by Chris McGivern & SF Team, 27 February 2020
Welcome, Felix Reda, Shannon Dosemagen and Nelson Wasswa - the new cohort of Shuttleworth Fellows for our March 2020 intake.
Our Honorary Steward, Beth Simone Noveck, has selected three exceptional fellows from a highly compelling shortlist. We thank Beth for her work and input to our process and are delighted with the choices she has made.
Each new fellow holds openness at the heart of their ideas and is breaking new ground in their respective fields: Felix is working to make European copyright laws better-suited to the modern, open Internet; Shannon is improving interoperability of open environmental data, and Nelson is applying openness to freshwater pollution monitoring. These are areas of shared interest for our fellowship community, and there will be much to explore and learn over the coming months and years.
The Shuttleworth team and our wider community would like to offer Felix, Shannon and Nelson the best of luck and a warm welcome as they prepare to start their fellowship journeys on March 1st.
Honorary Steward, Beth Simone Noveck: “In this day and age of increased political divisiveness and even despair, it was a tremendous joy and honor to read the applications of so many passionate and committed people, who are devoting their energies to improving the lives of others. They remind us that, when we work openly and collaboratively, every one of us can be powerful.”
“While picking three people to invest in was among the most difficult but pleasurable tasks I have undertaken, Shannon, Felix and Nelson are nothing short of extraordinary. This is not only because of their outstanding ideas but because they have a clear-sighted vision, and they demonstrated ‘sticktoitiveness’ to see these important projects through from idea to implementation and real impact.”
Introducing: Felix Reda
Background: A researcher, copyright reformer and former MEP.
Idea: Repurpose copyright law to fit the digital age.
It’s been almost a year since the European Union rubber-stamped its controversial Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market. Division over the outcome still runs deep. The entertainment and publishing industries laud it as a natural extension of the copyright laws they helped establish and a ‘victory for creators’. The rest of us are gravely concerned that applying analogue rules to a digital world will drag us further towards censorship, erosion of privacy, and lockdown of the free and open web.
For the moment, thanks to last-minute changes introduced in reaction to public protests against the Directive, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. While the legislation contains worrying measures that continue the current trajectory of the Internet - towards restriction and automatic enforcement of overreaching laws - it also accommodates many progressive elements never seen in copyright legislation before. For the first time, the law is not entirely one-sided and premised on the “all rights reserved” model. And there is a significant opportunity to shape the future web, so open licenses gain stronger legal recognition and shared knowledge and culture can thrive.
As a Member of the European Parliament between 2014-19, Felix Reda fought to mitigate the worst aspects of the directive, part by part and word by word. Backed by growing public awareness and support from the open movement, she managed to place safeguards in the legislation as well as a swathe of new user rights. Now, Felix is ensuring those positive elements are put firmly into practice in her home country of Germany.
“The first step is to change the national copyright laws,” she explains. “The directive has some positive and novel ideas to protect the rights of users, but I feel if nobody’s going to fight for them, they will be ignored by national legislators. The second step is to actually encourage people to make use of their rights.
“I’m starting a project to offer practical support, absorb the legal risks, and help people unaffiliated with large publishing organisations who have to fend for themselves. This is a big problem in academic publishing. Researchers are not paid by publishers and told they are not allowed to reproduce their own words, even when the law says they are. Independent authors who share their creations online find their works blocked by overzealous upload filters. It’s in situations like these where I want to get active and support people to exercise their rights.”
Felix Reda: “The law is a lot more flexible than we think. Big companies and publishers have the resources to access all the freedom the law gives them. I want users and individual authors to do that as well. I hope that more open access material becomes available, both research articles and parts of our cultural heritage.
“Openness is the goal, but also my methodology. These laws are generally accessible for anyone, but that doesn’t mean they are designed for people to understand them. A big part of what I do is explaining the complicated policy and legal processes to people in normal terms, educate them, and empower them to exercise their rights.”
