Local workshops for supporting DIY / local knowledge production

I wanted to start this thread on behalf of discussions I’ve had over the last few years:

  1. Discussions with @thomasmboa @thomas.maillart and I’m sure many others (I’m sure @dusjagr would be interested among others).
  2. Discussions recently with Doc Hall at the Compression Institute and Dip from treelabs (http://www.treelabs.org/)
  3. Discussions with George Albercook (locally here in Ann Arbor)

The discussions are around the following basic ideas:

  1. Knowledge is built at a very local level.
  2. ‘Basic research’ should be designed + built around applications at the very local level.
  3. Local level expertise exists, but it isn’t well connected or organized.

@thomasmboa our discussion was about local Workshops, where people who have networked expertise can bridge the gap between ‘basic research’ and ‘local applications’ to those craftspeople engaged in that actual work…

Dip - we talked about this person as a local ‘problem solver’, in a sense that they can bring many technologies to bear to make local technologies (used in a very lose sense… a food cart is a ‘technology’) more efficient, independent, effective, profitable, sustainable, etc.

I want to get the folks thinking about this connected and talking in this thread, so those not on the forum please sign up and post to get it going (even just post your theory of change as a starting point).

I love the concepts here, and would love to hear more discussion on them among all the smart people I know!


I’m very interested on it. I believe I was part of a GOSH session on 2017 about it, with you and Thomas.

I’m currently collaborating with a tech community group (mainly in rural areas) and we want to form a group for continuing education on the use and development of their techs (open source).

Not related with this group, but with this topic, at the pos-graduation program I study some researchers use a learning theory called Community of practice, by Etienne Wenger. Is used for business spaces, but it can be apllied to any learning context. For a theoretical approach, is a good start.

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Hi all,

I find this topic very interesting. We have been acting as a new type of tech transfer between academia and local communities, translating new technologies into open source and DIY level tools, equipment, instruments. We started with open source scientific instruments to increase the level of accessibility to high tech equipment to universities in the developing world. We also had projects related to agriculture and food, citizenss sensing and others. See our project page.

Aside from turning new tech into open source solutions, we have also worked out new entrepreneurial models based on sharing and collaboration. In other words, we have recognized the fact that one device rarely propagates by itself to develop its full potential or impact. A design on a wiki is not enough. We need an economic model that is compatible with the open mode of innovation, to scale dissemination. Something similar out there is Precious Plastics. So how can people make a living from commons-based peer production of material goods? We are now in the process of formalizing and exporting our experience and know how with the Collaborative Entrepreneurship programme.

To better grasp the concept you can also take a look at our page on the 4th Sector.

The 4th sector is this new economic sector that is reaching far into the fabric of society through its network structure, and can easily integrate local feedback by operating on open and participatory principles. We call it the 4th sector to distinguish it from the public, private and the solidarity sector (the world of coops and nonprofit, the 3rd sector). An example of the 4th sector in action is makers proposing solutions during the COVID crisis.

We need to recognize that this 4th sector has some serious hurdles to overcome. See this paper that we wrote recently.

So we suffer from recognition and legitimacy. This leads to an entire political action that we need to take to institutionalize this 4th sector, and give it access to resources allocated in society and allow its solutions to propagate widely. But that’s another topic. I am bringing this concept here because I think it provides a pretty good framework for us to become conscious about our place in society and about the problems that we are facing, and it provides us a language to speak about our reality.

I can now translate this call by saying that the topic is about reinforcing the 4th sector, which is the proper vehicle to generate shared technology based on local feedback and scale its use. That is because the 4th sector reaches far into the social fabric and because it already has some proto economic models that can fule its activities, somewhat independently from the mainstream profit-driven, IP-intense economy.

I’d be happy to build a bridge between Sensorica and GOSH to collaborate on this topic, in a network of networks approach. Let me know if you’re interested in installing such a bridge and making a collaboration more formal.

