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How the Lift15 conference left me inspired

Workshops are crucial part of the Lift conference program I Photo by flickr user liftconferencephotos (CC BY 2.0)
Workshops are crucial part of the Lift conference program I Photo by flickr user liftconferencephotos (CC BY 2.0)

At the end of last week, I spent couple of days in Geneva at the Lift Conference. Lift isn’t a conference in the traditional sense, where you often find yourself sitting at your laptop listening to some brainiac deliver a dull powerpoint presentation. Instead, imagine an event somewhere between TED and Barcamp, and served with Swiss fondue. While Lift does feature a number of excellent keynote speakers, the core emphasis is on workshops that facilitate hands-on experience and dialogue between participants.

The participants of Lift come from really diverse and interesting backgrounds. They work in startups, banking institutions, or within the IT field of international organisations such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, or The City of Lausanne in Switzerland. Additionally, there are a bunch of hardware hackers, bio-hackers, game designers, developers, Seed stars contestants and even artists and philosophers, attempting to redesign death. This really wide and diverse crowd makes LIFT a truly outstanding  conference.

I was invited to hold a Lift workshop on fact-checking and citizen journalism in Mozambique. After providing some context on the situation in Mozambique and on our partner, @Verdade, the workshop took the form of a game we’ve created called “Liars and Verifiers.”

In the game, one group of participants served as citizen reporters, with one person charged with verifying reports. The citizen reporter group includes a hidden ‘vested interest’ whose job it is to get false information into the news stream. It’s the job of the verifier to debunk the false information and to identify its source. Having led workshops for years, I find games like “Liars and Verifiers” more effective at teaching the principles of citizen journalism, plus it’s a lot more fun than Powerpoint slides. You can download the game for free and even adapt it to your own needs. You’ll find the instructions for how to play the game and the download link in this blogpost. If anything is not clear, tweet to me at @dougiegyro and I’ll be happy to help.

While at Lift, I was very happy to discover an inspirational project built around hardware sensors and their use in cities. The project, called Data Canvas: Sense Your City, is aimed at building a global environmental sensor network that measures air quality, noise, pollution, light, and temperature while bringing change to urban landscapes by streaming real-time data on street-level displays and in long-term perspective by inspiring and empowering citizens, makers, hackers and artists in innovation and participation in actively shaping their environments. And it was through this project that I came to know about the Chinese company SEEED Studio, which both sells and provides services related to open hardware like the Arduino or Raspberry Pi.

Why was this so special for me? I’ve recently been on a deep dive into sensor journalism, which is an effort to use inexpensive, easy-to-use open source hardware as an effective way of telling certain stories. One of the first sensor projects, Japan’s Safecast - was something I heard first at Lift a couple of years back. Safecast created a radiation monitor mounted on taxis and other vehicles in Japan, and by attaching these monitors, they were able to provide people with much more detailed status reports about actual radiation levels than the government was able to supply after the Fukushima accident.

I’m specifically interested in learning more about how sensor journalism can be used in newsrooms to tell various stories in developing countries - it’s got tremendous potential, but it’s also got a steep learning curve attached as well. But when it’s done well, it can have a huge impact for community development. If you are interested in the history, frameworks and ethical implications of using sensors in journalism, see the Tow center’s report, “Sensors and Journalism” by Fergus Pitt.

Ideas often come from unexpected places, and it’s important to get out of one’s comfort zone to see what else is going on. For me, Lift15 was the right kind of event for providing some very useful stimulus.

Interested in meeting me or other Sourcefabric team members? We attend and/or present at a number of  events each year, so if you want to catch up with us, check out this blogpost to see where and when we are available.