Appropedia, a global community

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Can local groups and communities could use the wiki as their own way of connecting and sharing knowledge? Absolutely!

Appropedia is not only a living library, but:

  • A collaborative workspace, both to grow the library and for plotting real-world action.
  • A networking tool. While our platform (MediaWiki) is not designed as a social networking tool, this is a community full of hardcore sustainability buffs and problem-solvers worldwide and from all walks of life.
  • A “shell” within which communities can operate, serving their members and connecting with partners both local and distant. A community of communities, if you will.
  • A way of increasing profile & findability.
  • A way of increasing synergy. Why work on a greywater treatment page on a locally focused site with a small number of contributors and readers when you can work with a global community on making an awesome page?
  • You can have your own pages on your own projects, too, as part of a collection of designs from around the world. Be like the developer of the Home biogas system (Philippine BioDigesters), who received emails of thanks, along with design improvements, from around the world.

This was prompted by a question from Steven Walling during a presentation on Appropedia. It made us realize how far ahead Appropedia is when we envisage it, compared to what a visitor to the site sees today (e.g., the greywater treatment page is one-twentieth or one-hundredth as good as we’d like to see it). People already say how great the site is, but we foresee something much, much greater.

One year building sustainability

English, Updates

Last month marked my first year as a part of The Appropedia Foundation as its first full-time Executive Director. This year helped me find out why Appropedia is one of the largest resources of sustainability in the world and to develop a new vision for the next years.

The year 2020 has shaken our collective worldview in many ways. A growing movement sees sustainability as increasingly critical to our survival. For the rest, the global pandemic is a reminder of how fragile human-made systems are. The message is clear: we need to return to simpler lifestyles with better consumption patterns. As people ask themselves how to do this, Appropedia contains many answers to this question.

This year I focused on three actions as part of my work on Appropedia: fundraising, organizing content, and building a new strategy. These actions will help us connect with a growing movement around sustainability and to build our community. Here are some exciting announcements for you:

1. We are building a short-term vision and doing lots of fundraising. This was possible through initial support from the Shuttleworth Foundation. Last month we received a grant from the Intuitive Foundation. With this, Appropedia will serve as a tool to transfer know-how and practical surgical skills. After this experience, we expect to support other organizations that research sustainability worldwide.

2. We are working on new technical features and a site redesign in the upcoming weeks that will help you engage with your content in better ways: exploring, editing, and learning. Among these, you will see:

  • A new front page design and some minor changes to the site, with better search capabilities, and finally, VisualEditor!
  • Later this year, we will install a new responsive skin. Please let us know your thoughts as we test it out.
  • We are implementing the Open Know-How standard to organize projects on Appropedia with their metadata. We are also planning on documenting hundreds of videos made by our community. Appropedia took part in the development of this standard, and we will continue to expand it as we make use of it.
  • We’re testing a new search tool. This will help you discover projects by keywords, development stage, and the SDG.

We’re excited to find out how these new tools and standards will help you discover and use projects on Appropedia! Let us know your thoughts by posting them at our Village Pump.

3. We have future plans for better project documentation, technical resources, and other types of content. Our goal is to bring new users of Appropedia to engage in new ways, especially in areas where we have worked over the years such as research, education, and international development.

  • Since 2019, Appropedia Foundation took part in developing technical specifications for open hardware as part of a project led by Open Source Ecology Germany with support from the German Institute for Standardization (DIN). DIN SPEC 3105-1 and 3105-2 will allow makers to communicate their projects more effectively. We will start implementing these tools for new projects soon.
  • For over a decade, many schools and universities have edited Appropedia as part of their curriculum. In turn, their work has been of use to researchers and communities around the world. In the short-term, we will focus on improving our education programs, especially for distance learning during this pandemic.
  • Our community has developed projects to tackle the COVID-19 crisis. Many we are also studying how appropriate technologies can help families stay at home during the pandemic.
  • In the long term, we want to devise ways for organizations to find projects and replicate them as cheap alternatives to prevent and eliminate poverty. We also want to bring this knowledge closer to communities without a need for intermediaries by creating Know-How learning modules and Open Educational Resources in engaging and informative ways.