Felix worked tirelessly and fearlessly as a one-issue MEP to limit much of the potential damage lurking in initial drafts of EU copyright legislation. She now has the opportunity to test her own ideas and seek precedents for the open movement that could shape the future web.
There are significant challenges ahead. We cannot predict how the law will be interpreted, and there is no doubt that the deep pockets of lobbyists will have opportunities to influence outcomes. It is time-critical, too: we have around 18 months before every country in the EU adopts the new directive. Felix’s ideas could define its effects.
Germany is the ideal testing ground for her work which, if successful, could expand its impact outwards to other EU and EFTA countries. Given the EU’s influence on global digital policy, there is a tremendous amount at stake here; not only for Germany and Europe but also for the rest of the world.
Introducing: Shannon Dosemagen
Background: A community organiser and activist for openness and environmental health issues.
Idea: Environmental data and hardware interoperability, openly accessible to all.
The open science hardware and low-cost monitoring communities have taken great strides in forging their own space for innovation, but as the movements expand, foundational cracks are appearing. After co-founding Public Lab to pursue environmental justice through community-led science and open technology, Shannon Dosemagen understands this more than most. Over the last decade, she has been creating collaborative, DIY community spaces to empower citizens with information and tools to problem-solve local environmental issues. But her progress has been increasingly limited by pressing, systemic issues surrounding how we share, maintain and use data.
We must curb the developing trend towards decentralisation of information, methods and tools, where novel solutions are created in siloed environments. It creates an inability to share data - streams of which are both duplicative and conflicting - and causes problematic interactions with a fast-growing array of equipment and instructions as well as a policy-landscape that has fallen behind the pace of innovation. Shannon sees frustrated communities unable to successfully use data for decision-making in an increasingly - and unnecessarily - complex landscape. All the while, increasing environmental deregulation and rollback fail society.
During her fellowship, Shannon will work on building systems for environmental data and hardware interoperability, creating better structures for verification around environmental and scientific reporting from communities, and thinking through collaborative governance models that can better support the number of environmental monitoring and lowcost scientific hardware projects that have come into the space in the last half-decade. This is a significant progression to her previous work of increasing access to environmental research for communities. As she leaves behind her role with Public Lab to start afresh, the new goal is to ensure environmental data is held in the commons and accessible where it is needed most.
It is a timely intervention. If research is inaccessible to threatened communities that need evidence, tools and assistance, they cannot actively participate in decision-making processes. Meanwhile, it is increasingly important to figure out how governments and institutions can truly integrate open science hardware and other low-cost hardware, and the resulting data, into stronger models for community participation in policy setting and regulation.
“We’re in a dire political situation when it comes to the environment,” she explains. “Our enforcement activities are down, we’re deprioritising things that need to be prioritised. We’ve even cut environmental protections and are seeing polluting industries disagree with these cuts. That’s unheard of.”
“It’s critical to start having these conversations around environmental monitoring. But we also need to figure out better ways to interoperate and make sure that we’re not duplicating projects - especially the failures of other projects in the past. We need to think about who can use that data effectively - not just communities faced with pollution, but people in state, national and international governance structures.”
Shannon Dosemagen: “I’m excited and nervous at the same time. I’ve been with Public Lab for ten years, and I know what I do - I know it really well. And now I need to get more proficient in something else. My vision is a new model for collectively managing data, and I also want to look at alternative governance systems that won’t detract from individual projects, allowing us to create a truly collaborative space together.
“The Foundation has been on my radar forever. I also started GOSH (Gathering for Open Science Hardware) with Francois Grey and Jenny Molloy (amongst others), so I know several of the fellows. I feel like the fellowship is designed to give people an intellectual moment in the craziness that we’re all operating in - and I can’t think of anything more important to me right now.”