Hi @gbathree

Thank you very much for reawakening this discussion we had so many years ago. I am very excited to continue the discussion here and to share the Mboalab experience. Indeed, the Mboalab was born after our GOSH event in Chile, and totally built on the model of local knowledge production/collaboration with local universities/capacity building of local stakeholders. We succeeded in this, with the support of the Open Bioeconomy Lab and @jcm80 . She can also bring a great input in this thread.


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You are right @marinappdf,
the theory of Community of practices (CoP) developed by Étienne Wenger is suitable for this topic. @Chris Armstrong from Open AIR (present in this forum) is a specialist of this theory; few days ago he makes me discover its recent evolution (most of the time researchers focus only on the versions of 1991 and 1998).
Some recent texts on CoP by Wenger are :

  • Wenger-Trayner, Etienne, and Beverly Wenger-Trayner. Learning to Make a Difference : Value Creation in Social Learning Spaces Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2020.
  • Etienne Wenger, Beverly Trayner, Maarten de Laat. Promoting and assessing value creation in communities and networks: a conceptual framework. Rapport 18. Ruud de Moor Centrum, 2011.
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I like the lab :slight_smile:

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Do you or @Cris know someone researching or applying this theory allied with open source philosophy/culture/tech/etc?

I know two people doing it, one studied CTA (a lab for OSH) from the perspective of CoP (article in Portuguese here, and the other is researching online CoP of physics teachers (Colombia+Brasil - article in Portuguese here.

They also published (in Portuguese) a literature review about CoP on science education here.

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Here is a paper that refers to CoP for studying OSH practices. CoP concept has been coined in order to facilitate knowledge transfer in companies. This has been very powerful way to improve knowledge management and understand knowledge dynamics inside organisations. However, in OSH communities, this might be a bit different, although knowledge dynamics is a core element of the communities.
Hope it helps …
Best, JF

Boujut, J., Pourroy, F., Marin, P., Dai, J., & Richardot, G. (2019). Open Source Hardware Communities: Investigating Participation in Design Activities. Proceedings of the Design Society: International Conference on Engineering Design, 1 (1), 2307-2316. doi:10.1017/dsi.2019.237


Thanks to @gbathree for introducing me to this forum. I could
skim through some of the posts, and very excited to see the high
quality of the discussions here.

We (TREELabs) have been exploring a model of sustainable
economic development using innovation. We wish to keep the
core values of freedom and justice for every individual and the
planet as a whole, central and sacrosanct. It has its core ideas
borrowed from the open source / free software movements, but
added a few to address the gaps for creating large scale impact.

An example of limitations experienced in open source software:
Although open source software has made tremendous inroads
and impact to the world, the reality is that every piece of software
that is developed has to run on hardware that is not open-source.
Software can be readily copied and disseminated. Hardware
often requires extremely expensive infrastructure and resources
to manufacture. Compare: open-source software development
projects may run into 10-20 million USD, but to set up a plant to
manufacture the latest microprocessors would go in excess of
10 billion USD ( ratio of nearly 1000 !). This is therefore outside
the realm of conventional open source funding mechanisms.

Here is a short (7min) presentation about Treelabs:

Although the wording is a bit India-centric here, but the idea is
not limited to India

Our key thoughts and considerations:

  1. How to innovate - as an algorithm, if possible? How do we
    excite young minds to explore and think out of the box? How to
    innovate that is wealth-producing and ‘humane’?

  2. How to keep ownership of innovations in the Commons
    (and not privately with conventional corporations)? Current
    system is based on a monopoly-centric thinking.

  3. Funding mechanisms : Need a self-fueling approach. If
    funding comes from outside, so will the associated vested

  4. Create distributed local solutions locally. How to enable
    such mechanisms?

  5. Creating meaningful and local jobs in large numbers. Let
    the activity be sustained with local wealth creation. When
    anyone is starving and helpless, it is difficult to expect them
    to innovate (which is usually a luxury activity for the mind).

  6. How to incorporate and ensure the use of environmentally
    sustainable principles? Judicious and sustainable use of resources
    like energy, water, materials, food, etc., is obviously important.

  7. How to create mechanisms for ‘humane’ values (as against
    selfish interests) to go in self-propagating mode, hand in hand
    with innovation and wealth-creation?