Appropedia is a great example of an organic open source community around Open Know-How. Different from Wikipedia and other encyclopedias, we explore solutions to practical problems. Here is what makes it interesting: there can be as many ways to solve a problem as there are problem solvers. For this reason, we are working in making sure that Appropedia becomes a place to come and learn from a wide range of contexts and experiences. This will require an exploration our physical relationship with our environment and our existential aims as humanity.

Having said this, I am honored to be a part of such a great community, and hope to give you more exciting news as we grow together.

Open access content on Appropedia

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CD3WD (CD for the 3rd World) and WikiGreen (the first major green wiki) have done enormous work getting permission for books and other great resources in sustainability and development and getting it online. All up, there are thousands of pages on specific agricultural subjects, appropriate technologies for building, and more.

Much of that content has ended up on Appropedia. It’s valuable content, and we are allowed to share it. But we’ve had a dilemma: it’s not under an open license, as far as we know. It’s open access but can’t be reused or modified, and certainly, there hasn’t been permission given to use commercially. That clashes with our default license.

So, do we remove it? That would be a great loss to the internet community when searching for answers on these important subjects. This is something we’ve agonized over. Instead, we are now placing notices on these pages, noting that these are exceptions to Appropedia’s regular license. So far, all the CD3WD pages that we have had the notices placed on them.

If you’re aware of any work which should not be displayed (i.e., the rights-owners do not give permission for it to be made available as open access), please let us know, and we will take action to fix things up (gain permission or remove it).

This is why solar hot water is worth it

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There’s a big need for low cost, effective solar hot water designs. This is not just a matter of saving money (and, of course, all the other benefits of saving energy, like saving the planet). Many people worldwide do not have hot water on tap and would benefit from easier washing clothes and dishes.

We have some work detailed about solar hot water on Appropedia, built-in Parras, Mexico. These are largely sunny places – even a black pipe lying in the sun will create hot water. But what are the hottest water and the most straightforward, reliable product that someone can get for the money they spend?

One challenge that faces such countries is that they often have fossil fuel subsidies, especially those countries that are traditional oil-producers. Solar loses much of its economic advantage when fuel gets a subsidy.

Changing someone’s thinking to save a tiny amount of money is hard. But with other angles to complement the economic incentives, there is hope. Get kids involved, explain why solar hot water is better, get the ideas taught in the schools. Emphasize the green side of things, children’s benefits, and make the designs freely available in people’s own language.

By Solarkent.

Thoughts on appointing an Executive Director

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Message from the Directors of the Appropedia Foundation:

In April 2016, Appropedia will celebrate its tenth birthday!

One decade since its launch and over 75,000,000 visits later, we can celebrate the wonderful work of the many thousands of contributors to Appropedia from around the world. With tens of thousands of articles – edited over 300,000 times – on solutions for building rich, sustainable lives, Appropedia has become a vital resource for international development, sustainability, education, research, making, and sharing.

The Appropedia Foundation has been privileged to support the development of Appropedia. We have, we think, developed a culture and an approach that has worked well and gotten us this far. But we now want to go further.

Appropedia has now grown to the point where we think that new levels of commitment and investment are required to enable it to grow further. To reach more people. In more languages. With more content. With more quality. With the latest tools. And to bring its users together more.

The Directors of the Appropedia Foundation would like to hear your opinions on how we should invest and support Appropedia over the next ten years. While we remain committed to the mission and values that have guided Appropedia from the start, we want to explore how we might change our structure and how re-energize our engagement with the wider world.

We think that the Appropedia Foundation should recruit its first full-time Executive Director to oversee the development of Appropedia. This would take a fairly traditional structure for a non-profit, with the Executive Director reporting to the board and with responsibility for fundraising (including, initially, for their own salary). They would not necessarily need to be an expert in web technologies, but would rather support and develop a team to work on Appropedia.

Over the next four weeks, we would like to hear your thoughts on the idea of recruiting an Executive Director. What do you think of this idea, please? You can leave feedback here, on Appropedia, on Facebook, or on LinkedIn.