“Shannon is already hugely successful in broadening participation in open, environmental science and helping citizens forge compelling, community-led narratives to counter the status quo. After identifying the key issues hindering further progress, she is making a bold decision to resolve them.
“Issues around interoperability, data repositories and governance are unlikely to attract the spotlight as much as the latest fancy invention. But in our world, they are more important. We support Shannon because her work will enable communities and grassroots scientists to better engage with research while laying the necessary groundwork for open science to advance more collaboratively and efficiently.”
Introducing: Nelson Wasswa
Background: A technologist with experience in artificial intelligence and machine learning.
Idea: Lawuna: Uses open source software and image-capturing drones to detect and monitor contaminants on freshwater shores.
Lake Victoria is the source of the River Nile and the world’s second-largest freshwater lake, stretching across Uganda, Tanzania and the borders of Kenya. It provides over 40 million people with hydration, nutrition, power and transportation routes, and is home to over 200 species of fish and numerous reefs. From a distance, it appears pristine. But this vast lake and the ecosystem it supports are under immediate threat.
Waste litters Victoria’s banks. Industry clears vegetation from its shores en masse, before pumping effluent into the life-giving waters. Fish die, algae grows, and traditional communities disintegrate. Conservationists are reaching a worrying consensus that unless we take action soon, this vital stretch of water will no longer sustain life. Lake Victoria is just a microcosm of what is happening elsewhere. Water scarcity linked to climate change is one of society’s most challenging issues; polluting our essential reserves is a needless act of self-harm.
Nelson Wasswa is a technologist, specialising in artificial intelligence and machine learning. As a Ugandan living and working within the Lake Victoria ecosystem, he has a keen understanding of the critical issues facing the local communities. His project, Lawuna, is designed to help them become more resilient, knowledgeable and empowered to take affirmative action.
The big idea is to combine open source technology with image-capturing drones to detect and monitor contaminants along the shores of freshwater bodies. Open, environmental data will be analysed, mapped and visualised in real-time, via an interactive dashboard, and then used to engage stakeholders such as policymakers, academics and industry leaders. The hope is that positive action will occur quickly and more effectively as a result.
“Oceans and water bodies absorb 30 per cent of the carbon dioxide produced by humans,” Nelson explains. “We see a 26 per cent rise in ocean acidification since the beginning of the industrial revolution, yet more than 3 billion people depend on marine and coastal biodiversity for their livelihoods. Barely any open source solutions have been developed to curb this danger.
“I want to develop practical, open technology solutions for the most demanding challenges in the developing world. If we avail the masses with enough information and data so they can transform their communities, we can also replicate these ideas in other areas of society.”
Nelson Wasswa: “I believe the Lawuna project can make an impact and transform people’s lives as it combats adverse climate effects as well as protecting life below water. It’s a big challenge, but now it is upon my team and I to go the extra mile and create a story worth remembering for all the right reasons.
“Being awarded a fellowship and joining the family of change-makers in this prestigious family is an honour. The Foundation gives us the freedom to own our dream, and it will be a privilege to spread the Shuttleworth philosophy among my fellow citizens.”
Nelson is applying open thinking, community empowerment and bundles of energy to one of the most pressing issues of our time. Water scarcity is a reality, in the here and now. Pollution is killing our seas and lakes. And while there are a handful of political and industry leaders taking action, many solutions are accessible to only a small percentage of the world’s population.
This innovation is an opportunity to open up and share knowledge with communities and entrepreneurs who rely heavily on preserving the health of Lake Victoria. With real-time evidence in hand, there is more opportunity for community leaders and representatives to engage with stakeholders, environmentalists and officials to pursue much-needed change.
Nelson has the experience, potential, and willingness to collaborate to solidify his vision into a reality. He is expressing an idea that could resonate elsewhere, both in terms of location, scope and entrepreneurial innovation. And his project focus on hardware, data and the environment share touchstones with the broader Shuttleworth community. It will be interesting and exciting to see where these conversations might go.