusiastic participants and team of hard-working mentors.

This means that, upon entering the Innovations Lab on Friday evening – all those selected to attend become equal participants. At this stage, there are no leaders and no one ‘owns’ the idea anymore, and all are free to join the team of their choosing after hearing more about each idea.

And the selected ideas ARE (in no fixed order):

Idea #1: Mapping/visualizing the dirtiest bathrooms in public high schools throughout Kosovo
Idea #2: A freelance website, matching skilled young people with potential employers
Idea #3: Online mapping/visualization of existing infrastructure problems and/or traffic violations
Idea #4: An online platform for university students, to make the process of finding housing while attending university less complicated
Idea #5: An open economic data platform providing user-friendly, centralized access to existing economic indicators
Idea #6: An interactive online portal for finding/visualizing tourist information in Kosovo

We suspect that, by the end of the weekend, the above ideas will likely become almost unrecognizable – developed into a viable and creative working prototype by participating young innovators and entrepreneurs. We can’t wait – and promise to keep you posted throughout the process!

(Remember: If your idea was one of the ones that was not selected, please keep in mind that we plan to make Kosovo Innovation Camps an annual event and there will be an opportunity to submit an idea during our next camp. The Innovations Lab Kosovo also offers a number of ways to receive the necessary support to turn your project idea into reality – so please visit our website or stop by soon!)

What makes programming at hackdays great fun?

Hackdays, events that bring many people from different backgrounds together to work on ideas, can be great fun for many reasons. But for computer programmers there is one particular reason it’s great fun.

Remember, the aim of the hack day is to explore an idea with other people, to see what is possible and hopefully kickstart the project into life after the hackday. You’ll probably end up building a prototype of the idea, to demonstrate how it works. The energy and ideas that are unearthed as people from different backgrounds work together is amazing.

[Note I’m talking about hackdays where a team gets together to explore a new idea. Some hackdays are about playing with a new technology, and those are different.]

Normally when computing programming, you have to think about the fact that your software will live on and hopefully grow and change. Other programmers will come in later and have to pick up the pieces and work out what is going on – and that includes you, looking at your work from a year ago wondering what on earth you thought you were doing. (There’s nothing worse after a long debugging session than discovering the moron responsible was you.)

To support that, we have come up with a whole load of professional “best practices” we follow when writing software.

 Requirements
 Architecture & Design
 Modularity
 Code Building
 Commenting
 Naming conventions
 Data validation
 Testing
 Automated Testing (eg Unit Testing)
 Continuous Integration
 Source Code & Release Management

However, all that is because we expect our software to live on into the future.

Let me make a prediction now about the software you will write over the hackday:

“Most code written at this event while developing ideas will be rewritten from scratch or almost completely rewritten before it is used for real.”

With that in mind, can we come up with a list of professional “best practices” for programming at a hackday?

 Just make the protoype work!

That’s it. Really. If you write a Unit Test at a hackday, you’re probably doing it wrong.

At one hackday, I did a site for finding dates at a festival. When you signed up there was a field to type your birthday in. During the final presentation, my team mate Sarah typed in a random string as she didn’t want to tell everyone her birthday. The whole site crashed; I hadn’t even bothered to write the error-handling code to deal with what would happen if users didn’t put in their birthday. Quickly, I told her to go back and put a real date in and it was fine.
I suggest you think about what will make an effective protoype – what will really get the idea across and impress others? At one hackday, we put together a messaging system for carers. We secretly found out the phone numbers of half the judges and organisers, and during our final presentation sent a message on our website. 20 seconds later 10 phones went off around the room as our message was texted out – a humorous and very effective demonstration of our idea.

So have fun!

James Baster
(The original article is written in James`s personal blog post and you can find it here.)

The countdown is ON!

Here, at the Innovations Lab Kosovo, enthusiasm is high, with only 4 days left until participants, mentors and volunteers gather in the Innovations Lab Kosovo to kick-off the first-ever Kosovo Innovation Camp!

We have six fantastic ideas, assembled a dynamic team of local and international mentors, printed out some great-looking camp ‘swag’ for the teams, and are in the process of finalizing our decision on selected participants. You can look forward to the unveiling of selected ideas this afternoon and all selected participants will be contacted with a request for confirmation by tomorrow evening (08-05-12).

We are thrilled to announce that we have received more than 100 applications from participants from all over Kosovo, and can’t wait to see the ideas that come out of this weekend. A HUGE thank you to all who applied – it is our vision to make Kosovo Innovation Camp an annual event and we look forward to your participation next time.
We’d also love it if you come out to support your peers on Sunday, May 13, at 16:00 in the nnovations Lab Kosovo, as they reveal their prototype during the post-camp judging panel and public ‘Show-and-Tell’ session. Join the camp participants as they share their weekend experiences and demonstrate what is possible within a single weekend!

