Multi-Disciplinary Methodology for Applications Design for CNs, including Design Guidelines and Adoption Facilitation (v2)

This deliverable presents an updated and significantly extended version of the initial participatory design methodology introduced in Deliverable 3.1 based on new information acquired through:

  • Different hands-on experiences, with most notable the long-term process initiated at Community Network including both a “learning” process and “app design” process. Other relevant experiences are the creation of a new neighbourhood CN in Athens, the participation in the development of a Free/Libre Open Source Software (FLOSS) platform for self-organized learning in the city (, and the development of a participatory design process for a similar scenario in a pilot in Zurich for the CAPS project MAZI;
  • Knowledge exchange with other CAPS projects that have expertise and activities around the topic of participatory design, addressing the question how we can produce generic methodologies and lessons learned out of highly contextualized experiences;
  • A Re-reading of the OTI experience in the US through the lens of our own recent experiences in the field and discussions with activists that participated in the SEED Grants project.

These experiences and the corresponding lessons learned are described in Part I of this deliverable while the resulting methodology and examples for its implementation are presented in Part II.

The methodology is actually a framework that allows a flexible and creative approach for coordinating people with different skills to perform a rather complex task, similarly to the ways jazz musicians manage to improvise based only on a limited set of constraints. More specifically, our methodology defines a set of high-level Processes that need to be carried out in a balanced way to achieve the desirable result, namely Community Participation, Hybrid Space Design, Software Development, and Project Sustainability.

For every process different Threads of Action are defined, for which a set of methodological Elements are provided: a proposed list of Actions that make sense for the specific thread, Metrics for the evaluation of the outcome of these actions, and Guidelines regarding the implementation of the actions.

The actual selection of the methodological elements that fit the corresponding processes and threads on the ground will depend on the Context, which includes more or less fixed variables that will reflect the special characteristics of the environment and the available skills in the team, but also the overall objectives and vision.

The context will be constantly evaluated and redefined at the Local and Global Checkpoints, by the Team in predefined coordination cycles subject to a specific Tempo. During these checkpoints the Team will evaluate the actions of the previous period, and their outcome, and plan for the next one using the same or an updated set of methodological elements according the change of Context, and possibly important external events.

These Checkpoints and the selected set of methodological elements will provide the required constraints around which the Team will have to collaborate and improvise along the way.

To facilitate the better understanding of the methodology, in Chapter 7 we provide a set of three implementation examples of the methodology, each one corresponding to a very different software development thread of the project.

Contribution to netCommons Objectives

As stated in the Description of Action (DoA), one of the key objectives of netCommons is

Technical decentralization. We will investigate how to produce local, distributed clouds and live streaming and conferencing applications based on peer-to-peer protocols that will represent added values for citizens that participate in CNs.

The work presented in this deliverable is a huge, coordinated effort trying to substance in some way the how included in the objective above.

Evidence shows that the development of local applications has historically failed, even in cases where all indicators were hinting to potential success. This means just that the current development processes (or the goal of the development) have failed. From a scientific point of view, this could then mean that more research is needed, either to devise a better development process or to “prove” that local applications are not really needed, bound to fail whatever the local conditions or simply too costly to succeed in real life. So far there is nothing hinting that the second possibility is the ground truth, so we set down to try to improve the state of the art on how to implement local applications and services carefully taking into account the needs of the application users and the local characteristics of the environment that act as constraints, often hidden to the application designers and developers, during the development process.

The methodology distilled in Part II starting from the abundant, but unstructured juice of Part I field work, is a clear contribution to our objective, that is now being put in action by developers of netCommons and the Community Networks (CNs) we are working with, and that will be documented in Deliverable 3.6, and further condensed in a public booklet intended to support, on-field, designers of participatory projects, to form software and services development, to their customized deployment in specific scenarios.

Impact of the Work

The work described in this deliverable has already had a significant impact on the development of the software in Task 3.4, where the smart farming application design has been changed and refined based on the documented participatory process. Also the P2P streaming application developed in Task 3.3 is being deployed in ninux following the methodology described here, and similar developments are undertaken in Task 3.2. All of this will be documented in Deliverable 3.6.

The impact external to netCommons work cannot be assessed yet, as clearly external adoption is slower and necessarily starts only after the proper documentation has been released, this deliverable being the first step. We expect that the booklet to support on-field action will have a significant impact on the development (and success) of local services and applications for CNs and beyond, as the methodology can be applied, with the proper modifications, to many other fields (software and not) too.

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