Using Open Data & Open Source Tools to Support Social Services & Social Change

A presentation I gave at the Minnesota Social Services Association (MSSA) in March, 2014. This was the first iteration of an ongoing series of presentations and writing on the political economy and infrastructures of “data”, as well as the concept of #DataJustice.

The goals of this session were to: (1) spark conversation, debate, and collaboration around the use of open data in social services and social change; (2) engage participants in actively considering how open data might change their work; and (3) empower participants to take leadership in the growing open data and data justice movements within their field!

You can read the presentation narrative here and find the accompanying slides here.

Open Source Scholarship: GitHub for Academics – Next Steps

Musician and digital pedagogue Kris Shaffer has written multiple articles on using GitHub for scholars and academics. Check out his post Push, Pull, Fork: GitHub for Academics, or his presentation and video, or his article on using GitHub pages for open publishing. If you are interested in using GitHub as a tool, I suggest the ProfHacker page GitHub 101 as a good place to start. And in case you missed it, I strongly suggest using SourceTree as an app for managing your repos on the desktop (if you aren’t going to use the command line).

All of this work is premised upon his conceptualization of Open Source Scholarship, a practice I support and promote. And while Kris begins to develop powerful reasons for working as an Open Source Scholar, and even reasons why it is natural to the work of academia, I find it challenging to figure out how to really be a practicing open source scholar. To me, Open Source Scholarship is not just about our research, but about our practice as academics–a practice of research, inquiry, teaching, learning, dis/un-covery, and engagement. Practically, politically, ethically, and socially, we face many barriers in opening up our processes as scholars. As a teacher, I’m limited from opening up my syllabus and course online because it is owned by my school, or owned by my department, and is therefore proprietary. As a graduate student, if I begin to publish my half-baked ideas and thoughts as I work and invite criticism as I go, I am breaking out of standard academic norms, and am therefore “endangering my future career.” Some of my work in progress I cannot publish because I have agreements with the people and communities I work with to protect confidentiality and privacy. Socially, I may face accusations that I’m spending my time in the wrong places, that I’m publishing work that is not rigorous or reviewed or thorough. Continue reading

by Moyan Brenn

A vision for a PARCMOOC (pronounced: PARK MOOC)

Okay, yes, the name is ridiculous. But I think there’s something in this idea. I want to mashup Participatory Action Research (PAR) and a Connectivist MOOC (cMOOC). I have a few topics in mind, but the organizing idea is actually most important to me at this point. The fact that it could be called a “PARC MOOC” makes me think of getting out, being outside, being with others in public, and I think that’s good imagery to start with.

I see Participatory Action Research as a methodology that has ethical implications for research practice. Ethically, it shifts social research from being about other people to research as an everyday practice we do with other people to change the political, social, cultural, and economic circumstances of our lives. It’s not empowering, it’s offering tools to be self-determining. There’s tons of writing that supports this shift on the grounds that it is a kind of research that really respects people. I also added the phrase “everyday practice”, because I think in the world we live in (especially in the West) requires research to skillfully and effectively navigate it. I agree with Arjun Appadurai’s assertion that research can no longer be considered a skill that scholars gain over time, but a right to which we all have access (See Appadurai – the Right to Research). Continue reading

An Apology, a Purpose, and a Fragment: Ways and Modes of Grappling with Ideas

When I created this blog, the original purpose was to engage the unfinished, draft fragments of my work. I had two primary purposes. The first was simply to challenge academic processes of production which recognize work as either in process (and therefore relatively secret) or as finished/published (and therefore complete, unchanging, and static). The second was to recognize that my work is–in a “working” or “finished” form–always presenting and representing only fragments of me, fragments that I choose to make public.

I’ve failed at both of these in a particularly telling way. I continue to think of things I might post, only to stop myself in the process, thinking it is “not quite read yet.” Therefore, there aren’t fragments of my production or fragments of my process of becoming and self-representation. There is only an occasional post of things moving toward “completion.”

I’d like to disrupt that trend here and now with a first fragment. It is a mini-project rooted in my readings of several introductions to commentaries on Gilles Deleuze (who I plan to grapple with in detail this summer). In each of these introductions, some attention was paid to the ways that he wrote and talked about his writing. I was struck, in particular, about Deleuze making the claim that his work on other philosophers was an act of grabbing them “by the middle.” This was striking as a way of reading, contrasting with analytic (which I might characterize as searching for a string of more or less logical arguments) and continental (a search for hidden, absent, present signifiers through close readings) modes of engaging a text or work. Another example I borrow from scholar Eve Tuck, who writes about Deleuze in education, talking about Deleuze being “relentlessly scalar” — an idea that also captured my imagination.

