I’m very pleased to say that we won our funding bid to build a ‘Project Sharing Engine’ service from the Nominet Trust. Thanks Nominet Trust! You can read the bid and download the project plan on this blog post, or see the project plan attached to this post.
We now have an 18 month project to start to bend some virtual boundaries and build some bridges between Transition Initiative websites, enabling their visitors to read and add to the projects directory all from the comfort of their own local websites.
This is a brief description, rough project plan, and most importantly, invitation to join the all important webmasters community who are a critical part of designing, delivering, testing, discussing, berating, praising, changing, and supporting the emergence of the technical product and information service that will be the ‘PSE’…
- Brief description
- Invitation to join the webmasters community
- Rough project plan
- Project objectives
- How we’re going to achieve the objectives
The Project Sharing Engine is a service to present Transition projects from around the world on Transition Initiatives’ own websites. It will also enable Transitioners to add their projects information to the projects directory through Transition Initiatives’ websites without having to visit the Transition Network website. It will be simple for the person responsible for the initiative’s website (webmasters) to add a widget to their site to enable this.
We’re going to call the thing that enables this a widget.
Here is a handy diagram which may help explain it:
We are looking to get a community of ‘Transition webmasters’ together to help develop the service. It will have a ‘core’ of alpha advisors and testers and a wider group of beta testers with different roles and commitments:
- Alpha group (in UK, available for 3 meetings, discuss and test alpha and beta product)
- Beta group (global, on a wider discussion list, test and discuss beta product in Autumn 2012)
- Are you a Transition webmaster – ie are you responsible for a Transition Initiative website?
- Would you like to join a community of webmasters from the movement to help develop the ‘Project Sharing Engine’?
- Can you meet up three times over the next 18 months (alpha group)?
- Can you participate in a mailing list conversation in between the meetings to help (not heavy traffic unless you want it)?
- Can you trial ‘the widget’ on your site as they evolve?
- Can you grow marrows? (not really)
|Survey responses deadline||10/10/11||All|
|Webmasters CoP meeting 1: consultation and co-design||First week: 11/11||
|Development of alpha product||Winter 2011/12||
|Trial of alpha product||April 2012||Webmasters|
|Webmasters CoP meeting 2: review of alpha||Early summer 2012||Webmasters|
|More development to beta product||Summer 2012||
|Trial of beta product||Autumn 2012||Webmasters|
|More development||Autumn 2012||
|Launch of product||November 2012||All|
|Observe, watch, measure, fidget generally||Winter 2012/13||All|
|Webmasters CoP meeting 3: product evaluation||Feb 2013||Webmasters|
We are working hard to help Transition initiatives around the world share what they know as easily as possible to help them accelerate their knowledge and share their experience as they work hard to deal with the increasingly difficult situation we all find ourselves in.
These next two bits are exactly what we wrote on the funding bid and we mean it.
- Project Objective 1: To help thousands of volunteers in over 775 community groups build more resilient communities, in order to address the problems of declining energy availability and climate change, by supporting knowledge sharing between the groups so they can learn from each other’s experiences.
- Project Objective 2: To build and support a Community of Practice of expert users (‘Transition Technologists’) to co-design and support the development and use of the Project Sharing Engine application and service.
- Project Objective 3: To build an application and support a service enabling community groups to share their experiences and project information through their own websites while benefitting from the affordances and reliability of a central directory, and share the software and lessons learned.
Developing the Projects Sharing Engine includes both technical and social challenges which we are well placed to manage.
The technical challenges include researching and resolving the most effective ways to handle sharing complicated data using open data structures and Application Programming Interfaces, multi-site authorship, privacy and third party authorisation among others. We have experience of building the directories and the skills to build the software, and we will share the data structure design process so that it is open.
The social challenges include collaboratively resolving questions of engagement, design, moderation, data quality and ownership as well as legality.
Therefore, a Community of Practice of ‘Transition Technologists’ will be vital to the successful design, adoption and sustaining of the service. This will be a group of expert users responsible for their initiatives’ websites who have a genuine and growing sense of ownership and stewardship of the Projects Sharing Engine from the beginning. The Community of Practice model is a well established organisational model used to connect practitioner groups around the world to share problems and co-design solutions, and offers peer-approved assessment indicators we can use to monitor the social development of the group.
The project will be a four-stage process.
Stage 1: Recruit Community of Practice, co-design of, and build of, alpha software:
We will attract a group of voluntary ‘expert users’ from our list of Initiative webmasters to form the Community of Practice’s first stage. As a group we will identify the roles and responsibilities of the group, clarify the context, mutually agree the challenges to be solved, processes and development path. The current project data structure will be reviewed and one for the pilot will be proposed.
As the community is widely distributed, we will use virtual tools to communicate and collaborate, but meeting in person is vital to the success of the project. Communities of Practice are highly participative models so it is important to agree the processes and structures before proceeding.
Arising from the early workshop, conversations online and face to face consultations, we will develop an alpha version of the Projects Sharing Engine application.
Stage 2: Alpha trials
Having built the alpha version of the application, we will pilot it on a small number of Initiative websites, drawn from a core group in the Community of Practice. This will enable us to test the technical and socio-technical processes and the actual use of the service by the end users in a suitable environment.
We will co-ordinate a feedback process using qualitative and quantitative online tools and a second face to face meeting with the Community of Practice. By the end of stage 2, we will have a clear idea of the strengths and weaknesses of the application and service design, issues with the data models, and technical infrastructure. The process is understandably unpredictable, so the feedback loops are vital; e.g. the new EU/UK regulations about cookies is an unknown quantity but is likely to have an effect on this project.
Stage 3: Review and Re-design and beta trial:
We will absorb the feedback from stage 2 and improve the application as suitable. We will re-release the application and review on the core group trial sites initially, and then release it onto the wider Community of Practice sites for a full beta trial.
We will assess the performance of the application, monitoring load and different platform issues. We will run a public forum for open discussions on the issues users encounter, and make the necessary changes.
Stage 4: Launch and sustain the full service
Winter 2012/Spring 2013
We will launch the Project Sharing Engine publicly and make it available to all Transition initiative websites with online support guides and forums. This will be assisted with case studies and experience from the Community of Practice, who will co-promote the service.
The launch will be supported with three months of monitoring and discussion between the Community of Practice to assess its use. There will be a final meeting of the Community of Practice in spring 2013 to review the process as a whole, the application, service and the lessons learned. We will share the lessons learned and software with other voluntary and community sector organisations.