“A gamer put it in great terms once when he said, ‘If the 20th century was about cinema, this next one will be about gaming, because it’s participatory,’” says Feast Conference co-founder Jerri Chou.
The newly launched conference is designed to be just that–completely participatory–by departing from the traditional conference structure of separating speakers from audience. Rather, organizers sought to create the backdrop for direct participation through a series of compelling calls to action presented by experts including Paul Farmer of Partners in Health, John Sherry of Intel Innovation and Beth Comstock of GE.
The Feast team chose four challenges that represent some of society’s most pressing issues and opportunities, are susceptible to accessible tools like open source technology and social networking, and can benefit from any size of intervention–large or small. The first challenge is about data, namely, how we can aggregate and model accessible civic and shared personal data to create opportunity and enrichment. Examples might include an app, a service, or a network (like Skillshare for example) that brings people together with common interests or issues. Design–the subject of the second challenge–calls for a team to deconstruct a useful tool or to create a new one that will improve access to a useful product or service and generally make the world work better for people and the planet. A “design solution” can be anything, from a blueprint for a small house, instructions for a DIY tractor, or even a microbial home.
The last two challenges team up with Partners in Health (PIH) and Robin Hood to address health and poverty, respectively. The health challenge asks Feast-goers to think about sustainable funding models for important health-based organizations like PIH, and how to better bind supporters to the communities these organizations seeks to help (i.e., “How can we prompt, say, college students in Manhattan to feel that teenagers in Malawi with TB, or AIDS patients in Boston are an integral part of their world?”). Finally, Mark Bezos of Robin Hood will ask participants to take advantage of the power of emerging technologies and digital media to scale the organization’s efforts to eradicate poverty by asking how we can empower and inspire peers to take action to create awareness and ownership of the poverty that exists in our own cities.
In thinking about these challenges, some good examples come to mind. The data challenge evokes 596 acres, a Brooklyn organization that used open source government data to map publicly owned vacant lots and then inspired neighbors to plant gardens and create inviting public spaces (including in my own neighborhood). Reflecting upon the poverty challenge, I thought of a friend’s campaign that projected images of homeless people (who then entered a projected door once the viewer texted a donation) around the city of New York as a reminder of the 40,000 people living on the streets of the city.
Chou is adamant that through the many small actions of engaged and actualized people in aggregation, anyone can contribute to achieving a powerful vision. When asked for examples of potential projects, she suggests, “You could do something as simple as create a virtual tip jar that people can add to every time you or your friends visit a doctor, or it could be as big as creating a venture or global community of data scientists cleaning open data for socially relevant uses in response to the [data challenge].”
Reflecting on her inspiration behind this year’s Feast Conference, Chou remarks the relevance of Occupy’s first anniversary earlier this week: “To create sustainable change, a movement needs direction, it needs options and it needs alternative actions. By creating a positive space, we can show people that there’s a way to change some of the social problems at the root of the Occupy movement–the world is only going to change through the dedicated actions by many people around the world to build the brighter future they’d like to see.”