Who knew that my experiences in science communication, technology, media, human rights, sustainable development and participatory theatre would combine for an assignment in the South Pacific?
Last month I arrived in Port Vila, the capital of Vanuatu, to be a digital trainer with Wan Smolbag Theatre. Wan Smolbag is core funded by Oxfam, NZ Aid and Australian Aid. It began more than 25 years ago touring Pacific islands with one small bag of costumes, making participatory theatre for health promotion. It has expanded massively, now also coordinating a turtle monitoring network, reproductive health clinics, youth and nutrition centres, sports programs, disaster preparedness, health and environment resources and waste management projects.
It’s refreshing getting back into grassroots development after my work in Melbourne and Geneva over the past couple of years. It’s also fantastic to enjoy life by the ocean again – during high school I worked at my local surf shop. Vanuatu’s opportunities for surfing, kayaking and diving as well as fantastic tropical fruits make it a place I’m happy to live.
I’m continuing to do research and writing in science communication and health promotion with universities in Australia. I’m aiming to do digital training here related to a range of organizations I’ve been involved with in the past, including OpenStreetMap, Wikipedia and Mozilla. Firstly though I’m focused on local needs and interests. For example, I’m helping with World Oceans Day activities next week. This week I’m travelling around the island of Efate documenting Healthforce, the health promotion theatre group, and Rainbow disability theatre. Most digital work I’m supporting at the moment is making publications including comic books and posters about health and environmental issues, written in Bislama and focused on visual communication for island communities.
Last fortnight I was part of Research Bazaar at the University of Melbourne, but for most of February and March I’ll be at the Adelaide Fringe Festival! I’ll be present in ephemeral Fringe places starting with the opening parade. I’ll be performing in the National Maestro Impro Games on 20th February then MCing the Wilderness Society Green Roast Comedy Gala on March 5. Come along!
At the moment I’m sitting in the University of Melbourne Old Arts building after a fascinating environmental humanities workshop, in which I presented briefly. This emerged from my presentation at AAHPSSS last month. My last Impro Melbourne show of the year happened last week. Suddenly it’s almost the end of the year! Almost… though I’m presenting this Sunday afternoon at the Centre for Everything about the summer solstice.
Somehow I’m now embedded in life at the University of Melbourne despite subsisting, like many early career researchers, on a variety of tenuous contracts. I am learning about course coordination and teaching from the inspiring Kathryn Williams tutoring the Masters course Interdisciplinarity and the Environment, as well as tutoring an undergraduate course in the Melbourne School of Population and Global Health. Academic teaching is relatively new for me so I’m investing a lot of time and energy in this learning.
I’m continuing technology development work with Research Platforms particularly on Figshare. My work with Melbourne Law School recently has included creating this infographic of international forestry laws.
As an early career researcher, I’ll soon be going to Sydney to present about rethinking law, economy and environment at an interdisciplinary workshop at UNSW. Then I’ll be returning to Melbourne where I’m presenting in the Centre for Media and Communications Law conference in November in collaboration with Florence Seow.
All of this has left me little time for creative projects outside of academia, though I have been fitting in training with Impro Melbourne and performing at Club Voltaire occasionally. I also presented at Laborastory on Mabo Day, and celebrated the 150th anniversary of Alice in Wonderland at Carlton Connect. My next comedy show is likely to be around Halloween.
On Friday an article I wrote about values and priorities in open data was published. This led to many discussions and feedback from people that I found surprisingly positive. Given that I’ve advocated for human rights with indigenous peoples and I have been studied as a woman in technology, my advocacy for open knowledge comes with caveats. Those caveats are why for example I MCed The Privacy Workshop last year.
People fear openness for many different reasons. Peoples’ confidence in expressing themselves in public depend upon social factors and may be impacted by systemic bias that incentivises some to speak up while demotivating others. It was a big change for me to contribute to Wikipedia revealing my real name, which I only did after AdaCamp, because I realized that openness might help address the gender gap.
I was a little disturbed about how overwhelmingly positive feedback on my open data article was, because I know how consensus can undermine diversity. I know there are good reasons people may fear open data. After the article was published I explicitly welcomed alternative viewpoints in ways and places that I connect with people with different experiences to mine. I was happy to receive some responses in private – however it saddens me that they are private because people do not feel comfortable sharing them publicly. I would like to live in a world in which everyone was free and confident to express their experiences in their own voices without fear. I put effort into seeking and hearing voices beyond those typically in the public sphere. My experience publishing this article reinforced that effort and the intention behind it.
Incidentally, I’m participating in Mindful in May. I’m helping with Progress 2015 this week in Melbourne. Not incidentally, I’m participating in an open knowledge meetup when I’m in Canberra next week. I’ll stay until I present at ANU later in the month.
I’m based mostly Melbourne right now, helping to edit a book about forestry governance at Melbourne Law School emerging from a research project that relates to my work in Asia. I’ve also been participating in some Open Knowledge Australia events, notably the one in which we discussed Public Lab.
Last week I returned from Adelaide Fringe, where I did some improvisational comedy guest spots & workshops. Last weekend I did an intensive AFTRS scriptwriting course at ACMI, which was the start of an exciting new project that will evolve probably over years.
I’m going to Canberra next week for Science Meets Parliament, as well as to meet with my supervisor and deal with the joy that is university administration.
Happy 2015! I’m attempting to be a hermit in southern Australia while writing up research, with comic relief projects to keep me sane. I’m looking forward to emerging from my self-imposed writing bubble as a Fellow for the Link Festival, happening 16-17 February in Melbourne!