Blog Action Day: Water, Sanitation and Community


Vast amounts of money have been spent on aid in Bangladesh, among other things on water and sanitation, often with disappointing results. What if the power of money isn’t what brings change, but rather the power of community?

The Community-Led Total Sanitation approach taps that power. It rules out subsidies, and uses facilitators from the broader community (i.e. Bangladeshi, not foreigners). It uses grassroots techniques to raise consciousness of the effect of poor sanitation, and motivates the community to fix its own problems – and it works. Open defecation is now seen as unacceptable, and the environment and local water supplies are cleaner and safer as a result. It’s designed by a Bengali water expert, and supported by a Western agency, WaterAid, but does not look like a conventional foreign aid project.

Community participation is not a panacea, but it’s essential to effective aid.

Community is also how Appropedia works to create a knowledge trust for a just and sustainable world. But I’m being dragged away from the computer, so more on that another day.

Related wiki articles:

Part of Blog Action Day.

More than data


The World Bank is opening its data, putting a large part of that data under an open license. It has even announced an Apps for development challenge, with prizes, to use this data to “create innovative software applications that move us a step closer toward solving some of the world’s most pressing problems”. These are great steps toward openness, and have come more quickly than I expected. Kudos to them, and to groups such as and the Open Knowledge Foundation that have been pushing for this.

But this is only part of the story. As Tobias Denskus writes:

but if we really want to democratise the development discourse we should also publish, say, the minutes of Bank board meetings and other relevant internal documents to understand how ideas and statistics are translated into ‘reality’ through powerful interlocutors like the Bank and its staff.  – Why publishing aid data does not equal ‘democratizing development’

It’s crucial that we share not only data, but aid and development knowledge. Publications like The World Bank Participation Sourcebook should be open licensed. The same goes for the many arms of the UN.

Is anyone at these institutions listening seriously to this request?

Biofuel Content Initiative

Jatropha seeds are a source of oil. (Source)

One of the practical outcome of the MovementCamp, which finished a few hours ago, formed during the post-camp online discussions. Jason Smithson (who works hard on Appropedia tech) and Darren Hill (years of experience with biofuels) agreed to join forces (cue theme music of Battle of the Planets) and work on a Biofuel Content Initiative, the first of our Content Initiatives. Darren’s been working for some time on this, but is now bringing his work and his knowledge to Appropedia.

There’s a lot of work to be done, but it will result in an extremely useful resource on biofuels – the good news, the bad news, the little known but important facts – and their relevance for tackling climate change and for international development.

If this interests you, check out that Content Initiative page – or leave a note and tell us what area you’d be interested in helping to build.

Coalition Movement Camp: Online Work Party, Sunday 10/10/10


Only a few  hours to go until the Coalition Movement Camp 10/10/10 Work Party – it runs 10 am to 10 pm EDT (that’s current NY time), i.e. 2pm to 2am GMT. GMT sometimes gets called UTC now.

This is for all of us who want a new information-action ecology, for tackling climate change, and enabling the environmental knowledge, innovation and climate action communities. (If you’re wondering who the coalition is, then see the Coalition of the Willing film – and remember that it’s evolving.)

Here in Jakarta it’s 10 pm to 10 am, so I’ll be taking a nap in the middle, and I have my caffeine sources on standby. For many of you the hours will be better than that, so sign up at and stay informed, and there’ll be more info on that page when the day arrives, with chatrooms and video links.

There are a growing number of sessions, all about collaborating on tackling climate change. There’s one on green knowledge trusts (focused on green wikis) co-facilitated by Appropedia, and there are plenty more, including:
Opening session:  Coalition Brainstorm. Be ready to think big picture!

  1. What existing sites/services perform the kinds of functions described in the film? What additional functions are required?
  2. What might be achieved by linking these sites/services (i.e. interoperability)? What are the challenges?
  3. What social/ethical protocols are required to sustain creative collaboration between different online audiences (e.g., activists, innovators, green wiki enthusiasts, and so on)?

2 hours into the meeting (4pm GMT, 12pm NY time), it’s How Cooperatives Can Save the Planet, facilitated by CoopAgora (online advocates of cooperative culture) and the JAK bank (a cooperative, interest-free, institution). Can the cooperative ideals of these sorts of organizations be used to impact the climate crisis?

3 hours in (5pm GMT, 1pm NY time): The Future of Online Activism. Joe Solomon, social media coordinator for, leads this one.

4 hours in (6pm GMT, 2pm NY time): Metacurrency – the attempt to broaden out the concept of currency beyond money, to totally refigure standing ecologies of production and exchange.

5 hours in (7pm GMT, 3pm NY time): Green Wikis Are Go! We look forward to sharing our experience and vision on building and sharing green knowledge, and hearing yours. Later in the session (probably around 8pm GMT, 4 pm NY time) we’ll also be hearing from GreenTribe, a new green directory coming online in October. Join the discussion on the future of online sustainability!

It is not too late to register a session of your own. If you’d like to do this, please email Michael Maranda (tropology at gmail) ASAP.

Can you help us build the Movement Camp?

If you’d like to help — spread the word around! Please forward this email to anyone you know who might be interested, and ask them to pass it on too! If you can think of suitable mailing lists or discussion groups, post a short summary and link to the Movement Camp sign up form. The busier and more diverse we can make this event, the more productive and exciting it will be for all of us and for our planet.

Paul Polak’s New Blog

Irrigation in Senegal (source)

Paul Polak has an enormous store of experience and wisdom, which he’s sharing on his new blog, at Some snippets:

On our quest to help poor smallholders improve their livelihoods, we created useful tools such as treadle pumps and low cost drip systems. But they only addressed about 25% of the problem.

To solve the other 75% of the problem, an effective way to put these tools in the hands of millions of last mile customers had to be designed. – Design for the Other 90% and Wild Blueberries.

Paul goes on to tell a story I found fascinating, about finding one unusually successful blueberry farmer and learning his secret – about knowing when to let weeds grow, to increase blueberry yields.

In another series of posts, Paul makes some statements that will upset many appropriate technology advocates. Here’s one:

The appropriate technology movement died because it was led by well-intentioned tinkerers instead of hard-nosed entrepreneurs designing for the market.  – The Death of Appropriate Technology I : If you can’t sell it don’t do it

Then there’s a recent series of posts on sprinkling can farmers in Asian Africa. The title of one post, How to Triple the Income of Sprinkling Can Farmers in Asia and Africa, strikes me as exactly the kind of question that needs to be asked by aid and development workers.

Enjoy your reading.