David Pecotic - the guy behind Canberra's first Map Jam

"Let's get a few people along and do a jam. All we need is three people". With that in mind, David Pecotic started Canberra's first Map Jam by accident last year. Originally conceived as a casual collaboration with a few like-minded acquaintances, the event unexpectedly drew a small crowd after David submitted it as an event for the Changemakers Festival.  In this post, David talks about his ideas on the sharing economy and how map jams can help communities.



How do you define the "sharing economy"?
The sharing economy is about providing the means whereby people can utilise under-utilised resources - whether they be skills, products or services. The markets, as they currently, stand are arranged in such a way that there are "market failures". For example, rubbish is going to the fill but it could be reused. There are skills languishing which could be used in some way but no-one's figured out a way of connecting them to the people who want to use those skills.

How are map jams related to the sharing economy?
MapJam is part of the Sharing Cities Network. They've taken the idea of a sharing economy and tried to maintain the diversity of what it means for local communities.  For them it's about encouraging shared assets and community assets, or creating a marketplace or a way to facilitate peer-to-peer connections.

The idea of the map is that you create the visibility (of these assets) and then it creates a marketplace. It creates a place where projects can be shared because people didn't know they existed before. Because it's an editable map, you can make connections with other cities. Without visibility, a lot of what's happening goes under the radar unless it involves billions of dollars of investment, and that's a place where the profile needs to be lifted. That's why I got involved with Map Jam. Plus it seemed like a fun thing to do.

What about data integrity?  How do people using these datasets be reassured of data integrity since they're editable by anyone? 
The sharing economy deals with this problem by making the transaction between the buyer and the seller, or the person with X and the person who wants X, as transparent and as open as possible. This is where the idea of reputation services and trust mechanisms come in. Wikipedia has similar principles where anyone can be an editor and anyone can edit over someone's edit. It's more about community management than a technical solution. The tech solutions are there - there's no mystery about how we create maps or maintain it. The hard part is making sure that it's useful enough for people, and that it gets enough use that it becomes self-maintaining.

Why is the sharing economy interesting to you?
In the past two or three years it's just exploded. This is where the startups are happening in the world. This is where all the innovation is happening. What people in the startups are looking at is "How does it apply to a market problem? How can I use that tech to create a market, where I know there's demand and supply but there's no way of connecting people together?" And that's why companies like Uber, AirBnB and ParkHound are all in this space, because they can do that now.

This is applicable to the community level. It isn't necessarily about making money - although people can do that if they want to; there's nothing wrong with making money. It's about trying to keep it open and communal, and nurturing the non-commercial part of the sharing economy without getting in the way of the commercial part. That, I think, is an interesting place to play in.

Governments need to start thinking about these digital technologies because they aren't going away. They're becoming more and more part of the infrastructure and embedded in everyday stuff. How can we think creatively as policy makers, at all levels of government, about using these solutions for "wicked problems"? So that the government doesn't own it, the users own it. This is one of the things that makes it interesting. It's a user-led, demand-led idea.

Why do you think the idea of sharing economies has become prominent in recent years?
The sharing economy has popped up because of the rapid expansion of digital technology that enables people to cut out the middle man and effectively do peer-to-peer. The principle has been built on from there - creating a digital marketplace where demand and supply can meet, and having some kind of trust or reputation mechanisms so that people know they can exist in a marketplace like this that doesn't necessarily involve regulation.

What would you like to see happen with future map jams in Canberra?
In Melbourne and Adelaide, map jams have reached enough of a critical mass to have local and state government interest. It would great if in the near future we would get the same interest from the ACT government, as well as peak bodies and non-profits looking at what we're doing and thinking that this is a useful thing that they can support in some way - whether it's in kind or with funding.

But before we get to that stage, it's about making what we've done visible. We ended up with a map and people who are interested in doing things. The next step is to find out if there's community interest. Canberra's unique in that even though its a small town, it's dispersed. So you have to go to the suburbs where there's a shopping complex or places where there might be a community group. Tell the story and ask people "What would you put in here?" Then get people to see the value of it by contributing it so they can say "All our resources are on here and we can use it". After a few times of doing that, you'll have a use case.

The tech side isn't difficult because it's about the gap analysis. We don't know what we don't know because there's often no data around. It might be just a local group that puts together a book club, or a neighbourhood that decides to create a small community garden and they just do it. No-one else knows about it unless they bump into it, overhear it, or say something at work.  So what we need to do next is look at how [map jams] can fill in those gaps. The only way you can do that is by talking to the community.  

There's enough of a critical mass now in terms of visibility of the idea and people with requisite technical and experiential skills to engage with it in a way that isn't esoteric. You can make it practical and accessible to people.

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