Engineers are good at solutions. We’re even fairly good at problems. Give us a client, and we will interview for the pain points, carefully describe the key problems, and design the most effective, doable solutions. And we’ll do them, breaking them into actionable steps until the solution is realized.
Then we read the news, perhaps we see the tear gassing of protestors in Hong Kong, the prisons holding the Uyghurs, or the bombing of Kurdish towns, and say to each other (if we are chatting, which itself is rare) “yeah, that’s awful.” Yet we act as if this particular type of problem is unsolvable, even unactionable. As if there were no possible step that could be taken, no way to affect the situation.
I think it is not that we are motivated solely by money, and choose only the clients that pay us. Many engineers put in countless hours on open source projects meant to benefit humanity. So why do we not try to solve the most pressing problems, the ones that are endangering innocent people on a daily basis?
Not only do we set up environments that can alter human behavior, we make tools to achieve specific ends and metrics to measure what we are told by our clients are important.
The principles are no different, only the purpose.
Let’s take Hong Kong as an example. One does not have to go far to find HK People asking for help:
Perhaps because it is difficult to see these things, and they trigger an emotional response, we do not also see them as engineering challenges to be solved. We do not engage with them as things we can take action about, beyond perhaps retweeting. And while it is not always easy to see how to take action, it is no different than any other complex problem. For example, in this case
He also publishes the ‘Uyghur pulse’ of the most compelling video testimonies by family members. And in fact, this approach has some proven results, with several disappeared individuals being partially or fully released after they are featured on video. Gene uses a sort of homegrown PHP approach and isn’t able to easily expand this to other regions.
But we are getting ahead of ourselves. The first rule of design is to include the client – and actually we do this on the above project, where we have people on the ground and whose families are disappeared participating in a slack group and in the discussions of what actions to take.
Protests are happening all around the world right now – from Iraq, to Chile, to Honduras, to Lebanon, to Hong Kong, to Egypt. And in some places they are not happening, because of fear. All of these areas while different, have similar patterns and perhaps a similar need for organizing and communication tools, and for open methods of accountability.
We’re trying it a bit at RaisetheVoices.org and more so in a slack group, and we welcome anyone to join (after quick vetting). And please also comment here with other efforts that people should be aware of!
Note: I have explicit permission from Nicky Case and the photo owner, and from Gene Bunin; tweets are imaged directly from twitter. I am a co-founder of Civic Works, 501c3 that is the parent organization of the RaisetheVoices.org project. We are not asking for money and currently this project operates without any budget, on solely volunteer time.