Once we have considered your feedback, we will make a decision on how to proceed and may come back to the community for input into the priorities of the Executive Director.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us and, indeed, for all your contributions to Appropedia. It literally wouldn’t exist without its users!
-Lonny, Chris, Curt, Andrew & Kiva

Sustainable community action

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Phil Green started the Sustainable Community Action wiki in 2004 – it’s about:

Information and knowledge sharing, but with a focus on what might be useful to community groups and active citizens interested in taking action to make their communities more sustainable and in support of environmental, social and economic wellbeing,

For some time he’s been looking for a new home for the wiki, and he’s decided to work with Appropedia. We’re very glad to have him Phil, and look forward to working with him.

Phil is now adding pages to Appropedia about locations around the world and their community actions – hundreds in total – which he has consolidated from over 2600 pages on the original site. Some of these form new pages (see the Sustainable community action category) and others are being merged with existing pages.

This builds an important area in our sustainability knowledge bank, and I hope we can find a powerful synergy.

How on Earth do we create a better world?

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The Post Growth Institute is raising money to create a book, and (at the time of writing) they’re less than three days away and at 87% of their goal.

Donnie Maclurcan from the Post Growth Institute is a personal friend, and a friend to Appropedia. He’s also an engaging and provocative communicator, and I’m happy to see this book going ahead. He and Jen Hinton write:

Imagine waking up in a world where you feel good about going to work, no matter the nature of your job. You feel positive and motivated, knowing that your work provides you with a livelihood that also contributes to the wellbeing of others in a way that respects the ecological limits of the planet.

Welcome to a not-for-profit world, where businesses can still make profits, but any profits are always reinvested for social or organizational benefit, rather than being accumulated privately by individuals. This world emerged because, around 2013, a large number of people came to the realization that any economic system that centralizes wealth and power is, ultimately, socially and ecologically unsustainable.

People were fed up with excessive executive salaries, a financial sector divorced from the real world, corporations with more say than people, endless spin from politicians and entrepreneurs about the latest technological ‘solution’, and the trappings of mindless consumption.

As the mainstream attention on the Occupy movement faded, protesters even started to question whether being fed up was worthwhile.

Then a real alternative emerged. The people already had a business structure that wasn’t centered on creating private profit and concentrating wealth and power; all they had to do was grow the not-for-profit sector, shifting power away from the for-profits.

A not-for-profit economy changed the game by decentralizing wealth and power, while maintaining incentives for innovation and increasing people’s desire for meaningful work.

Before 2013, when for-profit enterprise was the main business model, it was contributing to financial inequity and vested interests. This had led to an increase of status anxiety due to drastic differences in material wealth. The majority of people often felt that because they didn’t have as many material possessions as the wealthy classes, among whom the money had been concentrated, they couldn’t be as happy.

For some people in the lowest income brackets, this inequality not only meant status anxiety and shame, but even a lack of consumption choices, affecting diet and health. For many, the solution was to consume more of whatever they could afford.

On the global level, this overconsumption went hand-in-hand with production practices that exploited workers in sweatshops to make cheap and plentiful products, while decimating key natural resources. This was clearly unsustainable. As more and more people realized that all forms of capitalism and socialism – grounded in a growth mentality – centralize wealth and power and are therefore unsustainable, they also began to see how a not-for-profit economy offered a way to decentralize power, whilst maintaining innovation.

When a critical mass of people reached this realization and accelerated the shift to the not-for-profit business model, everything started to change for the better.

How on Earth could that be possible?

This scenario of a not-for-profit world is closer to the present reality than you might think. Across numerous countries, the economic contribution of the not-for-profit sector has been on the rise since the late 1990s. In Canada, for example, not-for-profit institutions now contribute 8% of the country’s gross domestic product.

This is possible because not-for-profit does not mean ‘no-profit’ or ‘can’t make a profit’. Not-for-profit actually means not for private profit or not for the primary purpose of making a profit. Across most countries and jurisdictions, not-for-profits can make as much or as little money as they want, they just cannot provide payouts to private individuals from any surplus.

The pioneering work of not-for-profit businesses, from sectors as diverse as construction, manufacturing, banking, hospitality and healthcare, suggest that innovative, sustainable economies, with high levels of employment, can exist without the private profit motive.

Many not-for-profits also understand that generating their own income allows them to fund the good work they do (as opposed to the traditional approach that depends on grants and philanthropy). Take, for example, BRAC, the world’s biggest not-for-profit organization.