Don’t forget to check back with us soon for the ideas list!

Tour de force!

When we started the first preparations for the first-ever Kosovo Innovation Camp – KIC (our locally re-branded Social Innovation Camp), there was general confusion about the whole event. A lot of questions were raised in my mind: how is it all going to happen? Who will participate? Can youth really manage to build concrete products within 48 hours?

But the biggest question was: how will we engage youth from outside Pristina?!

In order to cover the majority of cities in Kosovo and inspire youngsters to dare to design and prototype their unique, technology-based ideas for social good within a single weekend, we designed a series of events called “Mini Express Camp – tour de Kosovo!”. Hoping that a super condensed version of our upcoming Kosovo Innovation Camp packed into the space of just an hour or two would do the trick, I set off for the first destination – Gjakova. In the following days I met with dozens of youth in locations throughout Kosovo and shared our vision for the upcoming camp – listening to their ideas and answering their many questions. Before long, we had our first results!

Only a few days after our first “Mini Express Camp – tour de Kosovo!” event was held, our inbox began to buzz.

Midnight, April 1 2012, marked our official close of deadline. Very excited, I began going through the list of applications to count and review them. Guess how many applications we received? Nearly 30 applications were submitted for the first-ever Kosovo Innovation Camp! Considering that the first-ever Social Innovation Camp in the world attracted only roughly double that, we were obviously pretty excited. But the most beautiful surprise for the team was the diversity of applications and ideas coming from Kosovo’s youth.

A group of young environmentalists in Kacanik want to make their city more environmentally-friendly, while high-school students in Gjakova would like to use social media to report the lack of hygiene in high-school toilets. Others plan to report smoking in public spaces through Facebook. In Prishtina, a young student from the Faculty of Electrical and Computer Science plans to make a “Smart Home” control system, while another young interactive designer wants to produce a series of educational video games.

Last but not least, an important and exciting fact that emerged from the pool of applications is that this camp is definitely NOT going to be male-dominated. Many of our most competitive applications and ideas have been submitted by females form all over Kosovo.

So, for the moment, I will not reveal more ideas, and I will not write more sentences, because I believe that through the Kosovo Innovation Camp youngsters will have the opportunity to speak for themselves through their enthusiasm, ideas and the viable technology-based tools that they hack together in a few weeks time.

The time for them to transform these innovative ideas into reality is fast approaching and we have alot of work to do before then!

Ron Salaj, YAP! Social Media Consultant and KIC Coordinator

Mini Express Camp – Tour de Kosovo!

The Mini Express Camp is a super condensed version of our upcoming Kosovo Innovation Camp, packed into the space of just an hour or two.

Here is how it works:

– We give an informative presentation to the audience for 15-20 minutes about the Kosovo Innovation Camp (ie. What is it all about? Who can apply? How does it work? etc etc.)

– We then split the participants into small groups and help participants to share some problems they would like to solve – their ideas might be about the environment, a local community, health care, schools or anything else that they can think of.

– We help participants come up with a solution to their chosen problem, articulate clearly what their idea is and get them thinking about how they might make it happen in a really practical way.

– We aim to nudge participants to submit in real-time their application form during the Mini Express Camp.

– We encourage everyone to attend the Mini Express Camp, despite the fact that only people between 16-29 years old can apply.

– And everyone who would like to host a Mini Express Camp in their city, village, school etc., are strongly encouraged to write us an e-mail at yap@kosovoinnovations.org or enough to message us in the private inbox here on our Facebook page.

This week’s Mini Express Camp team is moving from one corner of Kosovo to the other. Here is the schedule: make sure you are there to contribute with your idea or offer to host one of the events:

March 13th 2012 (Tuesday) – 11:00 – 13:00 / Gjakova (Youth Center)
March 15th 2012 (Thursday) – 12:00 – 13:00 / Prishtine (AUK – Auditorium)
March 16th 2012 (Friday) – 12:30 – 13:00 / Kacanike (Youth Center)
March 18th 2012 (Sunday) – 12:00 – 13:30 / Prizren (Shoqata Zejtareve dhe Afaristave te Prizrenit)

Feel free to share this event – invite your friends, colleagues, teachers etc.

Cheers,
Kosovo Innovation Camp Team

Is your IDEA innovative?

We know that this is a big question and there are no strict rules or definitions to identify “what innovation is”. At the Innovations Lab Kosovo we do not try to re-invent the wheel, but encourage using the wheel in different ways. Also, having an innovative idea means being prepared for failure – there are crucial lessons to be learned from failure.

Before you start writing your idea, consider whether someone else has already done the same or something similar – if yes, then try to think about how you can implement the same idea using a different tool or methodology! Think also about how you can use the power of online platforms, new technology and social media.

