HACKTERIA.ORG: NOMADIC SCIENCE AND DEMOCRATIZED LABS

by Denisa Kera and Marc Dusseiller (Hackteria.org)

Hackteria.org (Open Source Biological Art) initiative is an informal, open and experimental network supporting DIY (Do-It-Yourself) and open science practices across variety of contexts (artistic, academic, non-profit) and continents (EU, Asia, USA).  Because of our emphasis on hybrid and experimental practices, which are often open ended, we  do not use consensus as a necessary pre-requisite for action, but we emphasise documentation as a tool of reflection and deliberation, which help us evaluate our activities. The views discussed in this white paper do not represent the whole group, but our personal experiences with the workshops and events we organized over the years. We perceive the collaboration between science, engineering, arts and design for us as serving one main function:  it increases and tests new models of public participation and engagement in science and technology and introduces a greater reflexiveness in the whole R&D and appropriation processes. Instead of communicating and disseminating results, on which scientists and policy makers eventually agree, we are interested in an experimental approach for policy deliberation, where all parties have an active role in the whole R&D process and where science is probed against many other fields and interests – social, aesthetic, political, philosophical, even culinary. It is our goal to simply bring closer science and all the facets of society by testing alternative and reflexive forms of R&D, which connect communities to prototype development and testing, and by negotiating variety of needs, fears, and hopes of different actors. We hope to bridge not only the divide between science and art but also between experts and amateurs and also citizens from different parts of the world by simply making scientific experiments accessible and by enabling research in developing countries (mainly India and Indonesia).

Based on our personal experiences with the Hackteria network, we have following suggestions:

Suggested Action 1.

Support open science and citizen science initiatives, such as co-working spaces and community labs as well as novel forms of public engagement in science and technology through workshops involving scientists, designers, artists and any other profession.

Barrier: The unclear status of many community labs and initiatives and the perceived tension between grassroots (independent and free) activity and institutionalized and monitored spaces.   

Target (stakeholders):  Grant agencies, Applied Research Funders, City councils, University management   

Solution:  Create a board of advisors representing different stakeholders (citizens, communities, faculty and professional researchers, galleries and artist collectives, grant bodies, city councils), which will take care of the economic, legal and other issues related to the management of such open space supporting interdisciplinary and inter-actors collaboration (Fablab, Citizen science, DIYbio lab or Hackerspace).

Suggested Action: Grant agencies can support cooperation between universities and existing informal, grassroots R&D centres (community labs, Hackerspaces) by dedicating part of the budget to support the infrastructure and the workshops in citizen science labs as a form of “dissemination of research results”. Universities could support their faculty in volunteering in the citizen science labs teaching local communities various protocols and supporting citizen science initiatives and workshops. City councils could provide spaces and support related to legal and other issues, which the use of public space in citizen science projects brings (for example when installing sensors), but also in making such initiatives more visible in the public space and connecting them with other publically funded actors (galleries, museums, public libraries). General support of decentralized, open science and open access paradigms.

Suggested Action 2.

Support grassroots innovation and participatory design related to local communities when facing various local and global challenges.

Barrier:  Interdisciplinary activities in the Hackerspaces, Fablabs and citizen labs are often perceived as something geeky, not really useful and without any impact.

Target (stakeholders): Local businesses, Employers, Government agencies, City councils

Solution:  The support of cooperation between research and commercial organisations should also involve the alternative R&D centres and support participatory design strategies in finding solution and developing socially and environmentally sensitive, grassroots innovation.

Suggested Action:  We need to enableinnovation and research outside the academia and industry walls by involving new actors often described as makers, tinkerers, and hackers, but also Do-It-Yourself (DIY) or Do-It-With-Others (DIWO) research subcultures.  One simple way of doing this is to provide access and formulate calls, contracts and bids, job opportunities, which are suited for these alternative R&D spaces: projects supporting resilience, disaster management, or some form of civic engagement in ecological issues, “smart cities” projects, or when deliberation on ethical issues related to some emergent technology is needed. Citizen and alternative R&D labs can literally serve as incubation centres for local communities, where prototype testing goes hand in hand with deliberation and gathering of user feedback and requirements from variety of actors. We need to create opportunities for decentralized and nonlinear value chains and interactions between research, design (innovation), and policy.

Suggested Action 3.

Support research in developing countries, bridging science and technology divides, and formulating more inclusive and interdisciplinary research agenda based on global networks around low tech and DIY protocols and tools.

Barrier: Missing infrastructure, difficult access to information, stereotypes of where research and science is happening.

Target (stakeholders): UNESCO, intra-government institutions, non-profit organizations

Solution: Support exchanges between scientists, artists and designers across the world, connecting them with various local communities in developing countries  (for example a network for graduate students visiting developing countries to teach short workshops or  help local researchers in developing countries. Supporting open source hardware, open data, and open access platforms and approaches.

Suggested Action:

The open source model supports interdisciplinary cooperation across disciplines, but also continents and it creates an alternative network of knowledge transfer, which benefits various communities.  We need to bridge the divide in science equipment and access to scientific publications and knowledge and to enable cooperation by supporting exchanges but also work on open source hardware tools and open access.  We see research in developing countries as more embedded in the local communities and more engaged with the needs of concrete people rather than large scale stakeholders and actors. In this respect the agenda behind the research in developing countries in similar to citizen labs in any other country and there is a natural synergy. Support a network of science graduates and amateur scientists, who travel, share, and exchange knowledge with their peers and science enthusiasts in universities and labs across developing countries.  Support science and art ambassadors who use low tech solutions and citizen science kits to build ad hoc lab techniques and equipment in order to teach and share science protocols with various communities around the world. By connecting communities and labs, oral and indigenous knowledge with scientific know-how, we hope to achieve a disruptive knowledge transfer between various cultures and create infrastructure for a truly global research efforts, which will tackle various issues more creatively but also efficiently.

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