Our workshop experience

During our first months of the opencare project we held a series of workshops to help engaging the local community. We share here our experience with the hope that it will be useful as a starting point to set up more workshops, or as an experience that can replicated somewhere else in future opencare local communities.

// Abstract of the workshop

Taking care using open source tools. During this workshop participants will learn hands-on how to use one of the most common technology methodologies about creating open source care solutions. Plus they will create an IoT monitoring service in just a few hours. In an international setting where citizens' care and healthcare are considered growing social issues and cannot be guaranteed to anyone, opencare tries to find solutions to real life care issues leveraging on the experience and help of local and online communities using innovative, low cost and open source technologies.

// Why the topic?

From day one we wanted to set up a tech oriented workshop for two reasons:

  1. We wanted to make people understand why a Makerspace is involved in a project related to care and healthcare, and what are the pros of having a maker skillset involved in a such a project.
  2. We wanted to make people understand and try with their own hands how easy it is to create technology solutions on their own.
  3. The hype and attention from the media around Internet of Things projects based on microcontrollers (Arduino to be more specific) is very high in Italy, where we held the workshops.
    1. Plus it gives participants a lot of freedom to augment and customize the initial proposed idea.
    2. Plus we based the workshop on a lot of previous personal experience on the topic.

The Internet of Things as a field of action was picked because it is deeply rooted in the care field, and because long distance monitoring solutions often came out as a popular desire during meetings with the local communities.

Arduino as the technology of choice was picked because of its popularity, its flexibility, its smooth learning curve and our experience and expertise on it.

// The target group

The opencare workshop was not addressing a specific target group. To put it short:

  • It was open to anyone with an interest in the topic or the technology
  • No limitations to age, gender, skillset and background
  • No prerequisites needed
  • It was entirely for free and we brought the material that we lent to participants for the duration of the workshop.

// Places

The workshop was held in public places with the help of the local municipality, the city of Milan. We tried to go where we could find open-minded people ready to possibly embark on the project and commit to a more structured and durable effort.

  • We held the first workshop at "Fa' la cosa giusta - The national faire of conscious consumption and sustainable lifestyles in Italy"
  • We held the second workshop at "Forum delle politiche sociali" a series of meetings with the citizens organized by the local municipality

// Technology and issues

From a technology point of view we decided to structure the workshop around the Arduino platform, the reasons for this choice have been explained above. The participants were asked to bring their own laptop to join the workshop, then at the beginning of the session any of the participants received a kit containing:

  • An Arduino UNO board
  • An Arduino Ethernet shield
  • A TinkerKit shield
  • A series of Tinkerkit modules (sensors and actuators);
  • A USB cable
  • An Ethernet LAN cable

Running an Internet of Things is not always an easy choice from a tech perspective, unfortunately most of the time:

  • Public networks have firewalls you need to deal with
  • Public wireless networks don't like 20 devices trying to connect at the same time
  • Public networks require multiple authentication which is hard when dealing with simple hardware like Arduino
  • The errors you have to deal with when trying to connect and send packets of data over a network are a lot harder to troubleshoot and fix

With some experience on our shoulder dealing with this kind of issues we came prepared to the workshop.

We skipped the idea of using wireless hardware, even if more fascinating, from day one, so we could rely on a locally created network
We tried to connect to a LAN with no success and we tried to share the connection from WiFi to Ethernet from a laptop with no success
In the end we shared the connection from a 4G GSM modem to all the devices through a standard switch. This worked well enough for small packets of data like the ones that you send with such hardware.

// Response

The sessions were joined by around ten to twelve people each. Some of the participants were more intrigued by the technology on its own, some were more into the opencare project at large. The kind of feedback we received was diversified:

  • On one hand, more openly, we received good feedback at the end of the sessions
  • On the other hand, around half of the people that joined the sessions kept on coming back to the following co-design sessions with the local communities

// Documentation


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