Since 1972, BRAC has supported over 100 million people through its social development services, but almost 80% of its revenue comes from its own commercial enterprises, including a large-scale dairy and a retail chain of handicraft stores, all of which are run according to a holistic vision of sustainable business.

More importantly, not-for-profit enterprises could regularly out-compete equivalent ‘for-profit’ businesses in the near future, based on a combination of factors, such as:

• not-for-profit enterprises better utilizing the benefits of the communications revolution on reduced organizational costs;
• an increasing awareness of the tax concessions and free support available solely to not-for-profits;
• the trend in consumer markets toward supporting ethical businesses and products;
• the ability of not-for-profit enterprises to survive and even thrive during years of downturn, given their sustainability does not rely on making profits and that profit margins will continue to get smaller as resource constraints impact business costs.

How on Earth can you help?

Here at the Post Growth Institute, we are writing a book: How on Earth? Flourishing in a Not-for-Profit World by 2050. This will be the world’s first book to explore the prospect of not-for-profit enterprise becoming the central model of local, national and international business, by 2050. It will also outline practical steps that you, as a member of the public, can take to fast-track this evolution to a sustainable economy.

We have created a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo in order to gather the financial support needed to finish researching and writing the book, as well as the funds to publish, print, market and distribute it. You can help by contributing money to the crowdfunding campaign here and spreading the word about this project and crowdfunding campaign as far and wide as possible.

For an outline of the book’s main ideas, see this 2012 talk by the book’s lead author, Dr Donnie Maclurcan, at the Environmental Professionals Forum.

Why “rich” and sustainable?

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One of our readers sent us an email and asked why this is Appropedia’s vision.

Sharing knowledge to build rich, sustainable lives.

In developing countries, we’ve sometimes found a perception that sustainability is being foisted upon them to block them from having wealth like that of wealthy nations.

That’s not the sustainability we want. Appropedia stands for fair and just sustainability. Moreover, we know that with the appropriate choices in technology and design, with access to medical care, water, sanitation, and transport, richer lives are possible. A small, well-designed passive solar house is a pleasure to live in – superior to a poorly designed mansion. Healthy soils yield fresh, abundant, delicious food. This is the prosperity we’re talking about.

These are the riches we envision for the world.

What’s your Appropedia story?

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What brought you to Appropedia? What did you find, and what difference did it make for you?

We’d love to hear your stories, short or long, about how you used Appropedia. Please take a moment to add a comment at the end of this post to tell us about your experience. Whether you learned something, or were inspired, or found what you needed for your project, or contribute your knowledge about making the world better in one particular way – let us know what Appropedia means to you. Even a single line is valuable feedback and appreciated.

You can share your story as a comment below or add it to our Appropedia:Stories page on Appropedia itself – and you can read other stories there, as well. You can also share on this Appropedia Facebook post.

We hope to re-share these stories to inspire others, so comments left here are accepted under the same Attribution ShareAlike license used by Appropedia. Many thanks – and we look forward to hearing your story!

Searching the green dev wikisphere

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There is an ecosystem of wiki websites on sustainability, design and development issues.

Appropedia is a large and broad site; others include small but active communities and NGOs doing good, focused work (e.g. Greenlivingpedia and Akvopedia), wikis run by multilateral organizations (e.g. the UNDP’s WaterWiki and the OECD’s Wikiprogress and Wikigender), and (sadly) wikis where nothing has happened for years, and the community appears to have scattered.The ecosystem isn’t exactly thriving – even when we’re friendly (and we usually are) we don’t talk and we don’t share as much as we’d like.

As communities we want to collaborate and encourage each other, but as individuals we’re busy – and I’m as guilty as anyone. What can help is just being aware of what is on other wiki sites – knowing of good wiki pages out there in the green wikisphere, to learn from, borrow from and link from our own pages. That can even lead to the odd bit of drive-by editing on another wiki – all the better.

To that end, here’s a tool I’ve made: a search engine for green and development wikis.

It’s a Google custom search of over 40 wiki sites. Apologies to the good wikis I haven’t named in this blog post, but I hope you’ll check that your site shows up in the search results.

If you want to who’s writing about something on which wiki, this can help. The results are a little quirky, so allow a few seconds to scan the list to find what you want, and maybe try different search terms. Give it a try, and let me know.

May it add a little more unity to our wiki ecosystem.