  8. How to allow good ideas and mechanisms to go viral without
    ‘preaching’? One has to implement this without sounding like
    doling out sermons. Better still if it can be a silent revolution.

  9. How to create a distributed (with rural emphasis) model for
    creation of abundant wealth. Cities are environmentally (and
    therefore economically) unsustainable in the way we have
    designed them. The way forward has to be a model that does
    not mimic the energy and resource sinking current urban

The rising of corporate juggernauts and ‘banana’ / sycophant
governments worldwide is a concern. Can we create mechanisms
to not allow excessive powers in the hands of a few? How do we
restore a balance from the existing baggage of history thrusted
upon common people? Assuming that these problems will go away
without a clear path and action is just wishful thinking. Can we
evolve into ‘open-source governance’ and truly become a world
without conventional boundaries?

Here in an examples of the approach:
Using less energy (as a key resource) is important, and even
better if this energy is generated locally, if possible :

Nearly 30% of food produced worldwide is wasted due to lack
of adequate refrigeration alone ! Even at a personal level, we
tend to store food in refrigerators / cold-storages to prevent it from
getting spoiled. Energy used by even a small home refrigerator
is around 100W (or 8.64 MJ over 24 hours).

Compare this with the process of creating an evacuated space
(possibly with a brief UV exposure) in which food is stored. The
energy spent ideally would be PV (where P is the atmospheric
pressure and V the volume being evacuated). For an evacuated
space of 1 liter, the work done would be only around 100 Joules !
Whereas the absence of oxygen would not allow the aerobic
pathogens to grow, the UV exposure (estimate another 100 J)
takes care of the anaerobic pathogens. The evacuated space
itself can maintain itself for weeks, if not longer, thereby not
letting spoilage to set in. Thus the ratio of energy consumption
from the two approaches is 50,000 or more !

This way not only have we prevented food spoilage, a valuable
resource, but also not burnt large quantities of fossil fuel. Given
that this is an essential need for practically everyone, one can
estimate its large scale impact for the world.

Here is another example (Ice Maker):

In this model being pursued, we use wealth creating ideas
to create local economic solutions (businesses, run by and
employing local people) that is a win-win for everyone and
the planet.

Hope to learn a lot from all of you. Apologies for a very long


@Chris used the theory of CoP to study the Maker movement in the English African countries. I did the same for Francophone African countries. Currently, we have a working document in which we are comparing the 02 contexts.

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Thank you @Boujut and @thomasmboa , I’m willing to talk more about it.

I understand that you used the theory to analyse the communities. But have you tried to use it to build, to create, to seed a community?

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absolutely @marinappdf, I used it to analyse the dynamics inside the communities. Regarding your question, I suspect that Wenger recent work’s (2020) can bring interesting answers.

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Good point ! Personnally as a researcher I never used CoP as a tool. However I know some PhD that did so. the problem is that they are in French. You may contact the authors directly and interact with them. May be they can provide some info in English.


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Hi All (@marinappdf @Boujut @thomasmboa @tiberiusb ) -

@Dip and friends are setting up a call on this topic for the 1st of April via phone.

If you’re interested, let me know and I’ll email invite you. Glad to see the topic revisited, and thanks all for the useful resources!

This is the current time of the event: 10am EST: https://calendar.google.com/event?action=TEMPLATE&tmeid=MGJrNWlrdTc3ZWg0aHNmamM2cjl1OWl0dWYgZ2JhdGhyZWVAbQ&tmsrc=gbathree%40gmail.com


Sure, put me in Greg.
Will I get a calendar invite or I schedule it myself?

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Yes, I would be glad to join. Please, send me the invitation :smiley:

Great @gbathree you can count me in.

Hi, unfortunately not available on April 1rst. I support the idea to use CoP results to implement in OSH, DIY communities (that are CoP de facto)…

I’d love to join in on this call if that’s ok?

Thanks @gbathree for reloading this discussion :slight_smile: I am particularly interested in developing technical means to search and match local skills together, but also with global resources, and ensure that things happen. I am not yet sure how to do this.