So I began thinking it would be useful to have a list of the different modifiers you can use on ideas, to twist out nuances in your readings and writings. The points where I write “vs.” below are a pretty simplistic approximation trying to articulate that there is some tensionality between these two positions. One way to articulate the purpose of this mini-project is that it works at some of the phenomenological experiences associated with ideas and our experiencing of ideas.

Without further delay, here is the beginning of my list. I welcome suggestions.

  • Harden v soften
  • Clarity v stuttering
  • Scaling
  • Translating
  • By the middle (Deleuze) vs. hidden signifiers vs. analytic.
  • Spatial
  • Territorial vs deterritorial
  • Regional
  • Smooth vs striated
  • Tree vs rhizome
  • Normative vs resistant
  • Conscious vs unconscious
  • Empty vs full
  • Firm solid vs unstable
  • Connective v disconnective
  • Opacity
  • Singularity
  • Multiplicity
  • Active vs reactive
  • Rigid vs malleable
  • Texture
  • Complex vs simplify
  • Pitch – flat vs sharp
  • Crunchy, chewy, soft
  • Alive v dead
  • Attractive vs ugly
  • Abstract vs sensual
  • Engaging vs distant
  • Revealing vs obfuscating
  • Light vs heavy
  • Light vs. dark
  • Clean v messy
  • Internal v external
  • Inside v outside
  • Intellectual vs lived / experienced
  • degrees of Pressure
  • Being v. doing
  • Speed up vs. slow down
  • Bulleting
  • Countour, line, point

How I Organize All My Data Across 2 MacBooks, an iPad, and a phone: My Academic and Personal Workflow

I’ve been getting a bunch of questions about how I use my iPad for academic stuff, which leads to the broader question of how I integrate my academic and technological lives. I’ll try to answer that briefly here (though I’m still happy to talk with you about it).

Cloud Storage — The Backbone of My Workflow

Cloud storage serves as the backbone of my workflow. For Cloud storage, I variously use Google Drive, SugarSync, Dropbox, iCloud, and These applications are on my home MacBook, work MacBook, iPad, and phone. They keep all of my relevant files synchronized. My primary computer is my home MacBook, so it is host to many more documents than my other devices. As such, it is backed up regularly to an external hard drive using Mac OS X’s Time Machine. This way, I ensure that all of my files are backed up, and all relevant working files are synchronized across all of my devices.

I use iCloud for Apple’s iCloud based services: Notes, Reminders, Contacts, Documents (Pages, Keynote, Numbers), Photos & Photo Stream, and backup for the iPhone and iPad. When you upgrade to iOS 5 (or soon iOS 6), iCloud should be part of the setup process. Using up to 5GB of space on iCloud is free, but more than that will cost you (though it is cheap). iCloud does not yet have a general file storage feature, so I can’t use it for most of my other needs. Continue reading

My Definition of “Engagement” for Imagining America 2011 (word limit)

Rather than engagement, which evokes a sense that we are focusing on something static, completed, or defined, my experience in community work has centered around engaging – an ongoing and fluid process of engagement. In my experience, engaging involves a process of defying social expectations in ways that provide real space for connection. This can happen in coffee shops, community centers, or lecture halls. I notice it with a particular barista at a favorite coffee shop who asks, ―”What are you doing today?” rather than ―”How are you?” This change of question invokes a profoundly different interaction. Engaging comes in many forms. After a violent shooting at a community center in which I was working, a young person who had prior barely spoken a word to me for months asked if I was scared. Answering ―”yes” was engaging, taking a stand of my own (rather than the stand I was expected to take) and revealing my own weaknesses and vulnerabilities. Opportunities to engage are everywhere, with people of all kinds, in any context. While these opportunities may be planned, engaging is an active choice, made in the moment, to be vulnerable and open.

My Definition of “Community” for Imagining America 2011 Conference (word limit)

I believe that community is constituted through stories. Four stories about my understanding community:

Community – an attitude and orientation: Framed by cubicle walls and the front desk, the office I work in looks similar to any other at a university. What makes it a community is its residents’ attitudes. Every staff member is woven together, mutually indebted through help offered, requested, and received. Abundance, not scarcity— of time, energy, and compassion—is the operating default.

Community – a ritual and practice: Every Sunday morning, my housemate and I made breakfast and baked bread to share. This ritual allowed space and time to deepen our relationship. It also became an open invitation to welcome others into our space.

Community – an organization of inclusion and exclusion: All communities have boundaries, but some invite while others exclude. A good community is sustainable in the face of movement, but through openness, grows kinder, broader, and more compassionate.

Community – a location and place: Living on a farm, I experienced community of location: our lives centered around the land. Also a place: as a teenager learning to write creatively, my closest community was a message board that provided a welcoming, supportive place for growth.