Need a little nudge? Make sure you are in a preferred place (your room, in the park, sitting in the floor or on your bean bag chair) and make yourself feel comfortable (listen music if that inspires you, go through inspiring pictures on your web browser… just do whatever it is that you think may inspire you!). Start out simple, even funny (“The best ideas come as jokes. Makes your ideas as funniest as possible, “said D. Ogilvy) and brainstorm by yourself by thinking up crazy and absurd ideas. But always write down your ideas on paper. Ask feedback from your colleagues, friends, teachers, mentors and any other relevant person whose feedback may be useful for your idea. You can also invite your friends/colleagues to brainstorm with you.

Innovation comes from the inside – out, not the outside – in” said Peter Benson (Positive Youth Development pioneer) – and this is what you have to try to do; bring out your innovative thoughts and ideas from within, drawing upon the creative inspiration around you.

Example:

1st Step:
Identify a Social ChallengeHow?
Think about a challenge that you and/or your community regularly faces, or make a list of several challenges (e.g. no space for sidewalk, smoking in public spaces, urban traffic jams, no green spaces, bribes in education or business, deforestation etc).

2nd Step:
Select one ChallengeResearch?
Always prioritize your challenges, by determining which is the biggest challenge and what benefits you would bring to your community by addressing this challenge. Research whether someone else has already tried to tackle the same issue (within your local municipality, NGO or international organization) and check out how others around the world respond to this challenge (try a simply Google search!). Try to understand how you can best use the power of web- and mobile-based technology and Web 2.0 platforms to address this challenge.

3rd Step:
Design the ideaBenefits vs. Risks?
This is an important step. In this step you have to give shape to your idea. In addition to identifying the benefits that your idea can offer your community, you also must consider the risks of failure. Don`t be afraid to identify the risks, because in doing so you will better shape your idea. Try to identify the tools needed to make your idea real. Nowadays, you can find a huge variety of online tools that can support and increase the visibility of your idea (e.g. maps, fundraising platforms, high-visibility communications channels, surveys etc.). Try to imagine how you can use them for social good/benefit.

4th Step:
Lack of support and expertiseAsk for it!
Your idea may be great. The community you live in would positively benefit from it. You may only need specific expertise at a certain point (e.g. it would benefit from advice from a branding expert or you may need a software developer to adapt a particular platform to your idea. Or, maybe you need a legal expert to ensure that your idea is not breaking out any existing legislation). Good news! At the Kosovo Innovation Camp there will be a pool of mentors and experts dedicated to supporting your idea and working with you to transform it into a concrete product. Here, you can also ask for technical support – a projector, laptops, desktops, GPS devices, smart-phones etc. So, it`s very important to ask for the expertise or support that you need. Whatever it is – just ask for it!

5th Step:
Choose your team, set up strict deadlines and take action!
Team-building!
This is the final step, which involves selecting your team and defining the roles of each team member. Make sure that each team member feels comfortable with their role and don`t ask them to do something that they don`t like. It will only frustrate team members and steer the idea towards technical failure. Everyone must clearly understand their role, and they must thoroughly understand the background of your idea. Try to build team spirit! Frequently speak with each team member and organize informal meetings and events among team members. In the end, don`t forget to celebrate each other`s success.

Setting and respecting deadlines!
If you don`t set up a strict deadlines you will end up wasting a lot of time. Deadlines will help you to achieve your specific goals. Break down your activities into monthly and weekly timelines and set a deadline for each activity. This will help to track your own progress as well as that of your team members. Celebrate each deadline achievement. But don`t forget that another deadline is waiting for you. Always remember that that each deadline you keep brings you one step closer towards the successful transformation of your idea into action.

TAKE ACTION!
You have the idea. You have ensure the necessary support and expertise. You have prepared also your team and established the deadlines. Now it`s time for ACTION. Action is the foundational key to all success. Don`t be afraid to take the first step. You have only to follow your plan and if you face any problems along the way, don`t lose time but deal directly with them as soon as it possible. If you can`t solve it, don`t hesitate to ask for internal or external help/support. Inform each team member at each step of the way. It`s important to be all be on one page, in order to avoid confusion – confusion leads only to delays and misunderstandings.

Taking Action means that you are turning your idea into reality. And turning your idea into reality means that you are trying to bring positive change in your community. You may do it! Or you may fail. It doesn`t matter; the important thing is that you tried to be an agent of positive change within your community. From our perspective, the only failure is the one who is AFRAID to try.

“If you are not prepared for mistake/failure, you will NEVER come up with something original/creative/innovative”. At least you TRIED to be INNOVATIVE!

Ron Salaj, YAP! Social Media Consultant and KIC Coordinator