Sudbury Day 2

Brianna Smrke has been working with the simulation team at SiG@Waterloo. She blogged about our Sudbury simulation intensive at downwithvowels. We’re reposting her first-person accounts of those sessions. (Read Sudbury Day 1).

I realized (probably because people were telling me directly) that this is the first time anyone’s tried a social innovation lab with simulations. We’re trying to mash together technology and people to be able to tell the story of this system and this problem; but to do so in a way that allows others to poke around with the ideas we come up with.

We want to mock up some tools and programs people can use to explore these problems in a way that they perhaps haven’t before – using data (qualitative and quantitative) but still maintaining a grasp of the whole system. We’re trying to build a model of the system (made of lots of different parts) that makes it easier to see what’s really going on (or what could be going on) and to compile a list of the tools and programs we used so that other people can do what we’re doing now to explore completely different problems. I have a feeling that I’m starting to repeat myself, so I’ll just move on and you can bug me about it later if you want more information.

In short, this weekend could be the beginning of a lot of things.

We started by just thinking of different ways to understand the system: what models could we build; what data would we need? We wanted to get to a list of about 100. We just kept moving around the room and different people chipped in, but it wasn’t just a rapid-fire process of generating ideas – for most of them, people commented and discussed. It was exhausting, but satisfying to see the list keep growing. That about took us to lunch (salad and pitas with hummus – I know you were wondering!).

Then we Skyped with a member of our team from the other side of Canada. Steve lives in Vancouver but is really interested in using technology to engage people and work towards system change. On a whim, we had sent him pictures of some of our chart paper scribbles from the night before and he had coded up a model that he thought captured the relationships we wrote about. “It was like the elves came over night!” said Mark. The three hour time change from West-Central helps a lot. What was late for us wasn’t so late for him. So that was a nice start.

But yes, we Skyped him and he took us through what he had made. It was a model of how the First Nations populations and non-Native populations would fluctuate in response to additional mining activity. It incorporated a lot of the discussions we had had the night before. It was a great jumping-off point for further thinking about how else we can show this system.

Then, for the purposes of the documentary (though it ended up being a pretty interesting exercise), we all had to introduce ourselves to Steve and then introduce someone else on the team. It was a reminder of what a diverse team we had at our disposal. Steve, to his credit, was eternally gracious, nodding and smiling as people kept telling him about themselves. It was just good to keep building relationships in the group.

After we talked to Steve, we took a bit of a break. Kirsten and I jumped at the chance to be able to walk outside on a trail near the house (it’s right beside a wooded area).  She told me a little bit about growing up in the area, and how she used to walk her dog through woods near her house to the “End of the World” – the rim of the meteor impact crater. I didn’t realize that some of Sudbury’s minerals came to it by way of a meteor shower! So cool! We were right beside one of Sudbury’s two big lakes. It was a beautiful view. She also told me a little about one of her other projects: a series of social-purpose cafes; such a sweet idea.

Then, we were back inside and trying to convince other people to go out for walks as well. We ended up deciding to form little teams and focus on one of the model types we had been discussing: to really figure out how we would make it happen. Mark and I joined forces to talk about a GIS map (just think of Google Maps, but with multiple layers of information of the area, with relevant information: roads, lakes, mines, communities and protected areas (and more). We hashed out a plan for making the map happen, but also talked about alternative modes of transportation, both in the Far North and closer to home: in short, long distance biking and canoe-biking (carrying your bike in a canoe). Mark has a lot of interesting friends who choose to get around in interesting ways. Apparently, also, recumbent biking is a lot easier to do for long distances.

We came back inside and got to work. Over the next few hours I definitely learned a lot about mapping and Canadian maps and file formats. I also think I understood what Mark and Terry said in the car when they talked about happiness being (at least partly) having a series of problems to solve that are just hard enough to be challenging but not so much that they are impossible. A Goldilocks challenge, if you will. This type of project was exactly a Goldilocks challenge and I loved it. The map started taking shape. I was scouting data from different websites, being stymied by data privacy requirements and uncooperative file formats, but eventually I think I got a handle on what I was doing.

The other teams had to pull Mark and I away from our GIS-ing to have dinner (again, because I know you’re wondering: excellent pasta with fresh vegetables and nice bread/cheese). The whole team did a check in and it was exciting to see how far everyone had come in the last few hours. Our different pieces were definitely starting to take shape. The next big challenge for all of us was to see how these different pieces fit together. After the check-in (facilitated by the lovely Benjamin), conversation (d)evolved into a discussion of self-referential humour (again!). Some of us ended up eating ice cream and listening to Michael read the self-reference page of Wikipedia (there are a lot of jokes on there). I did a bit of wandering around and eavesdropped on other conversations.

After dinner wrapped, we did a little more work (I finally figured out the file formatting stuff, praise be the heavens) and then trucked out or off to bed.


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