Throughout the month of April, we saw the largest coordinated effort of activities that PCVs have ever conducted in the fight against malaria in Africa.
With April 25′s World Malaria Day as a hook, PCVs involved with the agency’s Stomping Out Malaria in Africa (Stomp) initiative used the entire month to rally around the cause. By April 30, over 320 Volunteers had reached more than 16 million people across 23 countries in Africa to raise awareness about malaria in their communities.
This massive outreach was achieved through local, grassroots-level activities facilitated by PCVs in the communities they serve. Over the course of the month, they led hundreds of diverse activities ranging from traditional community presentations and performances, to novel approaches like soccer tournaments (complete with malaria info sessions!) and media campaigns.
Volunteers engaged in so many activities that it was hard to keep up with the dizzying amount of information at headquarters. How could we keep track of their efforts to effectively measure their impact and celebrate their success?
Something that began as a proof of concept and transformed into a framework for development was in the way in which maps and real-time data was used both as a motivator and as a public communications tool.
I was asked by our Director of Innovation if there was a way to “map” the activities of the Volunteers at the country level in real time or nearly real time during the month so that anyone could get a sense of the progress and level of activity. The Stomp team was also excited about the use of digital mapping because the tool was a way to inspire friendly competition among participating countries.
Taking what was already happening into account, our idea was that anyone could visit a low-bandwidth page and see a dynamic map of how their particular Stomp country was doing.
For something like this to work, it had to demand as little as possible from the Volunteers themselves. We wanted them to focus on being a Volunteer, not on fiddling with complicated website accounts, interfaces and certainly not on duplicating their efforts into a new data-capturing system.
After some research, I opted to use Google’s own API from the results of the Google Form that Volunteers were already using (with the coordination of an established point-of-contact Volunteer in each country). Using this API method, which was essentially a digital Lego connector, I was able to mold the data format to fit my map. The key to the entire project was in adapting an open-source project that had already done the heavy lifting on the more complicated back-end connectors between the Google API and an external website like ours. This project, Sheetsee, paved the way forward and made what could have been a 300-hour effort into a mere three hours.
The map went through several iterations during April as the Volunteers and Stomping Out Malaria team would come back with thoughts for improving, modifying and adding functionality.
For example, we realized that, although maps are great at turning complex data into something readable, it didn’t quite convey it quickly enough. To achieve this, I simply built in an update so the map would refresh its numbers as the Volunteers updated theirs.
In the end, it was this simple sentence feature that proved to be the most engaging.
This project was a success not only because of the ways it allowed people around the world to see the breadth and depth of Peace Corps Volunteer engaged in malaria prevention, but also for how it demonstrates how a government agency can leverage open-source tools and technology to quickly put useful information into the hands of those who can benefit the most.
I couldn’t be more excited to see what we can do next.
Yesterday, there was a wall of Tesla patents in the lobby of our Palo Alto headquarters. That is no longer the case. They have been removed, in the spirit of the open source movement, for the advancement of electric vehicle technology.
Tesla Motors was created to accelerate the advent of sustainable transport. If we clear a path to the creation of compelling electric vehicles, but then lay intellectual property landmines behind us to inhibit others, we are acting in a manner contrary to that goal. Tesla will not initiate patent lawsuits against anyone who, in good faith, wants to use our technology.
When I started out with my first company, Zip2, I thought patents were a good thing and worked hard to obtain them. And maybe they were good long ago, but too often these days they serve merely to stifle progress, entrench the positions of giant corporations and enrich those in the legal profession, rather than the actual inventors. After Zip2, when I realized that receiving a patent really just meant that you bought a lottery ticket to a lawsuit, I avoided them whenever possible.
…We believe that Tesla, other companies making electric cars, and the world would all benefit from a common, rapidly-evolving technology platform.
Technology leadership is not defined by patents, which history has repeatedly shown to be small protection indeed against a determined competitor, but rather by the ability of a company to attract and motivate the world’s most talented engineers. We believe that applying the open source philosophy to our patents will strengthen rather than diminish Tesla’s position in this regard.
I was just looking at these two twitter handles from Peace Corps. I noticed that the logos aren’t identical, and that the primary Peace Corps account has a sheen on it that isn’t present on the Third Goal account.
Well that’s a missed opportunity, as the audience for the Third Goal account is primarily Returned Peace Corps Volunteers. Looked at side-by-side, it appears that the sheen on the primary account has been lightly dusted – as if it’s been through the Peace Corps experience out in the field…
I vote these two twitter avatars switch places – for continuity’s sake. :-)
The book starts with:
Anything can be measured. If a thing can be observed in any way at all, it lends itself to some type of measurement method. No matter how “fuzzy” the measurement is, it’s still a measurement if it tells you more than you knew before. And those very things most likely to be seen as immeasurable are, virtually always, solved by relatively simple measurement methods.
Awesome. – via How to Measure Anything – Less Wrong.
Hear I pitched a novel idea – the setting up of a Peace Tech Corps, on the lines of the hugely influential and valuable Peace Corps. In addition to the focus on ICTs for peace-building, I submitted that the enterprise could be a South-South exchange, focusing on innovation, knowledge resources and experience of those who lived in, came from and fight against violence, to help others in similar circumstances. In a nod to the compelling iHub concept, I also called for the establishment of tech incubators for peacebuilding.