First time writing a research note; I'm new in this community.
So, I'm running a wannabe research-action project in a city called Melipilla, which is close to Santiago, Chile. I feel that the project is still pretty much in its infancy, so my objective with it is still very broad: fighting inequity and segregation by gaining capabilities to crowd the digital & physical public space in neighborhoods around an urban hill; most vulnerable people in the city lives around this hill. The hypothesis behind is that we can't fight segregation and socioeconomic inequality and inequity unless we also tackle the digital layer of such phenomena. Those with no voice in the physical space also happen to have no voice in the digital one. And all this is pretty much related to issues of access to knowledge, to technology, to the Internet...
For the last 6 or so months we (me and a bunch of collaborators, most of them 'pop-up collaborators' and a full time one --who did his internship here, the already missed Jeffe) have been testing a bunch of interventions in these neighborhoods, mostly aimed at understanding the context better and getting to know the neighbors, before coming up with any more detailed plan. Needless to say these fourth months have been full of errors, adjustments, and learning.
One key issue for me is to investigate how we can mix gaining new capabilities with the issue of problem definition. I believe we often learn better and engage better with others if we tackle specific, relevant and manageable problems. But, how to do this in vulnerable and mostly unorganized communities?
The last activities we organized were five workshops to make battery-less lights or lanterns with people from two adjacent neighborhoods. Most of the makers and teachers were Haitian immigrants, giving the workshops an international and cool vibe (they dress so much better than Chileans I must say). Immigration is a new phenomenon in Chile (around 9,000 new people arrive each week), and these neighborhoods, being quite vulnerable ones, have received most of Haitians arriving in the city. We run the workshops with a small grant (500 euros) from a Dutch program (see a post here). The funds were intended for one "Day of Learning" but we split them in five workshops. They were a great way of assessing who our most likely future partners-collaborators inside the communities could be. The answer so far: immigrants, kids, a couple of teenagers, women. Haitians were awesome, curios, engaged, proactive, and welcoming. I guess people have to have certain drive for learning and sharing when they embark in such a challenging process (migrate), even more when coming from the poorest country in the western hemisphere. (A draft guide for the making of lights here).
So what comes next? A lot more experimentation I think is needed before we can take this project to another level in which bigger funding would play a role. Because I'm not rich and I need to pay bills, I'll be working only part time on the project for the rest of the year. The good news is that I got funding to run a series of workshops to build 'flones' (drones called 'flying phones': flone.cc). There will be a few prefabrication workshops and one final fabrication workshop, which will run as part of an international conference on issues of knowledge, culture and ecology and that will take place in one of these periphery neighborhoods. I'm very clear making drones is way-way more complicated than making the lights we made the first time. That is why instead of again only using the money to run one or two workshops, we'll split it in many more. And before getting into drones, we'll experiment with balloon and kite mapping. And we'll start with one of the Public Lab's kits :). A month or so ago, when assessing where in the hill we would stand at night with the lights created in the lights workshops, one of the local teenagers complained about not being on anyone's map, of being 'invisible' to people and authorities. He was talking about his wishes for having a good and welcoming football field, to train young kids and organize tournaments. He knew he needed funding for making that happen, but it was difficult he said: "as we are not even on the map". There are other reasons to why experimenting with drones and kites might be a good trigger for local problem definition and eventually problem solving (but that for another post). Also, Chile gets quite nuts about kites in September, the National month. So, we'll follow the hype, but this time with quite a purpose behind, it'll be fun-for-knowledge.
I must say: I've never taken aerial photos before, or done any aerial mapping, so I'll be reading lots, and in I'll be deer need to advice. I guess I'm in the right place ;)
Oh last thing, we've been calling this project 'laboratorio el sombrero', but I've been thinking we might want to rethink the name because 'laboratorio' is such a buzz word these days and also because I didn't ask any of the collaborators about the name... And it might be nice to see if we can come up with a better name together.